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.
Didn't we do this already?It's Sunday and a great time to reflect on the last week. All I can say is that it was a whirlwind. Working 12-14 hours every day on Race to the Top proposals, refining our process, talking to different groups about what is and what isn't personalized learning. The talk always goes back to technology.
It's not about the technology. It's about the philosophy you embrace around personalizing learning.If it's all about the learner and starting with them, then everything about teaching and learning changes. Technology supports personalizing learning but should not be the focus. Just putting technology in teachers' and learners' hands doesn't mean they know how to personalize learning. I remember the early days of technology in schools. I believe the late 80s and early 90s, schools built labs called CAI (Computer Assisted Instruction) such as Computer Curriculum Corporation, Success Maker and others. As a technology consultant during those times, I was asked to help build those labs. Most of these labs were built in high poverty schools in rooms that weren't made for computers. Even the electricity in some of these older buildings couldn't handle the capacity. They would string together extension cords from other classrooms and hold them in place with duct tape. In some rooms, we had to step over the cord that was 2 feet high. There were some rooms where they moved the computers next to the heaters. Actually, that didn't matter, because the heaters didn't work. I needed the work at that time, and that's where all the money was going. One lab with 50 computers and the software took all the technology budget. There was no money left for training. Only enough to train a paraprofessional who managed the lab. There was no integration with any curriculum in the classrooms. I observed these labs. Kids loved them in the beginning because it was new, interactive, and included games. They loved the idea of playing in school. The paraprofessionals collected the data and shared with the administration. Scores were going up. The kids rotated through the lab once or twice a week. But after about six months, kids started talking about how boring it was. One third grade told me that it didn't matter how he answered the questions so he just hit any key to make it go to the next screen. Scores were at a plateau then dropping. Dropping all over. All the labs. Everywhere. Few years later, the labs were changed. They took off the headphones and brought in technology teachers. Teachers with credentials. Only issue I saw was that they were prep teachers. This meant that there tended to be very little integration of what was happening in the classroom to what was happening in the labs. I know so many of these fantastic computer teachers who did amazing projects. When I was asked to come in, work with the computer teachers, and help integrate technology into the classrooms. Classroom teachers were so busy teaching the curriculum that they didn't have time or the energy to take the work in the lab and connect it to the classroom. So once again, the work in the labs stood alone and was mostly focused on building isolated technology skills. But there were some amazing computer teachers and librarians who found ways to integrate the skills with projects happening in the classroom. So now fast forward to today and learning labs to support blended learning rotations. The labs look similar to the CAI of the past and, yes, the scores are improving. But the real learning that is needed seems to be lost. In some of these environments, the student to teacher ratio has increased because the computers "individualize" the student's learning and they don't need as many teachers. Maybe that's how or why schools are looking at this solution -- to save money. Based on algorithms and data, teachers keep track of performance and work with individual students to respond to intervention -- to increase scores based on standardized tests. This may sound good to some people, however, to prepare our children for the global workforce, they need different skills then they acquire sitting in front of computers like this. It just cannot be about the scores. The skills needed for today's jobs include:
- collaboration and teamwork
- creativity and innovative thinking
- choosing and using the appropriate resources for a task
- building a network of learners locally and globally
- learning how to learn, unlearn, and relearn
Get over it! It's already 2012How long do we have to be in the 21st century to say we are 21st century teachers? Everything has changed because of the Internet. Schools are going wireless, using interactive whiteboards, flipping the classroom, putting in 1:1 solutions -- some are even BYOD (Bringing Your Own Device). I see exciting technology yet rarely see innovative teaching and learning. I don't mean to be harsh here, but I read Med Karbach's What Does It Take to be a 21st Century Teacher? and thought I need to write something. It's all about a culture shift. It's not just the technology. It's a mindset. There are lots of great teachers that don't use technology. They motivate their students. Students are engaged and love being in their class. Karbach included this image: This image says it all to me. It is all about each learner and their own learning potential. Do we tap into it? Teachers mostly teach the way they have been taught. To move to a more collaborative learning environment involves all stakeholders. One teacher in a school can move desks around, have students create learning plans, but this is a whole culture shift that needs to happen. I am invited to facilitate change at schools all over. Observing teachers, I notice a desperation. They tell me that they want to make a difference; they want to use the technology; but... Here's the buts:
- I have to cover the curriculum.
- There is such a diverse group in my class.
- It is so much work to design projects for all my students.
- Group work is a pain to set up and assess how each student is learning.
- I'm told to differentiate all my lessons which now takes even longer.
- My class size was increased by 10 more children.
- I am so tired each night grading papers, there's no time left for me.
- I am spending more time creating video lectures to flip everything.
- paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
- The parents are so demanding that I have to put up homework every night.
- your students create the videos about the content to flip the classroom. Check out Mathtrain.tv where Eric Marcos realized that students learn best from other students.
- involve your students in lesson design. Be partners in unpacking the standards and designing activities. Children today are very resilient and smart if we give them the chance. Check out this post from Kathleen McClaskey and myself on Personal Learner Profiles and the Common Core.
- Ask your students to brainstorm and prioritize questions about the topic. This post on Making Just One Change where I interviewed Sara Armstrong helped me understand the importance of inquiry. Michael Wesch encourages his university students to wonder. Dave Truss shared the opening of their new school The Inquiry Hub where students "learn without boundaries."
- Imagine your students building lessons with you as partners in learning.
- partner in learning with their students.
- facilitator who guides the learning process.
- an advocate for each learner who has strengths and weaknesses, passions, interests, and aspirations to be whatever they can be.
- person who realizes they can never know everything so learns to unlearn and learn again.
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.
Free Report Explaining the Chart on PersonalizationThe chart on Personalization vs Differentiation vs Individualization that Kathleen McClaskey and I created has brought an enormous interest from people and organizations around the world. We also have received lots of requests for copies of the chart along with thousands of hits. So what we did was create a place to download the chart. Now that the chart is all over, we have been getting lots of questions and requests for more information. We created a report explaining the elements of the chart in more detail and added it to the download. Click here to learn more and download your free chart and the report
The Artist within Builds the New GroupThinkCollaboration is in, but it may not be conducive to creativity according to this opinion piece on the New York Times. The author, Susan Cain, states that solitude produces innovation and brainstorming sessions are the worst possible ways to stimulate creativity.
The “evidence from science suggests that business people must be insane to use brainstorming groups,” wrote the organizational psychologist Adrian Furnham. “If you have talented and motivated people, they should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority.”
The reason why this author states that brainstorming fials is that people in groups tend to sit back and let others do the work; they instinctively mimic others’ opinions and lose sight of their own; and, often succumb to peer pressure.
Then the author talks about electronic brainstorming and communication. Marcel Proust called reading a “miracle of communication in the midst of solitude,” and that’s what the Internet is, too. It’s a place where we can be alone together — and this is precisely what gives it power.
So the new GroupThink takes individual artists and thinkers to share what they know and are learning. This is a good point but I believe that being in a room collaborating on an idea is not all bad.
You need a good facilitator for group work be it with teachers or learners. I also see how easy it is to turn a point with electronic brainstorming. There are individuals who alone can be very loud on the Internet. Cain ends her article with "Our offices should encourage casual, cafe-style interactions, but allow people to disappear into personalized, private spaces when they want to be alone. Our schools should teach children to work with others, but also to work on their own for sustained periods of time."
Cain's opinion made me think about personalized learning and why the world is moving to individuals on the other side of laptops and mobile devices are making a difference in how we learn now. Some of the loudest individuals on the Internet sit in their living rooms or at Starbucks all by themselves tweeting, blogging, curating, and doing so-called collaborating online. It's whoever has the loudest voice, the most Twitter followers, the most hits on a post that makes a difference now.
I see that each person can be an artist, inventor, and "out of box" thinker if they are given opportunities to work alone, brainstorm with others, and connect with the world online. Personalized learning is all about the learner -- starting with the learner -- and designing an environment that is conducive to them becoming the artist, the inventor, the writer, or whatever they are so they blossom and grow into who they are supposed to be.
Image by Andy Rementer from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/15/opinion/sunday/the-rise-of-the-new-groupthink.html?pagewanted=1&_r=2
18 Predictions for Educational Trends in 2012Something is happening in education. Do you see it? Education is changing. Textbook companies realized they have to change. Everything is going digital. Many online courses are now open and free. Educating children is different than it was a few years ago. But what does that mean for schools and teaching? Learners are different. Learners are demanding to learn when they want to learn wherever they are and in anyway that works for them. They use new tools that are not allowed in most classrooms. They do it anyway. They are dropping out of school or taking classes online. Parents are looking for alternatives. Learning matters!
Maybe you noticed that students are taking responsibility for learning how to do this or that on their own...that is, mostly outside of school. They need to know something so they google it or ask others. The teacher is no longer the only expert in the class. Teachers have less professional development or access to resources so they are trying to figure things out and still teach to the test. That part has to change. Teachers may not want to change because they only know what they were taught -- to be the expert in the class. They are being evaluated by test scores so the pressure is on them. But, even with that, teachers are asking other teachers for help in the next classroom, going online or figuring out things on their own. Some teachers are realizing that their students have the expertise they need especially when it comes to technology. As a coach working with teachers I realized that I had to see how and why everything was changing. I cannot assume that professional development, curriculum design, and instruction will be the same so I had to rethink my coaching and how I support teachers and schools.
In doing this, I thought I'd make several predictions on what education could look like and what I'd like to see in 2012:
- Teachers understand how each student learns. They use different methods of assessing how each student learns best and along with each learner keep track of their learning.
- Assessment is ongoing since learning is not a constant. Learners are collecting evidence of their learning and reflecting on their learning.
- Teachers collaborate with teachers that teach the same subject or grade to design or adapt instruction that is individualized. This means instruction is paced to the learning needs of their students so students can pace through the content at different levels based on their learning needs.
- Teachers share content and lessons online and realize that it's not that important to reinvent the wheel or keep content to themselves anymore.
- Teachers are no longer the hardest working people in the classroom. They are appreciated as a facilitator or "guide on the side" instead of the only content expert. Teachers are more like a coach encouraging students to find their strengths and go with them.
- Learners determine their strengths and weaknesses and share their expertise with other students and teachers.
- More instruction is flipped where teachers and/or students find or create and upload lessons as videos or on websites to the Internet so learners learn the content out of school and then do the real work in the classroom.
- The classroom can be anywhere at anytime. Learning can happen anywhere. Everyone is a learner and a teacher. More learning is mobile and on mobile devices.
- Students have access to what they need when they need it. If a school or district does not have the resources, the learner brings their own device to school. The school represents the real-world and all devices are allowed. Everyone is responsible and trusted.
- Homework is different. Learners watch videos and lessons, learn about content, and learn from each other out of school. They take more control of their learning. No more busywork.
- Forward thinking IT departments allow YouTube Education, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media so students can use real-world tools in school.
- Schools and universities accept prior knowledge, realize that experience matters and students are open to challenge a course or test.
- Assessment is not just about test scores. Learners collect and reflect on evidence of learning. Assessment is ongoing and everyone is part of a feedback loop and supporting each other.
- Teachers are not evaluated by test scores. They have a coach or mentor and are part of a team that supports each other. Teachers collect evidence of learning in their classroom as an ePortfolio.
- Students lead parent conferences with their teachers. They own how they are learning and ask for feedback and help in monitoring their progress.
- Teachers, parents, and other learners are part of each learner's learning team.
- Professional development involves more collaboration and support for teachers based on their own needs. Coaching teachers and students involves designing assessment strategies, facilitating collaborative planning sessions and redesigning learning environments, guiding student experts who flip the classroom and create websites for the classroom, and helping behind the scenes with ePortfolio design.
- Learning is personalized. Creativity and curiosity is back in the classroom. Learning is passion-driven and joy matters. Learners drive and own their learning.
These predictions may seem like dreams to you, but I really believe they can happen. It is all about our children -- right? We need to teach less so everyone can learn more.
Being in the FlowWhen I think about engaging students, I think about Flow. Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.
In 1997, Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi published this graph that depicts the relationship between the challenges of a task and skills. Flow only occurs when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge and requires above-average skills.
Graph of Flow from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_%28psychology%29
The center of this graph (where the sectors meet) represents one's average levels of challenge and skill. The further from the center an experience is, the greater the intensity of that state of being (whether it is flow or anxiety or boredom or relaxation). Flow only occurs when the activity is a higher-than-average challenge and requires above-average skills.
Kindergarteners spend more time learning how to take a test than learning how to socialize. Watch children play and challenge themselves. You can see how they are engaged. Play and learning needs to go hand-in-hand. If play is purposeful and challenges the learner, any learner of any age will want to learn.
"We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” -- George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950)
Conditions of FLOW
Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi identified ten factors one may experience with FLOW:
- Clear goals and expectations
- Deep concentration
- A loss of the feeling of self-consciousness
- Distorted sense of time
- Direct and immediate feedback
- Balance between ability level and challenge
- A sense of personal control over the situation or activity
- Intrinsically rewarding activity
- A lack of awareness of bodily needs
- Absorbed and focused only on activity
How are you experiencing FLOW?
Think about an activity that gets you excited and are passionate about. If you love mountain biking, you probably cannot wait for that time to jump on your bike and take off. If you are working on a project that you are really interested in, you might work right through your lunch and not even know it. If you are part of a team and are valued, it makes you feel important. If the project you are working on is something you want to do or want to learn, then you spend even more time on it than you would in a traditional classroom setting.
How are your students experiencing FLOW in the classroom? Are they? If so, when?
I am a coach. I work with teachers to facilitate moving teaching and learning to student-centered classrooms. This isn’t easy for teachers especially with everything else on their plates. When teachers develop an activity that is student-centered and their students drive and own their learning, the environment changes. The noise level in the classroom gets louder. For some teachers this is bothersome, but that’s just because they are not used to it.
I call it controlled chaos and purposeful play. There’s a buzz going on in the room. When students are working in groups and fully engaged, they enjoy working as a team. Especially if each member of that team has a role and is valued in that role. I’ve seen middle school classrooms change from a group of at-risk students who are not interested in anything to learners who are excited about learning. I’ve seen them stay during lunch or after school to continue to work on projects. Now that’s FLOW!
You can see FLOW happen when students are working in groups or doing individual work. FLOW is personal. Learning needs to be personal. It really is all about the learner.
Creativity, Failure and Learning
21st Century Skills include three areas of creativity:
- Think creatively.
- Work creatively with others.
- Implement innovations.
The elements for these skills include:
View failure as an opportunity to learn; understand that creativity and innovation is a long-term, cyclical process of small successes and frequent mistakes.
Traditional school doesn't allow for people to take risks and fail. Glenn Wiebe wrote in Are You an Under-taker or a Risk-Taker?
“One of the reasons that we as teachers don’t take risks is our fear of failure. We’re afraid that our state tests scores won’t be good enough or that we’ll look silly in front of kids or that the technology won’t work or that we’ll get calls from parents or...
But we also know that failure is often a prerequisite to success. Teachers take risks because they understand that screwing up is not necessarily a bad thing. Risk-taking involves possible failure. If it didn’t, it would be called Sure Thing-taking.”
Nothing in life is a sure thing-taking. That is except the answers on a standardized test. Life is not a standardized test or we would have everything labelled A, B, C, or D. Today is so different than yesterday. Look at the economy. Who knows what's going to happen with the stockmarket? Look at jobs and unemployment. What type of jobs will be available for us in the future? Many jobs we used to offer are no longer an option. Because of that higher ed is changing or needs to change. So why am I talking about failure?
For hundreds of years, people were preparing for factory jobs. That's why schools were set up in that model. They needed to know how to follow orders and not question. Failure was NOT an option. Candidates for most jobs now need critical thinking skills and to stand out of the crowd. They need to be remarkable. The only way you can be different is to take risks, fail, and come up with new ideas. You also need to build up a network of people you can ask because the world is changing so fast. You won't find the answer in a book. You may not even find the answer online. You will need to know how to collaborate and work together as a team. Each of the team members will bounce ideas off of the other members of the team; some ideas work, some don't. You learn from things that don't work.
“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.” ― Thomas A. Edison
We want our kids to be inventors, thinkers, team players, and innovators. The only way to do that is to create a learning environment that encourages failure or new ways that won't work. I believe the secret to success is failure. We need to create an environment that challenges students so they struggle with unfamiliar or difficult information. Why make it easy for someone to learn? Why is it that teachers are working harder now than ever? The students need to be the hardest working people in the room and challenged so they are excited about the topic.
When you look at children playing a game that challenges them in a good way, they are motivated. They don't win right away. They get feedback right away. What is the fun in winning right away or all the time. The fun is in challenging themselves beyond what they know. I know myself and how I am writing and taking risks to write down new thoughts. I learn from you. I learn from others. I don't have to have the right answers all the time. That's what learning is all about. Challenging yourself to change; trying new things and failing and trying again.
Here's a new challenge: The 2012 National STEM Video Game Challenge that opened today is a multi-year competition whose goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games. Go ahead and show your students this challenge. It is open to multiple ages. They have until March 2012. Have them experiment, fail, and come up with something amazing. They will learn so much.