Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Inquiry drives Learning

David Truss is the Vice Principal and Lead Administrator of the Inquiry Hub in Vancouver, British Columbia. We interviewed Dave about the design of the Inquiry Hub back in April, 2012. The Inquiry Hub opened this September so we interviewed Dave again to follow their journey.

They are working on scaffolding and planning this first year where they give learners autonomy on what they want to do. The most powerful piece is that they built in more reflection as it relates to inquiry.

The structure of the Inquiry Hub is around topics. In the morning, the teachers and learners start off with a topical workshop. Then the learners work on online courses guided by their teachers. In the afternoon they work on their inquiry project individually and/or collaboratively. Dave shared a topic that took a life of its own: The Green Inquiry Project where Shauna, Sophia, and Hannah wrote and received a wildlife grant as part of their environmental sustainability group.

Their project focuses on the development of a garden to produce organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs.  The aim of the project is to connect youth with the land by providing an opportunity to plant, grow and harvest their own food. Students will learn about the environment and agriculture by cultivating their own produce, a hands-on experience, rather than simply reading about it. In addition, the garden offers a place for students to interact and learn with each other and with partner groups. Partner groups may include the resident daycare, alternative education programs, and community residents, for example, senior citizens. On April 26th, the community came together and they built the garden together.


This is just one example how inquiry builds ideas that can involve communities. The Inquiry Hub is a school that realizes how community is important -- that inquiry drives learning. They have started portfolios using Dropbox. Year 2, they plan to update their vision around portfolios and how they collect and reflect on evidence of learning.

Dave shared seven key aspects that can help transform any classroom into a more engaging, and student empowered learning space. See the introductory post: http://pairadimes.davidtruss.com/7-ways-to-transform-your-classroom/




Monday, April 22, 2013

Learners NOT Students!

All of us are learners. Think about it. We were born curious and open to learning or we wouldn't walk or talk. It's just how each of us were made. Learning is part of us. We were not born students
-- we were born learners. Our first experiences of learning were through play and discovery.

The term "student" was first defined in the middle ages. 
1350-1400 - Middle English, alteration (influenced by Latin studre, to study) of studient, studiant, from Old French estudiant, one who studies, from present participle of estudier, to study, from Medieval Latin studire, from Latin studium, study.]

This is the 21st century not the Middle Ages. Learning is happening anytime, anywhere by anyone. Consider now that we are able to learn in different ways through different mediums with the expanded use of mobile devices.

Rethink what the term "student" implies.

All the references to student that we could find represent someone who studies or is being taught as part of an institution.


A student is someone who is learning when they  attend an educational institution. In some nations, the English term is reserved for those who attend university, while a school child under the age of eighteen is called a pupil in English (or an equivalent in other languages), although in the United States a person enrolled in grades K-12 is often called a student.Wikipedia's Definition


 In the Free Online Dictionary, student means:

1.  One who is enrolled or attends classes at a school, college, or university.
a. One who studies something: a student of contemporary dance.
b. An attentive observer: a student of world affairs.

How about calling students, "learners?" 

We would like to shake things up.  If you consider anyone who is learning at any age and anywhere a "learner," then you give the responsibility for the learning to the learner. Since the institution or anyone who is teaching students are accountable for the learning -- not the learners. That means the teachers are responsible for what the "students" learn. Doesn't this seem backwards?

Where is the incentive and motivation to learn if all the responsibility is on the teacher? Students don't own what they are supposed to learn. If you change the thinking behind the terms, then using the term "learners" makes more sense.

Think about yourself as a learner in and outside of school. Are you a student or a learner? If you interact with people, go outside, open a book, you might be learning something new. You are learning. You are self-directing that learning. You are a learner not a student.  Let's compare the terms:

A student...
  • learns in a classroom.
  • is assigned a task to do.
  • follows required objectives.
  • does the assignment designed by the teacher or curriculum.
  • seeks information for the assignment.
  • works individually or in a group depending on assignment.
  • earns a grade to reflect that they met the objectives and standards.

A learner...
  • develops their own learning goals.
  • monitors their progress in meeting their goals.
  • has a purpose or interest to learn something.
  • asks questions.
  • seeks information.
  • finds ways to collaborate with others.
  • wants to know something because they want to know it -- not for a grade.
  • is curious about life and never stops learning.

Here is a video illustrating the difference between a "student" and a "learner" titled "Student/Learner 1.0: "The Housewarming" produced by The Council on 21st Century Learning (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KM2Iv5D10Bs).




What do you think of the term "learner"?  What other ways would you describe a learner?

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Rethinking Learning as Experiential and Learner-Focused


Ben Kestner - St. John’s SchoolAfter interviewing Melvina Kurashige, she connected us to St. John’s School in Brussels, Belgium. We were connected to Ben Kestner, Principal of the Middle School.
"What if there was a school with no homework, no tests, no grades, and you could learn what you want?"


Ben's TED Talk (http://youtu.be/3ifi_fd4n9E) validates the reasons why we need to personalize learning. He states that "technology, school and community need to converge as ONE." He sees that learning needs to be related to the learners world where they can explore it more deeply, take action and be able to make mistakes and learn from their mistakes. We could not agree more.




St. John’s International School in BrusselsBen explains that since they are in an international school with learners from 60 different countries, they needed to rethink the curriculum so their learners owned their learning. 

Learners are in a group with an advisor who they meet with three times a week. Ben shared the curriculum that is experiential, learner-focused and based on these 7 MS competencies:
  • Self-Assessor: in health, mind, spirituality and organization
  • Contributor: through empathy and understanding; making a difference to the surrounding world
  • Creator: being an innovator, designer and maker of new things
  • Communicator: with compassion through oral, written, visual, musical, non-verbal and dance.
  • Collaborator: team member, leading and negotiating, sharing
  • Explorer: showing curiosity, taking risks and experimenting
  • Thinker: creative, critical, analytical, broad minded
TedXKids at St. John’s


They came up with the 3 Big Ideas last year. For one week three times during the year, there are themes where learners self-direct their learning. In January, Grade 8 took a Journey of Discovery and were offered various workshops led by experts around these topics:

  • Creative Writing on Heroes and Villains
  • Books and films
  • Discovery Science
  • Zen cooking
  • Magical Maths
 Grade 7’s topics were around food:
  • Food tech
  • Cooking
  • Fair or unfair trade
  • Food science


Video trailer of Big Ideas Week 2: Water 


Ben will be moving to the United States soon to start an experiential school in Montana where it will be an entirely difference journey. Get a preview of his new adventure here: http://experienceacademy.wordpress.com We will be following and sharing Ben's journey and the learners in this new school.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Who Controls the Learning?

Why is the focus in education becoming all about technology tracking data? Tracking data is being framed around "personalized learning" or "personalized education" as a new educational reform movement. This is not new or revolutionary. Personalized learning is not about customization, adapting curriculum, personalizing education or personalizing instruction. Personalizing learning is not about reform. It is about transforming our current educational system.
Tracking data is sill a 20th century model where the teacher is responsible for what the learner is learning -- not the learner. The data that is collected and analyzed does not reflect how the learner learns best. What does this data and this model do to develop self-regulated, motivated and engaged learners?
When you see the word "Personalized" around learning and packaged with technology and data, do your research on who is saying this and why. Personalized Learning is not about the technology; it is not about data; it is about the learner taking responsibility for their learning and driving their learning. This changes teacher and learner roles and transforms how we teach and learn.

Education is a 600 billion dollar business and educational companies (for-profit and non-profit) want their piece of the pie. The way "Personalized Learning" around the current use of data is being framed hurts our economy, our future, and our children. When you read this article in Forbes, use the lens of "starting with the learner" as "self-regulated, expert learners."
So how can today's learners own their learning and be prepared for their future world of work that still has not been defined? 
Learners need to know how they learn best and be co-designers of their learning with their teacher. In this case, the teacher plays a valuable role as a partner in learning with learners. Today's learners are not prepared. There is a surge in H-1B visas by companies who cannot find qualified workers in the US. Actually this has been problematic for over two decades and it is only going to get worse if the US  doesn't transform their current educational system. The US needs to prepare their workforce so they are marketable and in demand anywhere in the world.

Building resum├ęs are not enough. Employers want people who...
  • think independently.
  • understand how they learn best.
  • are critical assessors of their work. 
  • collaborate as team players.
  • are creative and innovative problem-solvers.
  • look for and test multiple solutions.
  • figure things out on their own. 
  • self-regulate their learning.

There are good programs and apps that help learners learn, but learners need to acquire the skills to be able to choose the appropriate tools and resources to prepare them for their future. According to Connie Yowell, Director of Education for U.S. programs for the MacArthur Foundation, "some games do this, yet when learners are playing, they are in discovery mode with little self-regulation of learning happening. Learners need to develop a set of cognitive skills so they think deeper about their learning."
What data are you using to measure learning?  
Assessment has come into question as cognitive science has provided new insights into the nature of learning, and the traditional role of assessment in motivating learning has been challenged. Learners need to make connections about their learning. Learners are not making connections to their learning using data based on standardized tests and other summative assessments. Learners need to develop the  skills to assess and reflect on their own learning.

Before you make big budgeting decisions and put in labs that rotate kids through stations where they sit in front of computers half the day with headphones on, do some digging around to determine what will be best for your learners. Kids today know technology. They want to control their learning. When the technology uses algorithms to track clicks and performance, the technology controls their learning. Is that what you want for your learners?
“The illiterate of the 21st Century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”  Alvin TofflerPowershift: Knowledge, Wealth, and Power at the Edge of the 21st Century

Monday, April 1, 2013

Grow your own Learning Garden

Lisa Welch and Wanda Richardson shared their journey with us last year. This year their journey takes a new path as a multi-age approach with a new member added to their team, Susan Blaesing. They formed a K-2 multi-age co-teaching pod at Wales Elementary in Wisconsin called “The Garden.”  


Their philosophy is that just like flowers, we all grow differently, in different situations and at different times.  And, just like flowers, we bloom! Their B.U.D.S. acronym helps us to remember this:

Believe that we can learn ANYTHING
Understand what we really need to know
Discover these things
Share our learning with others so that they can grow through collaboration

They found that by combining personal learning plans in a multi-age environment, they not only have a garden of collaborators, but also a group of individuals who are not hampered by grade levels, ages or abilities. Rather, the diverse abilities and interests are honored and acknowledged.  


"For example, one of our learners was interested in chess.  He learned how to play, what each piece signified, how it moved and then proceeded to teach a “seminar” (the kids hold ½ hour teaching sessions to share what they have learned) on chess. This prompted the kids to also learn it and then play with each other. The exciting part is that kids who “traditionally” would only play with their own age level are now playing together!  We have five year old learners playing chess with eight year old learners. It is truly remarkable to see!"
Each and every learner in the Garden has a learning plan with goals that are set for that particular plan. They firmly believe that this has helped the children grow in exemplary ways, not only in reading, writing and math, but as a whole person.



They incorporate technology as well and have used Google apps to send plans to each learner. It is not odd in their room to see a five year old logging into their email. While technology is not the only mode of learning in their Garden, it does play an important role for the transfer and attainment of information. The team shared with us seminars that their learners lead once a week. Each learner signs up to teach a skill or share something they learned for 15 minutes in the morning. The learner shares their expertise using the interactive whiteboard. Everyone is an expert on something and learning from each other.


From their newest member of the team, Susan Blaesing:

"The Personalized Learning Journey with a K-2 group of students this year has been a challenging but motivating experience. Switching from a “traditional” classroom was a choice that I wanted to make to help meet the ever changing needs of my learners.  After many discussions with Lisa and Wanda,  I decided to take the leap into new educational waters.   
The biggest difference that I am seeing using personalized learning is the motivation and high engagement from the students. When we help design our instruction based on their interests and individual needs, we are seeing the students motivated to learn. Each student is working on meeting targets in the areas of reading, writing and math based on their interests~whether it is lions, Legos or princesses, we are working with the students to discover what they know and want to learn about these topics.   
From what they want to learn, we design activities for each student that will meet their learning growth. In the traditional classroom, I was using common topics that were often picked by me or the curriculum to meet their learning growth. I designed lessons that were taught in bigger groups and differentiating activities when needed.   
With the personalized approach, the students are deciding on their topics of interest and then we work in the learning targets to meet their individual needs. Both approaches can meet the targets and the learning needs of students, however, I am finding that the personalized approach keeps the students more motivated to dig deeper with their learning. I am also finding that the students are helping guide the learning of their peers with their discoveries. In our multi-age Garden (that is what we call our community), the students are modeling learning behaviors that help their peers become stronger learners. Modeling with technology, ideas, creativity, topics, the list seems to be endless.   
Now, have there been bumps in the road~absolutely?  My 26 years of teaching has been evolving for 26 years!  I have made many changes in my teaching and learning along with the students. This shift seems to make sense because the students are coming from such different backgrounds and experiences now that the old “sit and get” doesn’t work for these learners. The students have pushed me to dig deeper with my thoughts and ideas on how to best meet their needs. The learning discovery has been eye opening. We have incredible young minds that have ideas and opinions about their learning ~ how and what they want to learn.   
The shift to the personalized approach makes sense if we want to keep our students engaged and motivated. Many thoughts have come into my head this year~how do I change from curriculum driven to student driven, how do I assess, how do I know they are learning, what about support from home, common core, what happens if they go back into a traditional classroom, am I meeting all the standards, will all the students be on grade level come June, etc... These are all questions that I have but I will have these if I’m in a traditional classroom or personalized classroom.   
The difference this year is that I have not been asking the question~are my students engaged and motivated? I know the answer to this when I hear groans at the end of the day that they don’t want to go home!"

The K-2 Multi-Age Co-Teaching Team (The Garden) at Wales Elementary, WI
Lisa Welch
Wanda Richardson
Susan Blaesing

Go here to learn more about personalized learning in Kettle Moraine School District.