Reading the Words

Imagine reading a paper (Culture Shift: Teaching in a Learner-Centered Environment Powered by Digital Learning) that said this:

 Learner-centered education dramatically impacts the work of educators, and education systems and school must empower teachers to apply their pedagogical knowledge, instructional skills, and digital tools and resources to meet the needs of individual students.

So teachers should know about the science of teaching and be given the authority to determine best practices for teaching in their classrooms.

Educators are empowered to use innovative approaches and personalize learning in face-to-face, blended, or virtual environments.

Teachers empowered again to choose different approaches.

…opportunities for teachers to learn from each another and from outside experts, …

Teachers as chief learners, right?

…students who have the knowledge and ability to solve problems, think critically, collaborate with others, and communicate in a variety of media.

More important than content is teaching students to think critically, and problem solve.

Deeper learning skills:

  • Knowledge and mastery of … content

  • Critical thinking and complex problem solving

  • Effective communication

  • Collaborative work, self-direction, and incorporation of feedback

We might be able to measure mastery of content with tests, but the rest of those skills require more of an experts subjective observation.

…meeting students where they are and helping them to develop the knowledge and skills they need.

Getting to know our students and tailoring instruction to them.

For example, a student may have the option to utilize simulations or access content that is in a visual or audio format.

Note it doesn’t say teacher creates content in all possible formats but allows students to access.

…open-ended nature…problem-solving strategies and critical thinking are applied…

More thinking skills

…access to learning anytime and anywhere.

This might just require a touch of Connectivism


Imagine a public school (not just a teacher) that is flexible in terms of meeting a student’s needs.

…extend learning opportunities outside of school…

This is flexible. Will the learning I do on my own time have meaning to a public school?

Learner-centered instruction demands that teachers develop different professional roles and responsibilities.

I am willing is my administration? Is my school board?

…shift the teacher’s role from disseminator of knowledge to a facilitator of learning or “education designer.”

A teachers evaluation should not depend on how well students listen.

Formative assessments…

A formative assessment could be an observation while a student struggles with a problem and a well-timed question or comment.

Providing the student with control of his or her learning

Is this possible in public school? Does this fit with Common Core State Standards?

Eliciting student work to demonstrate understanding of specific language and concepts

This is called measurement of knowledge, or mastery of content, through a means that does not include a test. Sometimes known as allowing teachers to be professionals.

…learner-centered teaching encourages collaboration …

Meaning teachers talk about how effective they are, and what they can do better, not how poorly the students listen.

“When teachers collectively engage in participatory decision-making, designing lessons, using data, and examining student work, they are able to deliver rigorous and relevant learning for all students and personalize learning for individual students”

Teachers are part of the decision making process of education. I wonder why students and parents were left out of this process?

Professional learning communities

Emphasis on professional

These other countries dedicate significant resources to professional learning opportunities that are ongoing and sustainable and emphasize collaboration among educators.  …about 60 percent of their time in classrooms.

Done right the most important part of a teacher’s day is his or her reflection and discussion of teaching practices, not time spent in the classroom. Remember from earlier, teachers’ roles are changing. They don’t need to lecture content as much, rather they are “education designers”. They need to spend a significant amount of time thinking, talking, and designing the educational environment. After that the classroom teaching really just happens.

Professional learning: Informal …Communities of practice

Informal yet still professional.

In some cases, teachers who are early adopters of digital learning or other instructional strategies do not have peers with whom to collaborate in their own school or district, so they seek out others on social networking sites or CoPs.

Like students learning for teachers is not limited to within the school walls or what is provided by the district.

…the education system faces many challenges that can hinder the development of strong cultures in schools.

Culture is empowering teachers to be the decision makers. Allowing them to take chances and innovate. Not everything will be perfect and that is what make each child’s education right for the students.

Classrooms many not be as quiet, ad students should be working on different things at different times.

Learning is often social and noisy.

While instructional practice should be evidence based, educators need to trust that it is acceptable to try a new lesson or strategy and possible fail, and that reflection and learning will be encouraged.

Not everything is perfect. No one person or one observation should make or break a decision about the quality of a teacher. It’s a holistic thing.

The culture shift required to move toward a learner-centered model must respect teaching and what is necessary to meet the individual needs of students on a daily basis. The culture must carefully consider collaboration among teachers and the development of professional learning community among educators in which they are all working together toward the same goal.

We are a long way from this and measuring test scores is counter-productive.

  • …understanding …a learner-centered environment…

  • Empower school and district leaders to develop collaborative working environments for teachers….

  • Integrate technology and digital learning into the strategic planning…

  • Elevate the profession of teaching

Again the power of teaching is not in how much content a student masters, rather it is in setting up the best possible environment to facilitate that learning. Measuring teacher quality through student test scores is counter-productive. Instead we should be measuring teacher quality through their ability to adapt to specific situations in their classrooms. This requires close observation over long periods of time. It requires collaboration among equals. It requires teachers to be allowed to make mistakes and honestly implement reforms that may or may not work the first time. reforms that may have to be reevaluated and changed depending on the circumstances. Basically the best teachers are those who are continually changing practices and implementing new ideas based on individual circumstances.


I just think if a group is going to say what we want to do but then later implement practices contrary to the stated philosophy then perhaps we should point to their words and hold them to it.



Enhanced by Zemanta

Open Online Experience Registration Begins

This year has been the year of MOOCs for me, and it seems the rest of the world. I started with DNLE at Stanford, the first MOOC I actually finished. (My first MOOC was edfutures with Dave Cormier in 2010 but I kind of petered out after 6 weeks)

In September I started working with Alec Couros and his many co-conspirator on #etmooc. I learned a lot about designing a connectivist MOOC. I put that learning to work right away in designing the Open Online Experience (#OOE13).

Over the past month or so I and 40 other educators have worked hard to develop OOE13. OOE13 is a 10 month course starting in September 2013 and ending in May 2014. There are two main goals of OOE13. The first is to help educators learn and develop the skills necessary to integrate technology into the classroom. The second is to help educators create and nurture connections that will continue through and beyond the experience.

The experience is specifically designed to parallel the school year. Which at first seems like a very long course, but in reality is a short 9 week course stretched out to allow busy working educators the time necessary to explore each topic without putting undue burden on their lives. We also hope it will become a theme for some groups as they work together during the year. We hope you will join us during the journey.

It isn’t necessary to register for the course, everything should flow through our wiki (, but to get the full effect we ask you to register here, or here.

Enhanced by Zemanta

My sons are Makers. Are You Ready?

Inspired by Scot McLeod and his blog post My son is 8. He’s a maker.

I encourage you to follow up and make your own post.

My son is 7. He is a maker. He spends hours building elaborate worlds in Minecraft knowing they will be destroyed because we don’t  have the full version, tonight he will make another one. 4plus4

My son is 5. He is a maker. He builds cities out of trains and Hot Wheels. They block the halls and cover the furniture.

My son is 7. He is a maker. He draws pictures of children playing, Angry Birds flying, and pigs hiding.

My son is 5. He is a maker. He builds forts out of cushions. He hides under blankets and dares me to find him. He runs around the house with a blanket cape flowing behind. legos

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. Will Their classes enable them or quash them? Will their teachers inspire them or suppress them? Will their schools nurture their brilliant divergence or force them into a convergent, one-size-fits-all model?

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. their world-changing skills and talents never will be reflected in an educational world of worksheets, end-of-chapter review questions, course exams, and bubble tests. How will you accommodate and recognize their gifts?

My sons are 5 and 7. They are a makers. Are you ready?


Competing Philosophies of Education

Perhaps this is just my view, but it looks like education is slowly inexorably changing and we have two choices competing for the dominant theory of what constitutes a quality education.

technology becomes the teacher.

This is a nice model for the business community, because, eventually, the costs will drop. The basic premise is that if we design adaptive software students can sit in front of a computer all day and just follow the learning program. Costs will be limited to the hardware (less than $1,000), software, ($5 per student), and a person to monitor students (minimum wage). $45,000 for a class of 30, or $1500 per student, $65,000 for a class of 60 or $1,100 per student. Or about 10% or less of the cost to teach a student now.


Instead of the presenters of knowledge teachers become the facilitators of knowledge. Experts in their craft who guide students through individualized learning experiences.

  • Teachers of young children focus more on learning milestones and owning the skills that are the building blocks of different subjects.
  • Middle school teachers focus more on developing burgeoning critical thinking skills.
  • High school teachers give students a wide latitude in finding, creating, and solving problems that are central to learning standards.

Students use technology to explore, question, collaborate, practice, and create.


Which system of education seems better to you? Why?

If you had the choice which school would you enroll your children?

The Best Teacher

I’ve read a several times in different articles this week the author saying something to the effect of If a student can learn from the best teachers then why shouldn’t they?

This is a great sentiment, but I find the underlying assumption being that the idea of a great teacher is a person who wrote a great book, made a great discovery, presents a great lecture.

I think they are missing the point. Teachers don’t present the material so much as they set up the learning environment. Teachers facilitate learning.

Sure it could be a lecture, or a presentation, or a power point-keynote, whatever. On the other hand it could be a project, or following a misconception all the way to it’s end.

Teaching is more than filling the empty vessels, it is igniting the fire.

“For the mind does not require filling like a bottle, but rather, like wood, it only requires kindling to create in it an impulse to think independently and an ardent desire for the truth.”
Moralia, On Listening to Lectures 48C (LCL 1.256-259)

Teachers respond to students questions, follow tangents, and allow the student to determine the direction of the class.

On the other hand we can just lock children in the classroom turn on the TV and let them be educated.

Building Safe Online Communities

I’m developing this for training at my school. I know it is a bit wordy, but I wanted to make sure it would also be a stand alone project. Actually I want it mostly to be a stand alone document. If you would please throw out some comments I would appreciate it.

If the embed is not working please try this link. Building Safe Online Communities.

Material-less math and questions

Playing Piano

As a support person I often find myself with a class for a day, or a period, or even just a few minutes while the teacher is gone. I need something to keep the students occupied with something other than gossip. So when the question came up “Need games children can play without any material to improve mathematical skills for thousands of slum area’s children.” I paid attention.

The first suggestions were games of NIM, which is a game played with stones. Any sort of counter will do and they don’t have to be uniform. Basically the game is played by making a pile of stones then picking up a number of stones in turn eventually forcing your opponent to pick up the last stone. Rules can include putting the stones in various sized groups and picking from one group at a time. Having a minimum and maximum number of stones that can be picked up, or really anything you can think of.

The second suggestion was playing “20 questions”. The answer can be as simple as a number and increase in difficulty such as rules or functions, to equations of lines, or just about any sort of concept in math. Imagine guessing a number but not being allowed to ask if it is higher or lower.

When I teach 8th grade math I basically like to make sure my students can recognize each function from the graph, the equations, and the table. So this fits in nicely. Actually anything we define in terms of properties should, theoretically, be a good answer for a 20 questions game. The game can and should be a vehicle for teaching students how to think critically about the properties of an object.

The last suggestion was Bizz Buzz. I’ve played Buzz a lot, which is a simple game. The rules are: students line up or sit in a circle and count up saying Buzz when they reach the number or its multiple. Bizz Buzz is a variation using two numbers and their multiples. Too add even more difficulty try using numbers from different bases. After playing this in the classroom a few times I increased the difficulty one my time by asking students to say Bang when they reach a number that is a common multiple. Playing with factors and common factors should also work.

I might also recommend ideas such as which I think is a great method to learn math. Creating patterns of dance or stomps with your feet.

I was also talking to a music teacher a few weeks ago. He was trying to teach his students the relationship between fractions and notes using the old pizza method. I suggested he stay with what is natural and use the timing of the notes. Whole notes, half notes, quarter and eights are fractions of time not pizza. Sustained notes are simply adding fractions. Students would obviously practice with their instruments, but drums can be easily created. I would assume that difficulty could be increased with various time measures.

If you have any other suggestions please add them to the comments below.


Enhanced by Zemanta

Videos for Inspiration

I started reading this blog post – well watching the videos and I didn’t get through the first one before I had something to say.

Lessons for teaching:
Good teaching then becomes the ability to give students time to slow think, but to be there when they need help.
More importantly we need to understand our subject well enough so that when students come up to us with half formed ideas we need to recognize the path that they are traveling on so that we can guide them further along the right path – not our path.
Well right path isn’t necessarily the right term because sometimes the wrong path is more important to travel first.
Sometimes students come up to me with questions and my best response is not an answer, but a question. Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you did this? What did you want to happen? Why don’t you and Joe work together I think you two are working on similar ideas?

Videos for Inspiration

I started reading this blog post – well watching the videos and I didn’t get through the first one before I had something to say.

Lessons for teaching:
Good teaching then becomes the ability to give students time to slow think, but to be there when they need help.
More importantly we need to understand our subject well enough so that when students come up to us with half formed ideas we need to recognize the path that they are traveling on so that we can guide them further along the right path – not our path.
Well right path isn’t necessarily the right term because sometimes the wrong path is more important to travel first.
Sometimes students come up to me with questions and my best response is not an answer, but a question. Why did you do this? What were you thinking when you did this? What did you want to happen? Why don’t you and Joe work together I think you two are working on similar ideas?

Different Schools Different Styles

Different Schools Different Styles

I wonder.

I wonder sometimes about how we go about teaching. I, personally, am a very student-centered teacher. This isn’t a single style of teaching, but rather a collection of styles that generally tend towards allowing students to actively learn through exploration and discovery. On the other hand a teacher-centered would be a collection of styles that generally tend towards giving instruction to students and then giving them time to practice the skills that were explained. Neither style has to be absolute. With that in mind I like to think of myself as a student-centered teacher, I may not always be good at it, but if I teach anything I want to teach my students to think and reason, and hopefully discover. I want their curiosity to guide their learning.

I guess you can say that my goal is always just beyond what I actually accomplish. I like to be a student-centered teacher, but I know there have been and always will be times when I am a teacher-centered teacher. I will lecture, I will explain, I will try my darnedest to pour information into the heads of my students. Sometimes it will work better than others. Sometimes if will fail miserably. Usually it will fail when I am falling back onto teaching the way I was taught. Too often I do this because I am losing control of my room and I want it back. This is a classroom management issue, usually. Sometimes it is just pure laziness, but we won’t mention that.

Of course sometimes I use a direct instruction by planning. Just because I believe in a student-centered approach to teaching doesn’t mean I don’t think there are times when it would be better to use direct instruction. In general my lessons plan will include 5 minutes of direct instruction, followed by a long period of exploration, with a teacher directed summary of what is learned to finish things off. No, I don’t tell them what they learned I attempt to guide them through explaining what they learned.

So here I am getting off task again. I have one simple point for this blog post: Why do all schools in a district have to use the same textbook? Let’s face it in many schools the curriculum is dictated by the textbook that is bought. We can have curriculum meetings, and hire curriculum directors, but in my experience, (yes limited to just a few schools) at the end of the day too many teachers grab the book and follow the curriculum they set forth. (yes I did it too.) Of course some teachers refuse to be bound by the dictates from the publishing company, but for the most part the average teacher doesn’t have the time or energy to create their own curriculum. After all they don’t have an advanced degree in curriculum and instruction, they don’t have a team of curriculum experts, they don’t get paid extra, they aren’t given time during the day and must work on their own, and the district has created a curriculum for them. Starting over from the beginning might just be a waste of time.

When a teacher does deviate from the planned curriculum most of the time it is because they feel the need to improve the curriculum. Sometimes this means making the lessons more student-centered, as I usually did, and sometimes this means making the curriculum more teacher-centered. (please, let’s try to keep this simple)

In my current district we use Connected Math. I for one like the Connected Math textbook series. I haven’t taught it for a while, and if I taught it again I would probably try to find or create better lessons or activities, but I would likely follow the basic structure they developed. By better lessons I of course mean more realistic problems to explore along the lines of the famous Dan Meyer WCYDWT idea (I hate the fact that this blog is blocked at my school). In the end though that’s just making the classroom more student-centered. On the other hand I know a lot of teachers that would do the exact opposite. They would take away the student discussion and exploration time and add more skill practice and direct instruction. They would consider that making an improvement.

I would disagree and suggest that those other teachers are actually making the instruction less effective, but that is a discussion for a different post. Right now I want you to imagine yourself in this situation and ask these questions:

  • What if a school district supported both types of teachers?
  • What if, as in my district, there were 5 different middle schools and we taught math using a different philosophy in each school? (Um editors note, we have 5 schools not 5 different philosophies of education) The teachers, and administration, could choose to teach in the school that most closely matched their philosophy?
  • What if instead of a teacher refusing to use the textbook imposed on them they moved to a school with a textbook they liked better? Quickly and easily without leaving the district, without repercussions.
  • What if the students or parents could choose the school that they thought most closely matched their learning style? Yes I know that means buying more than one set of textbooks, on the other-hand with more and more online learning management systems we are building more and more individualized content. It will not be long before many schools will have a complete curriculum online that teachers can use, edit, and share at will, there will be little need for new textbooks all the time.
  • What if school choice meant choosing the school not based on test scores, but based on your philosophy of education?

Enhanced by Zemanta