Bringing Innovation to School – 1

I have been working my way through a very good book on bringing innovation to school by Suzie Boss and wanted to share some initial notes and observations here.

A central idea in the book is that there is a gap between saying we must encourage innovation and teaching students how to actually generate and execute original ideas.

A number of questions must be considered as we think about this gap:

  • What new set of skills and fresh ways of thinking are needed?
  • How can these be taught?
  • How do we provide opportunities to practice these new skills with appropriate support?
  • How can we scaffold the learning experience so that students learn to persist even through setbacks?
  • How can we help students discover their passions through this process?

Success in addressing this gap depends on knowing how to frame problems, generate ideas, test solutions, and learn through the experience. This is part of the design experience and requires a balance of individual effort and productive teamwork; of passion and persistence; of providing opportunities for students to engage questions and issues they care about.

What do we need to offer to our students? – If we can address this gap and bring innovation to school, we provide the necessary “training ground” students need to practice problem solving, research, collaboration and other essential fluencies, such as media literacy.

Essential is the commitment that innovation is both powerful and teachable; that focusing on innovation across the curriculum provides a means for teachers to help build essential 21st century skills in their students; and that teaching thought over content is a meaningful endeavour.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

Source: Boss, S. (2012) Bringing innovation to schools: Empowering students to thrive in a changing world. Solution Tree.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Learning Target?

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Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

I asked the question here why more teachers don’t share their learning targets with their students.

It would seem to me that we can encourage student responsibility for their learning by sharing what we want them to learn in our classes. We can further extend this learning for students if we share with them how they will know when they have learned it deeply.

Students can hit any target they know about and that stands still for them – Rick Stiggins

To be clear, a learning target is not an instructional objective. Each serves a different purpose.

An instructional objective is meant to guide instruction during a lesson or across a series of lessons. It is derived from provincial/state content standards and represents a key step that teachers will take to help students learn the component knowledge and skills that make up the standard. As such, instructional objectives are not designed for the student, but are written from the teacher’s perspective. The student will be able to …

On the other hand…

A learning target guides learning, providing focus for what the students will come to know deeply during the lesson. It is written from the students’ perspective and offers a student-friendly description in language that they understand of what they should come to learn or do during the lesson. As such, learning targets become a tool that helps students take charge of their own learning.

A well-developed learning target unpacks a “lesson-sized” amount of learning. It represents a portion, or “chunk”, of a particular content standard that the students can master during the lesson. A learning target serves as a “look-for” that guides students to knowing what to learn, how deeply to learn it, and exactly how to demonstrate the new learning.

If students know what to look for and can aim their sights (direct their energy) on a learning target, they can take ownership for their learning. By doing this, teachers grant their students the opportunity for mastery through autonomy and provide a sense of purpose. This represents essentials components of the motivation map that can drive student engagement and empowerment for their learning.

 

Positive Habit Development

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It is so fitting.

I have been wanting to return to my blog and pick up on my writing. Then today’s professional learning session at work was on positive habit formation, especially towards achieving our goals. It was very timely.

I had the chance to watch a TEDtalk-style video on the power of small habits. James Clear from JamesClear.com shared his thinking on the “aggregation of marginal gains.”

In essence, if we focus on improving our efforts towards a desired goal by just 1% on a consistent basis, then the compounding effect of these small changes will lead to lasting impact. We need to look for the 1% improvements.

True change towards positive habit development happens in small increments.

There are four stages to habit formation. Applying a positive awareness to each stage will help us achieve our goals.

  1. Noticing

When we add clarity to a goal, we add life to the goal. Clarity involves stating when, where and how we will do something. This gives our goals a place and time in our personal world and life activities. This is noticing.

My application – My goal is to renew my blogging as a place to share my thinking about vibrant learning and the necessary teaching to support it. I will commit to blogging on a weekly basis, preferably for publishing on Mondays.

  1. Wanting

When we design our environment to make it more likely to complete incremental steps, it becomes easier to accomplish our goals. This is wanting.

My application – I commit to scheduling time in my calendar on Mondays so that I will have enough time to collect and write down my thoughts.

  1. Doing

When we think that every outcome towards a goal is really a point on a spectrum of life change, then each repetition of activity that supports our goal is an important step forward. We need to optimize the starting line, not the finish line. That is, make it easy to get started. This is doing.

My application – I commit to publishing an article first, rather than self-debating the article’s topic, appropriateness, or message. This used to be my regular habit, and as such, I stopped blogging. Now, it is more important to publish on a weekly basis to develop my thinking. I’ll focus on style second.

  1. Liking

A reward helps make any habit stick. By measuring our progress, we get an immediate reward. The more evidence we have for a new goal or habit, the more we will believe in it. This is liking.

My application – I commit to tracking my writing on my calendar and making this public by opening the “collection of my posts” widget on the blog, too.

Every action you take is a vote for the person you want to become.

Why don’t more teachers share their learning targets with students?

This is a question that I have been asking myself lately.

I have had the opportunity to visit many classrooms over the past few months. Perhaps one thing that has surprised me the most is that far too many teachers are not sharing their learning targets with their students.

How can we encourage student responsibility for their learning if we are not sharing what we want them to accomplish in our classes?

5 Ways to put students in the driver’s seat suggests that sharing our learning targets with our students is one simple way to promote student-centered learning in the classroom. This will help clarify what we want students to learn and what this learning could look like. I am certain that, at a minimum, this will also help foster some student motivation for learning. It could add necessary purposefulness for being together in the classroom.

 

 

Helping Students Motivate Themselves

I have a great interest in understanding student motivation for learning. What motivates students to learn? How can I help students motivate themselves? What are some implications for classroom instruction?

I came across this article – Strategies for helping students motivate themselves – and was struck how 3 out of the 4 qualities mentioned match Daniel Pink’s work on The Puzzle of Motivation (a TED Talk worth watching; or if you prefer, here is a link to an RSA Animate version on the same talk).

Essentially the insight that I had confirmed again is that tokens and rewards work well as motivators for simple tasks. However, they don’t work the way we think they should when it involves the conceptual and creative thinking that takes place in cognitively challenging tasks.

In their place, a teacher has a greater chance in motivating and engaging students in their learning by thinking about the “Motivation MAP” – an acronym I use to focus on the three essential qualities of motivation and engagement.

Motivation MAP = Mastery, Autonomy, Purposefulness

M = Mastery

Are students working to demonstrate their developing competency and mastery in learning? Are students reflecting on how to improve their learning? Does teacher feedback focus on student effort for their learning rather than an innate ability? (Check out this website to learn more growth mindsets; or if you prefer, here is a link to a video about fostering a growth mindset.) Encouraging student mastery in learning feeds their desire to get better in what they do and, as a result, is a powerful motivator.

A = Autonomy

What choices are offered to students that allow them to be active participants in their own learning? Does this extend beyond simply letting student choose who they will work with on a project or in what format they can complete an assignment, whether poster, essay or presentation? Are there opportunities for “cognitive choice” so that students can determine how they will learn something new? Are they asked to self-assess and reflect on their learning? Offering this type of choice in our lessons helps foster student autonomy and their desire to be more self-directed. This also leads to better engagement.

P = Purposefulness

Of what value are the learning activities in the classroom? Do the students sense that they are simply completing “busy work” or do they find the learning activities meaningful and relevant?  Is there purposefulness in what we do together? When students sense a value in their learning, they will be more motivated and engaged to proceed further, if not deeper, into their learning.

Thinking about the “Motivation MAP” is a simple reminder to helping students motivate themselves: mastery, autonomy, and purposefulness.

Where to begin when personalizing learning

As readers of this blog may know, I have a great interest in personalizing the learning experience for students.

I find that in its simplest form, personalizing is offering students choice and challenging them to think in creative ways that are meaningful and rewarding to them. I have been practicing this for a while in my own classroom, and have witnessed a high degree of student engagement in classroom learning tasks as a result.

Lately, though, my thoughts have turned to scaling a model of personalizing learning for an entire school.

Where do you begin if you want to implement personalized learning for an entire school or school system?

I find that “The Honeycomb Approach to Personalized Learning” makes good sense in that it keeps the student learning experience central to all considerations during the planning process.

Honeycomb approach to personalized learningsource: The Institute @CESA#1

This approach developed by The Institute @ CESA#1, rightly notes that our attempts to implement personalized learning for an entire building isn’t necessarily a linear planning approach. It will get “messy.” Instead, we need to remember that all planning begins with the learner at the core of all thinking (and not new schedules, technology devices or even ‘trendy furniture’ as primary considerations.), and the honeycomb allows us to do this. This helps us focus our thinking on three factors (the cells in blue):

Learner Profiles – Comprehensive, data-rich learner profiles convey how a student learns best and are used to plan a customized learning environment and instructional strategies.

Customized Learning Paths – Students help create unique learning paths based on their individual strengths and interests. Content, pace and feedback are calibrated for each learner and needs are addressed as they occur rather than having to remediate later.

Proficiency-based Progress – All students are expected to demonstrate mastery of rigorous, comprehensive standards. Progress is based on what students have learned, not how much time they have spent in school.

From these starting points, necessary decisions can then be made about suitable teaching strategies and engaging classroom learning experiences (the cells in orange), the expectations for the different roles and relationships of both students and teachers (the cells in green), and the appropriate structures and policies to support the personalized learning practice (the cells in purple), with each decision assessed for its potential impact on the core components.

There are a number of advantages in using the honeycomb approach when planning for personalized learning. Of those mentioned here, I think the flexibility of the this approach offers an “organic” opportunity to help develop teacher capacity for instructional effectiveness in meeting every students’ learning needs:

The core components and surrounding cells can guide professional learning activities for individual educators and teams; they are also useful in supporting collegial coaching and feedback.

As the work gains momentum, schools and teams use the honeycomb as a guide for determining where to build out and scale their work as they move forward. For example, they might chose to add opportunities for Customized Learning Paths or Learner Independence as well as expand their work to other classrooms.

This article provides a concise introduction on how the honeycomb approach can work. Be sure to follow-through on the links, too, to get a wider appreciation on the application of each component.

All in all, I believe that personalizing the learning experience will engage students more in their learning, equip students with the necessary knowledge and skills based on their needs and abilities, and empower students as they move forward in their learning career. This truly is Vibrant Learning for me.

__________

Dr. J. Rickbaugh. Finding your sweet spot: The honeycomb approach to personalized learning.

The Institute @ CESA#1. Personalized learning.

Added value in helping kids learn how to code

As I consider general K-12 curricula across schools and districts, I have been advocating for the inclusion of a class in financial literacy for all students. For example, you can read about my thinking here, or here, and click here for links to some classroom resources. I believe it represents essential, daily skills that students will need later in life. Students should know, understand and apply the math behind balancing a checkbook or confirming the accuracy of a credit card statement. They should have a grasp of essential ideas behind supply and demand as it applies to the cost of goods and services, and be able to use this information when comparison shopping. They should have a grasp of the concept of principal and interest when they are ready to make a significant purchase, such as their first car.

I was reminded the other day of another key skill/class that should be included in the general K-12 curriculum: learning how to code. My experience has taught me that kids want to learn how to code. They want to know how to develop games, websites, or fun apps and then challenge their friends play them.

I discovered this when I had the opportunity to teach a technology class to a group of grade 7 and 8 students last year. In addition to the required content that we needed to cover in the class, I wanted to get a sense of the topics and skills that they desired to learn so as to tailor the course as much as possible to their self-identified interests. One topic that became overwhelmingly clear was the students’ desire to learn how to code and even develop some simple games.

Now, I have a minimal background in computer science and programming languages, but I knew that this would be a topic that would engage the students in the class and equip them with some initial skills that they could develop further. I wanted to empower them to create new games or unique programs. For these reasons alone, I was up to the challenge to learn how to teach some basic coding to my class!

Fortunately, I had learned about the Hour of Code movement earlier in the year and tried the teacher tutorial myself.

It was so simple.

I was guided each step of the way through the self-directed tutorial. If I made a mistake (and I did), then I could retry the stage and learn from my error.

I knew that my students would be able to learn from the experience, too. There were plenty of teacher notes to help me plan my lessons. These notes were developed to assist those teachers who don’t have a background in coding. This was definitely helpful so that I could be more confident in guiding the students. I also came across the school district notes to bring coding to an entire school system!

What surprised me the most was how deeply engaged the students were when I introduced the hour of code to them. They were excited to actually code and see the result of their thinking! Upon completion of the beginner tutorial, they started to explore the more intermediate options.

Even President Obama became the first President to write a line of code during the Hour of Code!

It is now a year later and I am teaching some of the same students in a different class this semester. The surprise that pleased me the most was noticing the extent that they have developed in their programming – on their own, outside of class! These students showed me the games they have developed over the year. As group, they are out to challenge each other with games that are more complex and difficult. When there is a free moment between classes, I often find them taking out their laptops to extend their thinking and practice their coding even more.

So why am I thinking about coding today?

This article on requiring computer science in schools and this article on adding coding to the elementary curriculum got me thinking again on the value of engaging students by exposing them to basic computer science. We don’t need to relegate coding as a senior elective in high school, but, rather, take advantage of student interest to learn and understanding better the tablets and phones that they are carrying around with them on a daily basis.

There is a growing research base documenting the benefits of teaching coding to children of all ages. This includes:

  • Developing logical thinking skills
  • Developing problem solving skills
  • Fostering persistence on a task
  • Communicating and collaborating for task accomplishment

These are important outcomes that will help students learn how to learn.

As such, I have modified my thinking a bit – I now believe that all students need to be taught some financial literacy as well as coding during their stay in our schools.

There are some great resources to help us get started, including those found at Code.org. Here is a thought-provoking series of blog posts on coding in the classroom from Edutopia. For example, consider this article on coding for kindergarteners. What if we helped students develop their coding abilities from a very early age, like we work to help them become proficient readers and skilled mathematicians? How might this help us better prepare students for THEIR future?

Besides – it is just plain fun to help the Angry Bird catch the pig. (You’ll have to try it here to see what I mean!)