Thursday, November 27, 2014

"I HATE SCHOOL!" - A School vs. Me Learning Experience Travesty

As a father of three kids aged 6, 4, and 3 I figured the words "I hate school" would be something I wouldn't hear until some time far off into the distant future. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I'd hear those words just one month into first grade!

My oldest daughter entered Grade 1 in September 2014. Constantly exclaiming "I have an idea" this is a kid who has eureka moments at least five to ten times a day and then embodies them in some sort of artistic rendering or paper and tape creation. This is a kid who is constantly busy thinking and doing with vigor and enthusiasm. This is a kid who asks questions, seeks challenges and loves to use her imagination and creativity with most everything she does and then asks for your attention (in some cases demands) to share that which she has done.

Pictured below are sixteen items representative of such effort (self-initiated) over the course of the past three months (September through November 2014). These include (left to right): (Top row) Pilgrim thanksgiving colour drawing, I like Valentines colour drawing (done in September...dont ask), alternating peanut-almond rings, undersea life painting (acrylic); (2nd row) B's walking and D's talking (visualized), play-doh tribesman, Trick or treat flip book, 3-d construction paper art; (3rd row) Drawing of mom (crayon), Eye candy (literally), ketchup bottle drip catcher, nature scene art (acrylic on cardboard); (4th row) 3-D construction paper art, self portrait, mechanized lego spirograph, Fall Weather flip book.

Over the course of the same three months it was after month one into first grade that I heard her exclaim "I hate school!" for the first time. I figured she was just having one of those days so didn't make anything of it until I began hearing that same phrase more frequently over the course of the next month and usually in the mornings as we got ready for school. As the frequency increased I began asking her "what is it about school that you hate?" Each time she would respond saying "we just do SO much work!" Given all of this work I figured she would having something to show for it. Yet, every time I ask my popular after school question "Did you do anything exciting in school today?" she typically responds with a stone-faced "Not really."

Hearing my daughter describe her learning experience like this just one month into first grade was of grave concern. Seeing my daughter experience learning a complete one-eighty from who she is as a learner just one month into first grade was of even graver concern. In the grand scheme of her life-long learning experience(s) this conjures images of a newly lit candle snuffed out before the wax even got hot. Learning, if experienced in a way that aligns with a child's aptitudes, interests and motivations should NEVER be perceived as work. Learning, if experienced in a way that aligns with a child's aptitudes, interests and motivations, should be experienced as a state of flow - passion, engagement, excitement and thirst for whatever world the learner is immersed in. Clearly this is not the learning experience she is having.

This was reinforced when she recently brought home items representative of her learning experience over the last three months at school. These sixteen pieces of work were chosen from among the most colorful in spite of the fact that the majority of color is from the tip of the teacher's marking pen for grading and corrections. These include (left to right): (Top row) Volunteers & Diversity Assessment, Test Your comprehension, Word wall families and dictation sentences x2; (2nd row) Seasonal changes and weather assessment, Word wall families and dictation sentences, American Symbols Match up, Comparisons (nine week test); (3rd row) Asking or telling assessment, Halloween composition, catching snowflakes art, Weekly word wall assessment; (4th row) Word wall families and dictation sentences x2, Making connections test-self test, visualizing exercise.

The stark contrast between this by-product of my daughter's in school learning experience versus the by-product of her aptitudes, interests and motivations pictured earlier is shocking yet painfully insightful at the same time. Taking it a step further, wanting to explore from a slightly different perspective, I superimposed the images from each set of sixteen works and applied an HDR effect to enhance. The result is depicted below. I'll leave it to you to determine which set of superimposed images is which although, given the uninspiring linear and purely textual nature of one versus the other, I trust you'll have it all figured out by the time you finish reading this sentence.

As I processed these contrasts and reflected upon my daughter's sentiments of her learning experience as "SO much work" and "not really" exciting I began to wonder how many other first graders are living a similar school vs. me learning experience travesty fueled by a largely impersonal, linear, dimensionless evaluation and assessment-driven WORK flow (with a few exceptions of course) that is progressively smothering the flame of imagination, creativity, and curiosity that burns in so many learners today. The next big question on my mind is, what am I going to do about it?

What is your school vs. me learning experience story? I'd love to hear from you and what you're doing about it.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Re-visiting the Flipped Classroom

As I was training for my new role I ran across an amazing infographic on the flipped classroom created by and posted on Knewton . I thought it was worth sharing again as it does such a great job reminding us why it's so important to focus on where the efforts in learning today are most value-add. Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

New Role...Same Passion

As 2013 draws to a close I can honestly say that it was one hell of a year. I could sit here and write that the majority of it was actually pure hell but to focus on the negative would take away from what actually turned out to be a fairy tale ending to the year. That fairy tale ending was on account of two things. First, my family and I moved into a new home which we are so happy to be in. Second, on October 14 I officially left my role as a high school teacher in my eleventh year and moved into a new role as a Publisher's Representative with John Wiley & Sons Inc. publishing company. 

Of course it was difficult leaving behind a group of students with whom I had so much fun and success. It was difficult leaving behind students that reminded me daily of just how much they enjoyed coming to my class everyday. It was difficult leaving behind a profession that so desperately needs to retain teachers that teach on the edge, innovate and take chances in the name of pushing the student achievement envelope. It was difficult leaving behind the comfort of the four walls of my classroom that I new oh so well.

However, moving into this new role as a Publishers Representative does not mean I leave behind my passion for innovating education and to create the ultimate learning experience. In fact, I will continue to draw heavily upon this same passion while experiencing many new affordances. This new role affords me the opportunity to facilitate realization of the ultimate learning experience for an audience far broader than that within my own classroom - something that I have been eager to do for a long time. This new role affords me the opportunity to work with a leader in the education space. It affords me the opportunity to work with a team of like-minded education game-changers to enable students to reach their full potential. This new role provides exposure to a digital interactive learning sandbox that provides cutting edge and value add learning tools for students today and beyond. 

Was it hell trying to manage a new job, moving into a new house (that also needed renovations) all while trying to juggle family life (as a dad of three kids five and under)? Sure it was. But as I said, to harp on that would only take away from the excitement and joy these two new opportunities have brought. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Education happens should be recognized and celebrated when it does

Informal learning should no longer be regarded as an inferior form of learning whose main purpose is to act as the precursor of formal learning; it needs to be seen as fundamental, necessary and valuable in its own right, at times directly relevant to employment and at other times not relevant at all (Coffield 2000)

In their article “Informal Learning in the era of Web2.0” Jokisalo and Riu (2009) cite that according to the vocational training policy (Tissot 2004) terminology, informal learning is: “Learning resulting from daily activities related to work, family or leisure. It is not organised or structured (in terms of objectives, time or learning support). IL is in most cases unintentional from the learner’s perspective. It typically does not lead to certification.” Furthermore, according to the European Commission (2000) “Informal learning is a natural accompaniment to everyday life. Unlike formal and non-formal learning, informal learning is not necessarily intentional learning, and so may well not be recognised even by individuals themselves as contributing to their knowledge and skills.”

       Education doesn't just take place in stuffy classrooms and university buildings, it can happen everywhere, every day to every person.
By . Founder of Virgin Group

To the contrary, in the traditional U.S. K-12 public school classroom student learning and associated learning outcomes are governed by learning objectives set out by bodies such as the U.S. Department of Education as well as State level departments of education. Known as standards of learning these learning objectives cover 4 core areas – Science (including Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science), Math, History and English. These core areas account for approximately 70% of student learning during a typical 4yr high school tenure with only 30% of learning being taken up by elective subjects such as Foreign Language, Physical Education, Arts and Career and Technical Education.

Courses in the 4 core areas are taught according to the standards prescribed with little to no room for learning deviation leaving little time for self-directed learning of topics of individual interest. Furthermore, each student is expected to learn exactly the same material regardless of interest area and each student is evaluated using the same criteria and same letter grade scale providing little no transparency to unique personal learning outcomes and preferences. Lastly, with such a large focus on learning the core subjects, little time is left in the school day for creative learning such as multimedia arts, design, or industrial arts.

As a result, most self-directed or informal learning done by students is forced to occur outside of the classroom on their own time. Although it is difficult to quantify the percentage of the amount of informal learning a student completes discussions with students in my own high school classes put estimates between 15-30% with most attributed to ready access to the internet and social media. Comparatively in the workplace, informal learning accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today (Dale 1999). Yet given this large amount of informal learning taking place, four major gaps exist: 1) there is little to no transparency to the specific type and level of mastery of informal learning that individual learners complete; 2) little to no credit or recognition is given to learners for completion of informal learning milestones; 3) few studies have been conducted that directly leverage K-12 student participation to understand how learners conduct their informal learning (i.e. when, how, using what technology etc.) and; 4) very few, if any, current web applications exist that leverage gamification tools (such as XP and status) specifically to motivate informal learning.  

As I enter into my last year of grad school at OCADU's Master of Inclusive Design program  much of my efforts will be focused on understanding what factors motivate informal learning, how it's carried out (i.e. preferred tools, settings etc.) and ultimately designing and developing a web-based solution that will facilitate recognizing and celebrating informal learning as an integral part of our everyday learning experiences. 

Join me on my journey to move learning and education into a new front - one that is accessible to all and recognized by everyone. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Charting a new course via the MOOC

As Columbus sailed the seas in hopes of discovering the new world, in the same pioneering spirit, I have recently charted a course of my own to sail the digital seas to experience a new world of learning called the MOOC.

An acronym for Massively Open Online Course the MOOC is a new way of learning that, at the risk of sounding facetious, involves just a few more students than the average classroom (about a few thousand more), a slightly broader communication platform then the white boards and binders found in the standard classroom (typically Google + tools such as Hangout), and a little more flexibility in your learning schedule than the 8-3pm school day most have gotten used to (anytime you want!).

The MOOC that I am enrolled in is called Learning Creative Learning through MIT. Aside from the amazing content we'll be exposed to on this subject I think the majority of my excitement stems from being afforded the opportunity to participate in a social experiment of historical proportion for the world of education. MOOC's such as this embody what a truly inclusive learning experience is all about enabling all learners, from anywhere, anytime, and any socioeconomic background, to participate.

The MOOC not only represents discovering a new world (of learning) but also the hammer that will serve to break down the pillars of an obsolete education system that far too many continue to encounter today. So far, after just one week of participating in this MOOC, I am really digging this whole hammer-wielding, pillar bashing experience!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Experiencing badges at last!

Several posts back I wrote about my interest in, and the value of badges, as a vehicle for improving student achievement and engaging our students as 21st century learners.  For those that have no clue what a badge is, a badge is a digital representation of student learning outcomes.  Think digital version of a scouting badge.  The Mozilla Open Badges for Learning initiative and the MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Badges for Lifelong Learning Competition (for which my application proposing using badges for soft-skill recognition was subsequently rejected on the grounds of not being in line with their goals???) are two pioneering efforts introducing badges as a viable option for representing student achievement.

I love the idea of badges as they:
  • are easily recognizable
  • are easily transportable
  • motivate students big time
  • recognize learning that takes place both in and out of school and;
  • take into consideration soft learning (aquisition and demonstration of things like time management, leadership etc.) in addition to the hard learning that students are typically graded on (i.e. how they score on assignments and tests in class).
By the very nature of ideas, however, the above was pure speculation.  Dying for the opportunity to prove these ideas I set out on a quest to experience badges.  A year or so ago I came up with a concept for a badge-based web app. Not knowing the least about web app development it's still in the very early stages of development leaving me short of my goal to experience badges.  Enter Edmodo.

This week I decided to have each of my students sign up for an Edmodo account.  Edmodo is a social learning app that allows teachers to create classes and provides for a social communication and interaction platform for all things learning related. Students can exchange ideas and pleasantries and teachers can post assignments and quizzes (which it grades for you too...yeh!) among other things.  When I tried Edmodo for the first time over a year ago during their infancy as an edtech start up I was not overly impressed with their interface and options.  Basically a glorified communication platform for teachers and students.  It was clumsy too.  Fast forward to today and man what a difference! Well done Edmodo team! A much smoother running application with a better interface and best of all...the option to create and assign BADGES!!!

I immediately set out and created my first badge, a peer helper badge, to be assigned for students that consistently help out their peers.  Check it out.
Edmodo has done a great job making it easy to do.  You conceive of your badge type, develop its description and then go out and find an image that you upload into Edmodo, click "create badge" and viola, out pops your badge.  I shared it with my students and they loved it! I have since recruited them to define their own badges and badging criteria for when, how, and why badges can be assigned in class.  In the first ten minutes I received 20 submissions for badge ideas, badge images and badging criteria.  Best of all, Edmodo even gave me a badge for being "the first Edmodo user at my school." See the screenshot from my Edmodo profile below. 
Now I can say that I have truly experienced badges.  Now I can say that badges really are recognizable, easily transportable, motivated me big time, recognized something I did (and boy does it feel better than a letter grade) and recognized a soft learning outcome.  Now I can say that badges provide value as a tool for both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  Now I can say that badges are a welcome addition to the learner experience serving to engage our students and excite them about learning...everyday. 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Open Ed As the Mirror For Learner vs. Yearner

At a sold out Open Education Conference held this week in Vancouver, BC. presenters challenged the assumptions of our current education model and proposed innovative solutions to move our system beyond content and transform learning into a 21st century reality . Delivering a fantastic keynote address entitled "Ecologies of Yearning and the Future of Open Education" was Gardner Campbell, Director of Professional Development and Innovative Initiatives in the Division of Learning Technologies from Virginia Tech. The keynote is just over an hour not including the Silverlight download you'll most likely have to complete but well worth the time and effort.

Other than owing Gardner a huge thank you for including me (Andrei Dacko) as the "Dacko" in Dackolupatoni without knowing it, what hit me most in his presentation was his contrast between Yearner vs Learner. Yearning, defined as having an intense feeling of longing, is exactly what many of today's learners are feeling when it comes to their learning experience.  They yearn for a learner experience that is meaningful and customized to their learning styles.  They yearn for learning that provides value based on the direction that they seek to move into with their learning (see connectivism) rather than having that direction determined for them by someone else.  They yearn for a learning experience that enables them to leverage the tools they use everyday (cell phone, texting/SMS, the web etc.). I know this because I witness the yearning everyday from the high school students that I teach. 

Open education and the web is giving rise to a new learning that will redefine the learning experience like no other time in history (since Guttenburg's press according to Gardner Campbell).  It will enable a learning that remedies the ill that affects so many students today - a yearning for a better, deeper, richer and more personalized learning experience.