Archive for the ‘Educational Theory’ Category

Sustainable Modern Pedagogy or “Boutique” Solutions?

Written by Coby Enteen

Our lives have changed drastically over the course of the last three of decades; job stability is slowly declining, manual labor is rapidly being taken over by machines, and the collective knowledge of the internet is becoming more valuable than the teacher and the textbook.    Schools are largely finding it difficult to keep up with these challenges, often creating a learning void and failing to provide even the fundamental skills required for success in the constantly-evolving world.  As educational paradigms shift, many new and existing pedagogies have been introduced into the classroom such as Project-Based Learning, Problem-Based Learning, Place-Based Learning, Computer-Based Learning, Discovery-Learning, Outdoor Education, Flipped-Classroom, Design-Thinking, E-Learning (which comes in different variations), Maker Spaces, and the list goes on.  This begs the question; are any of these modern teaching methods gaining ground and are they being effectively adopted in a consistent manner in the classroom or are they being viewed as “Boutique” approaches to learning that are “nice to have.”

Although there is no definitive answer to this question, it has become fairly clear that the pendulum is slowly shifting in the direction of modern pedagogy, primarily out of necessity and as a grassroots understanding that classroom learning must change to meet the needs of the modern world.  However, the flip side of the issue is that many school district administrators and educational policy makers continue to battle pedagogic modernization by promoting standardized testing and teacher accountability measures.  This creates a resistance to change and most often results in more traditional frontal teaching and “test-prep” approaches.  One observable effect is that many alternative schools have sprouted throughout the educational landscape, using modern instructional approaches as a trademark and method of differentiation from the competition.  Some prime examples of this would be the Hi-Tech High model in San Diego and the Studio Schools model in the U.K.

While teachers are becoming increasingly aware of modern pedagogy and many have received pre-service and in-service training in these areas; they are often finding it difficult to sustain this type of teaching in the classroom on a regular basis.  This can be largely attributed a number of factors including the absence of adequate support during the initial implementation phase, a lack of lesson preparation time and the focus on standardized testing.  Moreover, modern instructional practices are many times introduced one after another, without a clear plan and concrete steps for integrating it into the curriculum.  Thus, educators have become largely skeptical regarding the promise of modern pedagogy for classroom transformation and have begun to adopt the “boutique approach”, whereby new methods are used in conjunction with specific lessons and extracurricular assignments; never really becoming a teaching standard.

Cross-Curricular Multi-disciplinary Learning: Moving from Independent Islands to a Nation State

Moving from Independent Islands to a Nation State

Written by Coby Enteen

The value of creating in-depth, meaningful learning experiences for students through a cross-curricular or multidisciplinary teaching approaches have long been justified; however the feasibility of teaching this way, is somewhat questionable.  This is due to a large degree to the existing structure of the school, primarily at the secondary level where faculty is divided into isolated subject areas or departments, each working as an independent “island” in a sea of small land masses.  The goal of the approach presented is to unify these islands into a single land-mass or nation state, which shares common knowledge and teaching practices.

Creating multi-disciplinary instructional teams can provide a basic solution to developing collaborative learning projects which incorporate cross-curricular teaching.  This teacher task-force will typically collaborate on developing and implementing a specific project or small number of teaching units which is effective in showcasing the multi-disciplinary teaching approach, but falls short of a long-term solution.  This team provides only a superficial “band-aid” solution to the problem. The existing structure of the secondary school does not support this kind of structure, no does it allot time for this type of collaboration.  So, you ask: how do we create a secondary school environment which works successfully implements a cross-curricular learning approach?  There is no definitive answer other than either rebuilding a school from the ground-up or the need for re-examining the existing school structure and carving out new practices, which support deeper multidisciplinary connections in the classroom.  The key lies in collaborating with school stakeholders and revisiting existing instructional practices.

1.  School Leadership – The school principal and lead support staff provide the overall “tone” and pave the way for the pedagogic discourse in the teachers lounge.  To this end, the leadership must embrace the cross-curricular approach and echo its principles throughout all of the traditional channels: during teacher meetings, as a topic for professional-development, in the organization of teacher task-teams, and during every available opportunity.

2.  Creating a Cross-Curricular Organizational Structure –  The key elements of any effective organization can be found in its leadership, structure and mode of operation.  Schools need to select an individual with a strong background and understanding of multiple disciplines and subject-areas to head the program.  Although typically labeled as a curriculum-Specialist, Media Specialist, or Librarian in many schools, this individual must be able to maintain a “birds-eye” view of the school and its instructional needs, while working collaboratively with subject-area leaders (department heads) to develop a collective curriculum map.

3.  Instructional Weaving – The transition from a single-subject teaching practice to a multidisciplinary one will require the finding of “common-threads” which enable the teaching and reinforcing the curriculum standards of one subject-area through another.  This is the process of Instructional Weaving and it is accomplished through defining thematic topics that are both relevant to the students lives and incorporate instructional principles to be taught.  The school curriculum map will provide a basis for determining the intersections between the subjects taught throughout the year and provide a framework for teacher-teams to weave the curriculum together.

4.  Cross-Curricular Bonding – The final step involves putting the plans into motion by teaching the thematic lesson units involving the different subjects with other other subjects in mind.  Teachers will need to gradually shift from a single area focus to one that involves being part of a whole.  Time must be allotted for teachers of other disciplines to talk with one-another on a regular basis.  This can be accomplished through scheduling short 10-15 minute meetings to discuss the progress and help one another tweak the teaching practices.  The program leader (described in step 2) must receive regular progress reports as to guide the process at a school level.

Cross-curricular teaching is often viewed as an ideal mode of instruction offering for in-depth and meaningful learning.  The existing secondary school structure was built according to a uni-disciplinary model emphasizing the isolated teaching of subjects leaving little room for cross-curricular collaboration.  Therefore, schools must adopt a new set of organizational and curricular principles in order to effectively introduce a multidisciplinary teaching and learning process.

Here are some additional articles on Cross-Curricular Learning:

Deeper Learning: Why Cross-Curricular Teaching is Essential | Edutopia

Finding Inspiration Down the Hall and Beyond the Walls

 

The Future Of Math

The way mathematics is being taught in schools is quickly losing relevancy to the needs of society and fails to prepare students for the modern day workforce in a constantly changing economy.  New instructional pedagogies are slowly changing this but in order to be effective we must pick up the pace.

 

Read more on the topic at:

5 Things You Need To Know About The Future Of Math

How to Teach Math with Legos

New teaching practices, should we really change the way we teach? Understanding The “Thawing Principle”

Written by Coby Enteen

Every so often we are overtaken by new teaching practices and learning methods such as Flip Classroom, Project-based Learning, MOOC’s, Blended Learning and so on.  We often hear about them at conferences, from a school administrator or from fellow teachers and they make us feel inadequate and uncomfortable for not knowing enough and mainly for not teaching this way.  Does this mean that we should stop what we are doing (many times very effectively for very long) and switch over to this new way of teaching?  Definitely not!  Those of us that have been involved in education for a while understand the “Thawing Principle”, meaning that these so-called innovate pedagogic methods are nothing more than ideas and will typically go through a three-stage process in which they start out as the “next best thing” in education, then once tested in the field become an “effective strategy”, and from there move to the “something else to do with your students” category.

Thawing Principle

New teaching practices do have many benefits for the seasoned teacher, they give us new ideas and help us refresh ourselves professional, they enable us to step out of our comfort zone and help us think differently about what we are doing, and in some cases provide us with new ways for reaching students and maybe even exciting them about learning.  In order to gain the most out of these practices it is important to view them objectively asking yourself: is there something from this that I can take back to my classroom? and if so, how can I incorporate it into my teaching practices?  From that point, ‘the sky is the limit!’  Some teachers will gradually adopt and incorporate the process, while others will not.  The key is to avoid being intimidated.

 

It is time for educators to stop being intimidated by new instructional practices and put them into their true context.  They should be thought of in terms of a “Thawing Principle” and will ultimately go through the natural process of becoming a good idea for some and a better idea for others.  Moreover, the adoption of new instructional practices is gradual and varies from one teacher to the next.  It is therefore time to stop presenting them as the “next best thing” in education and look at them instead as innovative tools that can help us advance the nature of education.

QBL – A Practical Solution to Teaching

By Coby Enteen

Project-based Learning (PBL) has gained a great deal steam and has been adopted and implemented in many forms, over the course of the last decade.  Teachers invest endless hours in dissecting topics, planning activities, writing questions, organizing information, consulting with fellow educators, correlating to standards, and learning new technologies only to discover that the PBL unit takes up too much time and is largely out of synch with the school schedule, requirements, and other teaching taking place in the school.  In addition, inquiry-based learning (IBL) has largely been viewed as an effective means for improving the understanding of science concepts, and developing much needed critical thinking skills among students (Edelson, Gordon, & Pea, 1999).  Although tremendously effective in some environments, the IBL approach involves a great deal of preparation and is largely difficult to implement.  The challenges presented by these two methods, combined with the lack of teacher time and resources has brought about a third alternative, which has been coined the Question-based Learning (QBL) technique.

QBL is largely based on the principals of PBL and IBL, taking into account the constraints of the typical classroom.  While PBL is designed to encourage the development of 21st century skills while promoting student thought and motivation (Blumenfeld, 1991), and IBL encourages learning that is based on investigation; QBL is designed to incorporate both methods through short and adaptable process, which combines traditional teaching with inquiry, research, product development, reporting, and assessment.  Solomon (2008) argues that “introducing and implementing PBL in a traditional school setting can be a complex challenge, requiring a significant change in teachers’ approaches to teaching and students’ approaches to learning.”  In reality this required ‘change in approach’ has the negative affects of leading to the disintegration of effective learning practices and methods.  The QBL process provides a more practical and adaptable instructional approach, as illustrated below (figure 1).

 

QBL ModelFigure 1 – QBL Method

When effectively implemented, the QBL method provides an attainable framework for teachers to deliver content in a flexible, yet dynamic fashion.  Students engage in traditional learning activities for knowledge acquisition, transition into discovery learning and research, then work collaboratively to integrate creativity with advanced levels of thinking to both create and present products.  The discovery learning approach fits in well with QBL, because it allows students to actively investigate and explore new content, while developing sound strategies for learning the new material (McDaniel & Schlager, 1990).

QBL is an effective process for incorporating modern-day instructional approaches into the classroom.  The many constraints placed on educators, combined with the drive to improve education as a whole place a great deal of pressure on the teacher, who often finds it difficult to implement  innovative methodologies in an effective manner.

Resources:

Blumenfeld, P.C., Soloway, E., Marx, R.W., Krajcik, J.S., Guzdial , M., & Palincsar, A. (1991). Motivating Project-Based Learning: Sustaining the Doing, Supporting the Learning. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 369-398

Edelson, D., Gordin, D., & Pea, R. (1999). Addressing the Challenges of Inquiry-Based Learning Through Technology and Curriculum Design. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 8(3-4), 391-450.

McDaniel, M., & Schlager, M. (1990). Discovery Learning and Transfer of Problem-Solving Skills. Cognition and Instruction,7(2), 129-159.

Solomon, G. (2008, 11). Project-Based Learning: a Primer .Classroom Technology News | Educational Apps | Bloom’s Taxonomy | techlearning.com. Retrieved Oct 21, 2013, from http://techlearning.com

The Modern Student Learning Life Infographic

Student Inforgraph

Some highlights that should be noticed are:

  • 93% of students use study apps
  • 70% of students study solo during exams
  • 59% of students use a mobile phone to study
  • 42% of students have as favorite place to study their bedroom30% of students prefer to use Google Drive.

via The Modern Student Learning Life Infographic.

Are 21st Century Skills the Missing Piece?

by Coby Enteen

The introduction of 21st century knowledge and skills as a focal point for educational initiatives has reignited discussion as to the role of the teacher in the classroom.  Educators have been attempting for years to initiate a ‘paradigm shift’ in terms of the role of the teacher with the classroom; from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’.  However, very few have been able to turn this change into a reality.

When technology was first introduced into the classroom, educators believed that computers would speed up change and that teachers would finally let go of old habits and capitalize on digital resources as a means of transforming the classroom.  This did occur on a very small scale, where forward-thinking teachers understood the value of the technology in terms of encouraging student inquiry and a higher- level of discourse in the classroom.  However, for the most part teachers continue to serve as a single source of knowledge and the technology is used as a supplementary resource if at all.

One of the most significant trends of the past decade is the introduction of 21st century skills into teaching and learning.  Although academia is still wresting with the most accurate definition of these skills and practices, they have become the cornerstone for nearly all educational endeavors.  So, what are these 21st century skills?  The partnership for 21st Century skills (www.p21.org) defines them as: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation.  The division of Assessment and Teaching in of 21st Century Skills (ATOCS) at the University of Melbourne (www.atc21s.org) further divides these skills into 4 categories:

  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

Transformation of teaching and learning occurs when we begin to base our  instructional practices on 21st Century Skills.  Educators that integrate these skills into daily practice are unable to avoid more active instruction and begin to understand the importance of allowing student to construct knowledge through the development of these skills, at which point technology plays the ‘natural’ role of enabler.  This process leads to a transformation in the teaching process or an ‘instructional paradigm shift’ as illustrated in figure 1 below.

21CTI_Model

Figure 1 – 21CTI Model

Another article related to 21st century skills:

Living in a Digital World We Don’t Understand | edtechdigest.com.

Education Week: Q&A: Quest for ‘Digital Wisdom’ Hinges on Brains and Machines

Marc Prensky has written a number of books about the integration of technology and education. In his latest, Brain Gain: Technology and the Quest for Digital Wisdom, he argues that technology can be used to enhance the human brain and improve the way people process information.

 

via Education Week: Q&A: Quest for ‘Digital Wisdom’ Hinges on Brains and Machines.