Archive for the ‘Key Topics’ 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.

A Wonderful Visual Outlining The 7 Steps of Good Storytelling ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning

Digital Storytelling is a fantastic way to encourage students to develop products relating to the creative thought process while using problem-solving and language skills.  Storybird is a great platform for this type of creative expression, especially for the primary grades. It allows the student to choose a theme consisting of a set of images and embed them in the pages of the digital book.  The story is then saved on the website and can be shared with the class.

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More on digital storytelling:  A Wonderful Visual Outlining The 7 Steps of Good Storytelling ~ Educational Technology and Mobile Learning.

Using Games for Learning: Practical Steps to Get Started | MindShift

By now, you’ve probably read enough to be convinced that it’s worth trying games in your classroom. You understand that games are not meant to be robot teachers, replacing the human-to-human relationship. Games are a tool that teachers can use to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. Games provide a different approach to developing metacognitive skills through persistent self-reflection and iteration of particular skill sets. Games offer experiential contextualized learning through virtual simulation. Games can also offer an especially engaging interdisciplinary learning space.

Read More: Using Games for Learning: Practical Steps to Get Started | MindShift.

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

Are We headed Towards Different School Structures in the Future?

Educators are constantly referencing the importance of instilling 21st century skills and preparing students for the future workplace, meanwhile our schools look like they did over 100 years ago.  Are we missing the point?  Why can’t classrooms be adapted to look more like a workplace with modern technology and collaborative work spaces?  These and many other questions are driving a change in the way that we look at the physical side of education.  Changing the way our schools and classrooms look might contribute a great deal to the way that we teach and learn, and to the profession as a whole.  That being said, district and school decision makers can look at modern teaching practices as a basis for  planning and upgrading existing schools.  Just as the instructional practices change from one class to another, so should the physical nature of the classroom.  Teaching is modular and the teaching and learning surroundings should be as well.

 

Read more here:

Could the School of the Future be Modular?

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.

Mobile Devices Level the Global Educational Playing Field

Ghana Training

by Coby Enteen

Mobile devices are slowly transforming the educational landscape for teachers on a global scale.  In a recent trip to Africa I had the opportunity to work with local K-12 teachers on utilizing and incorporating digital tools into the classroom.

This program took place in Ghana, which is a country with approximately 20 million people, of which 90% complete primary school grades and only a very small percentage move on to finish a twelfth grade education, and even fewer achieve a post secondary education.

A majority of the schools in Ghana lack the technological resources and facilities that we have become accustomed to in the western world.  In the larger cities, some schools have computer labs and teachers use their own laptops where available.  Another issue is the lack of internet access and instability of the electrical system, which is often times overloaded and causes blackouts.

The one aspect “leveling the field” is the increased access to mobile devices.  It is very common to see individuals walking around with two mobile devices; one for work and one for personal use.  These devices offer tremendous opportunities for the advancement of the field of education, particularly as related to the ability to teach 21st century skills and to provide easy access to information commonly available to individuals throughout the western world.

A number of barriers still remain to the effective incorporation of  these devices into the classroom:

  • High cost of data – In many developing countries where food and health care are still a main concern, individuals are unable to afford  the high cost of data, which is buoyed by little competition within the cellular communication market.
  • Breaking the traditional teaching model – Although digital education has become a commonplace term throughout the western world, the concept of educational transformation and 21st century skills is still a foreign concept to a majority of educators throughout the developing world.
  • Opening the eyes of educators to the possibilities of technology in education – Teachers throughout the developing world often times lack the basic skills required for utilizing the technology for teaching and for guiding student work.

Mobile devices are slowly flattening the world in terms of bringing technology into the classroom.  The lack of computers and other technologies within the educational arena in the developing world is being supplemented by the widespread availability of mobile devices.  We must overcome a number of obstacles in order to meet this challenge and support educational change.

 

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.

Social Networks or Learning Networks?

Social Media

Written by Coby Enteen

Social networks are gradually becoming commonplace in the K-12 classrooms.  Teachers have awoken to the fact that 12-18 year old’s  spend much of their after-school hours socializing online, and they only started to realize the value of bringing this experience into the classroom.

I have personally had the opportunity to introduce a teacher controlled social learning platform in a recent 1-to-1 initiative in a large school district.  Teachers received hands-on training using the Edmodo online tool to introduce topics, assign schoolwork, create classroom discussions and encourage student learning and inquiry both during the school hours and at home in the form of homework.  The teacher training was voluntary and only 30% of the teachers attended the initial sessions.  Within a two months of the training the number of teachers using social networks in the classroom doubled and it became a source of discussion in the teachers lounges.

Although social networks are viewed by most as a leisure activity, we must not forget that it is the voice of the young generation.  It is the medium of speech and something that comes naturally to them.  Therefore, the ‘natural’ place is in the classroom, and maybe we should consider it to be a learning network instead?

More Educators Joining Online Social Networks -- THE Journal

More information about teachers and social networks:

More Educators Joining Online Social Networks — THE Journal.