Posts Tagged ‘Constructivism’

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.

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

 

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.

Why Nearpod for iPad Works so Well

By Coby Enteen

I  recently attended an iPad event where Nearpod was showcased as a classroom collaboration tool, and more recently introduced it into middle school classrooms.  It provided the teachers with the much needed control and focus that they were lacking, and allowed them to plan their lessons more effectively and to create real student interaction.  Nearpod has helped bring them closer to the goal of delivering relevant student centered learning.

 

Read more about Nearpod in the following article:

How The Nearpod iPad App Changed An Entire School – Edudemic.

Answers To The Biggest Questions About Flipped Classrooms – Edudemic

Flipped classrooms are truly changing education (see ‘How To Flip An Entire School‘ and a report on how the flipped classroom can improve test scores.) As a school psychologist intern highly interested in ‘flipping classrooms’, I have consulted with many teachers and school staff that have adopted (or have expressed interest in) the flipped classroom model, and those that have implemented the model, have nothing but great things to say. Below are some frequent questions I get about flipped classrooms from teachers; and my answers, based on personal interactions and professional consultations with teachers.

via Answers To The Biggest Questions About Flipped Classrooms – Edudemic.

Easily Create Self-Directed Online Lessons

Written by Coby Enteen

Edcanvas is a phenomenal web tool that allows teachers to create  multimedia rich  lessons  and share them with their students. These lessons can include YouTube videos, slides, files, text, and images which you can download either from the web or use the ones you have in your computer. I am really pretty amazed with the ease of use of this platform and the user friendly interface it has.  I have experimented with it in a high school setting and the results were amazing!  It can even be used for higher-education and distance learning.

 

More about Edcanvas:

via Edcanvas Easily Create Rich Multimedia Lessons for your Class.

Who moved my tablet? Teaching Teachers to Think Constructively

by Coby Enteen

Working with teacher and encouraging them to integrate technology  is not always a simple task.  Over the course of the past few months I have been leading an initiative integrating tablets into middle schools in an urban part of the country.  Many of the teachers had never really used technology as part of their teaching and it was somewhat of a shock to wake up one day to a classroom in which all of the students had a tablet and all of the books had gone digital.

Overcoming the initial shock was was not easy.  At first teachers  tried to bypass the use of the digital textbooks by photocopying materials from workbooks and blaming the disuse on technical problems that they were experiencing.  Through a great deal of coaching, guidance, ongoing hands-on training and lots of encouragement I was able to help them to change their ways.

The training sessions focus on new learning new applications and modeling effective teaching and learning with the tablet.  It is then the responsibility of the teacher to transfer the skills acquired during the professional development  into the classroom setting.  Most are hesitant at first, but are able to with the added support of the instructional coach.

An important dimension of the professional development is the ability to provide teachers with a clear and consistent method of instruction.  Once the method is in place, it is much easier for teachers to fit the content into a specific structure, at which point they begin to think more constructively and incorporate the ‘out of the box’ thinking mentality.

We have a long way to go before all of the teachers are utilizing the tablets to full capacity, but we have definitely gained some valuable ground.