Monday, March 30, 2009

Unique, unlikely, and compelling collaborations--

Almost 2 years ago, a post---- An unlikely, unique perspective—

Today’s similar but --- Unique, unlikely, and compelling collaborations—

It’s safe to believe it’s not just a fluke---

At my feet lies Harley, an aging, wise, and loving 90 pound German Shepherd. Rescued from abuse and neglect some 6 years ago, this handsome guy has become an integral family member.. His love of life—in the past chasing deer, treeing wild turkeys, and stalking rabbits -- is still evident as his heart, his loyalty, and his love shine through despite his increasing deafness and weakened hindquarters.

And now a seasoned blogger who appears to bring love, and laughter, and learning to his audience and collaborators—those youngsters who still believe and want to believe and join in the fun as this canine speaks to them.

In 2007, I was amazed, yet thrilled by the connections, the learning and the pleasure inspired by Harley’s posts. I feared though the time spent with the Blogicians that year might have been a fluke—just a group of students who happened to like dogs. Yet I hoped – as Harley’s blog seemed to deal with an issue that had saddened me as I sensed since my retirement that the joy of learning and going to school had continued to decline. Steven Wolk addressed those same concerns in an article in Educational Leadership in the fall of 2008 when he wrote:

“from John Dewey's Experience and Education (1938): "What avail is it to win prescribed amounts of information about geography and history, to win the ability to read and write, if in the process the individual loses his own soul?" (p. 49). If the experience of "doing school" destroys children's spirit to learn, their sense of wonder, their curiosity about the world, and their willingness to care for the human condition, have we succeeded as educators, no matter how well our students do on standardized tests?”


I said out loud as I read his article on the Joy of Learning and pledged that Harley would continue to blog as long his audience appreciated his posts and he and they learned from each other. To this day in 2009, Harley’s posts do encourage a sense of wonder and a willingness to care for each other as he communicates and learns through connections on his blog. And happiness and learning are evidenced this year by recent posts from Reflective Voices (5th graders in Georgia, another of Anne’s projects) who looked back on the year commenting to and hearing from Harley. Harley thanked them here and linked to each student’s post; Filemon’s is particularly revealing.

Isn’t the addition of the term “compelling” appropriate here? How is it that a shepherd can encourage multiple comments from Graciela well into the evenings? Aren’t these youngster’s reactions to Harley’s blog telling us something?

Could it be that a voice that is unique, that is joyful and thankful, that radiates love and concern for all , that shows a genuine interest in his reader’s learning can truly model and generate engaged learning in which youngsters’ eyes sparkle, in which questions abound and answers are eagerly sought, and from which a lifelong love of learning arises?

And if that is so, when might your “Harley” enter the blogosphere to contribute an additional unique perspective bringing even more joy and wonder to learning?

Friday, March 13, 2009

PLP Boot Camp for Educational Leaders

It's been an honor to serve as community leader for the Illinois/Ohio Cohort of PLP. The PLP model is extraordinary-- encouragjng and enabling incredible learning and growth for all those who participate.

And now a new opportunity for educational leaders from PLP-- reposting from Will's blog:

Sheryl and I are excited to announce the inaugural Powerful Learning Practice Visioning Boot Camp for Educational Leaders to be held at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia this summer. You can get all of the details here, but the bottom line is we’ve put together a three-day event for a limited number (25) of participants that we think will help school principals and superintendents get a deep understanding of how the world is shifting, identify and articulate the challenges that we face, begin some serious conversations about long term change in personal and classroom practice, and create a foundation for long range planning.

We’re really pleased that Chris Lehmann will be our host for the three days and that he will be among a group of forward thinking leaders who will share their experiences and expertise with us. We hope you (or your school leader) will join us!

Sunday, March 01, 2009


PLP, Powerful Learning PracticeSheryl and Will have purposely a designed a professional development model for 21st century learning that is about learning, unlike so many others whose focus is tools. Throughout the life of the Illinois Ohio cohort, they have pushed, nudged, encouraged, and exhorted community members to engage in understanding the shifts inherent in 21st century learning.

Despite incredible growth on the part of so many members, a testing of the waters of “the shift”, some "I get it"s, there has been resistance, push back, notes about all of the “tech activities” and “technology” currently in place, calls for “tools”— Enamored by tools, captivated by technology--

My own personal journey causes me to wonder if community members personal deep beliefs in how people learn have yet been objects of exploration (although there have been many and varied opportunities), resulting in their reluctance to embrace “shifts” that characterize 21st century learning.

Some 11 years ago, having had an incredible opportunity to participate in 40 hours of professional development on unique and compelling uses (publishing, real time data, communication, collaboration) of the Internet in education, I found my students learning skyrocketed when we participated in collaborative projects. At that time, I decided that learning was the result of using the Internet and I wanted to share that with other teachers. I was wrapped up with the use of the tool. I left the classroom to become a resource teacher in the Instructional Technology Office of a large urban district. Over my three years in that position, I reflected upon all I’d done in my classroom and learned as much as I could about learning. I spent hours designing professional development for teachers that modeled good learning with unique and compelling uses of the Internet, realizing that it wasn’t about technology at all, it was about learning and what I believed about how people learn. I returned to the classroom, humbled and eager to design learning experiences with and for my students.

So I know well that understanding the new science of learning is important and hard work, yet it’s not new.

From How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition 1990
An emphasis on understanding leads to one of the primary characteristics of the new science of learning: its focus on the processes of knowing (e.g., Piaget, 1978; Vygotsky, 1978). 10

Asking which teaching technique is best is analogous to asking which tool is best—a hammer, a screwdriver, a knife, or pliers. In teaching as in carpentry, the selection of tools depends on the task at hand and the materials one is working with
If, instead, the point of departure is a core set of learning principles, then the selection of teaching strategies (mediated, of course, by subject matter, grade level, and desired outcome) can be purposeful. The many possibilities then become a rich set of opportunities from which a teacher constructs an instructional program rather than a chaos of competing alternatives. 23

Learning is influenced in fundamental ways by the context in which it takes place. A community-centered approach requires the development of norms for the classroom and school, as well as connections to the outside world, that support core learning values.

Teachers must attend to designing classroom activities and helping students organize their work in ways that promote the kind of intellectual camaraderie and the attitudes toward learning that build a sense of community. In such a community, students might help one another solve problems by building on each other’s knowledge, asking questions to clarify explanations, and suggesting avenues that would move the group toward its goal (Brown and Campione, 1994). Both cooperation in problem solving (Evans, 1989; Newstead and Evans, 1995) and argumentation (Goldman, 1994; Habermas, 1990; Kuhn, 1991; Moshman, 1995a, 1995b; Salmon and Zeitz, 1995; Youniss and Damon, 1992) among students in such an intellectual community enhance cognitive development.

Teachers must be enabled and encouraged to establish a community of learners among themselves (Lave and Wegner, 1991). These communities can build a sense of comfort with questioning rather than knowing the answer and can develop a model of creating new ideas that build on the contributions of individual members. They can engender a sense of the excitement of learning that is then transferred to the classroom, conferring a sense of ownership of new ideas as they apply to theory and practice. 25
Adapting new theories of learning are even more challenging yet needed.
From George Siemens Connectivism: Learning Theory or Pastime of the Self-Amused? 2006
We are growing in our understanding of learning. Research in neuroscience, theories of social-based learning, and developments in learning psychology create new understanding of the act, and process, of learning.

As Downes (2006) stated,
Learning…occurs in communities, where the practice of learning is the participation in the community. A learning activity is, in essence, a conversation undertaken between the learner and other members of the community. This conversation, in the web 2.0 era, consists not only of words but of images, video, multimedia and more. This conversation forms a rich tapestry of resources, dynamic and interconnected, created not only by experts but by all members of the community, including learners.

Of most importance is that educators are reflecting on how learning has changed and the accompanying implications of how we design the spaces and structures of learning today.
My journey, my evolving practice and changing beliefs about learning-- from behaviorism with task based learning, to cognitivism with clear objectives and problem solving, to constructivism with social learning and knowledge construction by each learner, to conectivism with complex, open, autonomous, distributed learning -- was long, was arduous, was essential. I’d like to think that evolution reflects my ever increasing understanding of the new science of learning and the recognition of the new opportunities for learning afforded by today’s emerging technologies. Yet, today there is more urgency, a greater need to make a great leap to connected networked learning -- to provide appropriate learning experiences for our children in today's world.

Sheryl and Will, with PLP, provide the perfect environment for deep reflection, for introspection into beliefs about learning, for meaningful conversations about learning in community, for making that great leap. It is my fervent hope that reluctant community members will engage and immerse in those types of reflection and conversation, will move beyond the “tools”, will not let such an opportunity to make practice more relevant, more authentic whoosh right by—

Mindful of my own journey, mindful of the possibilities of 21st century learning, ever mindful of my role as community leader, I move beyond hope to continue to encourage, to nudge, to push--