Education 2020

This scenario is written from a future perspective.

When I think back on the educational experiences of my parents and grandparents, I am so thankful for the opportunities I have had.  I can’t imagine ever returning to the factory model…no, I would even call it a military model where students all had to run the same exercises and were pitted against one another with testing, academic ranking and remedial programs.  I love my new job as a teacher, but don’t think it is a vocation I would have ever pursued  in the old system.

The irony is that all we did was to apply what our ancestors already knew about what works in education.  They did all the pioneering research.  It just took The Crisis for us to restructure education to turn the research into practice.  I think it is also important to note that while technology has provided important tools in creating this new system, they are only tools and could have just as easily been used to develop something quite different.  The changes I have outlined below resulted not just from new technology, but from the will of the people to recreate a system of education that could truly help our world citizens to be all they could be.  We couldn’t afford to have talent and brainpower underutilized as we faced the complex problems of environmental degradation, international finance, peacekeeping, feeding an exploding population and multi-national corporation takeovers.  While the World Bank has certainly had problems of their own, we took to heart their theme, “Learning for All”  Simply put, there was too much at stake to ignore it.

Invest early.  It starts at an early age.  Parents truly are their child’s first teachers, so we began to include more about brain and cognitive development in the old high school classes and incorporated more hands on experience in working with young children – how to read to them, how to use positive discipline approaches, how to encourage their creativity and curiosity, etc.  Parents now know that the best preschool experience for their child is not one that sits them at tables to do worksheets but one that helps structure play experiences in a way that capitalizes on teachable moments.   We have applied that same system to most subject matter for all ages- introduce the learners to the key information and help them find life experiences in which to observe and practice those principles in action.  School is an important contributor to this system, but so are families and communities, both geographical ones and communities of interest.

Invest smartly.  A very different feature here is that much of this is content driven rather than age driven.  There may be what we used to call elementary, middle and high school students all in the same group as some adult learners.  What role each individual plays and how that activity is processed varies by developmental level, but they all participate in the same activity.  Technology becomes a key as we structure ways to reflect on and learn from the experiences in developmentally appropriate ways.  We have discovered this structure is very valuable for at least three reasons.  First, newbies have the opportunity to work with more experienced mentors and develop important relationships.  Second, it has long been know that the best way to learn something is to teach it and this structure gives the more experienced learners an opportunity to teach the less experiences.  Third, it helps each learner begin to build their professional learning network and utilize tools to create meaning and strengthen relationships.  The focus overall is learning together.

Throughout a child’s learning “career”, there is still an emphasis on assessment, but the focus has shifted from an achievement mentality to helping that child discover their natural talents and passions (What Ken Robinson calls The Element, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls Flow and Peter Benson called Sparks), setting developmentally appropriate goals and helping the learner measure their progress toward the goal.  Again, a key component is helping them to build their personal learning network using tools that fit best with their preferred learning style.  It starts by clearly defining goals of what contribution each node makes, but that changes over time as the learner discovers holes, new information or new interests.  We have discovered that not only is this much cheaper than all the standardized testing that used to be done, but that achievement levels have gone through the roof.  Little did our ancestors realize that the standards they felt were so important to insure every child a good education were actually ceilings that distracted students, teachers and administrators from realizing the full potential of the students. 

Notice that the term “students” was used back then rather than “learners” like we use now.  That change signified a major shift in how we view education.  For example, students were traditionally obliged to work for the teacher & for “compensation” in the form of grades.  Learners, on the other hand, “are motivated by an understood and realized “value” in their work, especially when it is valuable to others.” This quote is from an old blog from 2010 called 2₵ Worth. David Warlick includes an excellent chart looking at how he sees the difference between “students” and “learners”.

Our schools are still centers of learning.  In fact, they are more centers of learning now than they ever had been.  Instead of being viewed as the fortress where education takes place, they are now seen as the hub of learning for people of all ages within the community.  They contain labs that can’t be found other places in the communities, high tech communications equipment for connecting a group of people locally to other groups anywhere in the world, libraries, mentors/counselors, meeting spaces and galleries to showcase learner projects and achievements.  It also provides a place for cultural, artistic and athletic activities which are viewed as an essential part of an education in our multi-cultural, demanding world.

This diagram from the free ebook, Learning Spaces shows a good example of how to design these blended learning spaces

Textbooks have mostly disappeared and have been replaced by ebooks, recent articles, Skype interviews and joint projects with internationally renown researchers, virtual field trips, role playing games.  That has enabled the learning resources to be both more cost effective and much more current. My mother told me about coming back to her 10 year class reunion and finding her name on the 6th grade social studies textbook still in use over 15 years later! (note:  a similar experience actually happened to my daughter.)  The transition started with laptops and tablets for all students.  Now it is much more mobile with handheld communication/projection devises and ubiquitous internet available to all.

One of the most difficult shifts was in preparing teachers for the new system.  It required synchronizing a number of very large and very cumbersome systems:  college and university teacher preparation programs; teacher unions and educational associations; PTA/PTOs; accountability and logistics processes such as evaluation, promotion, scheduling and payroll; and certainly professional development.  Again, many of the new technologies were critical tools.  It has been an excellent example of how important lifelong learning is and how well these tools are equipped to support just-in-time, asynchronous learning.  In future generations, the transition will be more easily made since many of the new teacher graduates experienced learning through blogs, collaborating online and developing their own personal learning networks.  Those networks have been absolutely critical in supporting teachers through the very frustrating transitions that have been necessary.

What does my daily work look like?  First thing every morning, I check all the forums in the classes I am helping to facilitate, check my email for questions, and contact the students I know need some extra daily attention.  Learners know that they can reach me via chat, Skype or phone during a certain time period each day.  I spend some time each afternoon conducting research on my own, looking for new resources that need to be included in the classes I am facilitating and interacting with colleagues around the world or designing new learning activities.  I add my comments to the peer evaluations on “homework” assignments and check blogs and forums one more time.  Once day week or so, I go to the school building to use the lab, library and broadcast room.

I hear stories about how students used to be underachievers, disengaged, just going through the motions.  We have a few learners like that, but they are very much the exception and are generally able to become true learners with a little extra attention to helping them find their Spark and helping them build their personal learning network.  Now, they are much more like David Warlick described, “Persevering, self-disciplined, group-, goal-and product-oriented, resourceful, and learning in order to produce and accomplish rather than simply achieving learning.”

This scenario is likely well past 2020, but there will be key transitions taking place during this time.  I mentioned something called “The Crisis”.  I don’t know exactly what that might be, but it often takes such a wildcard to help speed a transition along.  It could be a financial meltdown with an even more drastic cut in education funding.  Perhaps it is increased security issues around transporting and housing the majority our young minds in concentrated locations in any given community.  It could be recognizing the fuel savings that could be realized by allowing both learners and teachers to participate from home.

Demographers will tell you that there are great chunks of information that lead to very predictable and stable trends.  For example, every student who will graduate in the year 2020 has already been born.  Many of them were born in 2002.  In that year, slightly over 4 million babies were born in the U.S.  It was the lowest U.S. birthrate recorded to that date.  Over 12% of them were born prematurely, even higher for black and American Indian babies.  The rate of low birth weights was the highest level reported in more than 30 years. (National Vital Statistics Reports, Vol. 52 No. 10:  Births, Final Data for 2002) http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr52/nvsr52_10.pdf   Both of those have implications for cognitive and behavioral development.  These children are now students and have already taken the first tests required by NCLB.  We know their scores.  We know how many are struggling readers and how many are classified as talented and gifted.  We need to have a system that is flexible and nimble enough to understand and respond to those trends.

We also know the majority of their teachers, the college degrees they have and what their competencies are.  We know the condition of the school buildings.  We know that there isn’t going to be a major influx of cash into education any time soon.  We know that there are increasing numbers of families turning to homeschooling.  We know that more parents are unemployed or underemployed and more are moving to an entrepreneurial/freelance approach to making a living.

There have also been some great attempts to figure out what kids will need to know when they enter the world of work.  We also know that there are major shifts in that world, leaning to more entrepreneurial, free-lancing approaches to earning a living.  What are we doing to help students develop those skills?

The technology will continue to evolve, but there are key components already in place that will allow this scenario to become a reality.  I truly do believe that we have some very complex problems to solve.  We also have a responsibility to the generations that follow us to help them learn not only to survive, but to thrive.  We need to move beyond micromanaging “improvements” in the system we have in place now to envisioning what will truly work for the future.  We can’t anticipate every situation our kids will have to deal with in the future.  But we can build a system that roots their knowledge and skills in credible sources and help them develop the relationships, attitudes and processes to find the new knowledge and skills they will need to soar into the future.

There are a couple of projects looking for input regarding education in 2020.  One is an “unconference” wiki at http://education2020.wikispaces.com/.  Another is a very comprehensive wiki called Education 2020 that looks separately at many of the components, theories and research to develop an “innovative design and rationale for the school/learning environment of 2020 for the U.S. Department of Education. Specifically, we will articulate to the key stakeholders–administrators, teachers, parents, students, funding agencies– the critical issues that will define the future of teaching and learning.”

Hello Zoho! 8A1

One of the benefits of the read/write web is the variety of tools available to share information and gather feedback.  I’ve taken some time to explore some options I just learned and found several that I’d like to implement myself.  I’m trying to figure out why I have never heard of Zoho before now!  They have so many different components to it.  One I need to investigate more deeply is their project planner.  One that seems incredibly versatile is Zoho Notebook.

I could envision putting together a Zoho Notebook on virtually any given unit.  As the teacher, I would start by compiling resources in the notebook, combining my own materials with a variety of web-based resources.  I could use those to target the learning styles of the students in my class, adding videos, charts, visual organizers, etc. for the visual learners, upload a lecture or directions for an activity for those who learn best by hearing and written documentation for the ones who need to read it.  As the teacher, I would probably have some standard components for everyone, then let students self-select which other components they felt would be most beneficial to them.  Another option would be to have separate pages for several different learning styles and send the student to the corresponding pages.

One of the benefits of Zoho Notebook is the ability to have so many different types of objects all in one place.  Another way to use it would be to have each student assigned to their own page, include the class calendar, resources and assignments and have them post their responses, questions and homework all right there.  If the teacher could then use RSS to subscribe to changes in each page, it would make an easy way to find and track homework, questions, etc.  No more “the dog ate my homework” or “I forgot it at home”.  Giving parents access to the page, or at least certain components of it such as the calendar and assignment list, could be a great way to help them stay up to date with what their son/daughter is doing.

I think my first step will need to be to set up a notebook for myself and get some practice using it, especially figuring out what objects can be included and how work.  A good example of how to use it is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDL-vFQv5p4

The Paperless Pipedream 7B1

All these things I consider to be true:

  • We need to conserve trees.  They are more important to our future than we understand.
  • Schools use way too much paper.  So do offices.  So does just about everybody.
  • My life would be much simpler without so many pieces of paper to evaluate, file, recycle or find again.
  • My home and work place would be much more peaceful without all the stress and mess that paper generates.
  • Technology makes it possible to do many tasks with much less paper.
  • The paperless classroom will happen about as soon as the paperless office.
  • Paperless classrooms won’t happen in my lifetime.

While I don’t believe that a paperless classroom is feasible, I certainly hope that “less paper” classrooms will.  While technology can make a huge difference in the amount of paper necessary, I don’t think it will make it go away.  I think of my school days when every single classroom submitted an attendance sheet every single day.  Think of the paper and tabulation time that is saved by doing this function on the computer!

In a magazine this week, I saw technology defined as “stuff that doesn’t quite work yet.”  While that was certainly a tongue-in-cheek definition, we’ve all experienced the frustration of losing something important  or not being able to complete a necessary task due to technology failure.  Especially in schools, where there is frequently either not a dedicated technology person in the building, security/controlled access is set at very tight levels and there is a whole range of very old to very new hardware and software, we are not yet at the point where we can completely count on technology to be available and functioning at the exact moment we need it.  Student’s access to technology outside of class is also all over the board and often not dependable.

How would a paperless class change teaching/learning?

When I am trying to juggle multiple sources of information at once, I find it very confusing and difficult to keep track of things if I am doing it all on a computer.  As a teacher trying to view multiple assignments, compare a student’s rough draft to final version, evaluate several steps to arrive at a final project, I think I would have a difficult time.  In some cases, it would mean adjusting how those projects are assigned and carried out, but I have a hard time envisioning it with no paper at all.  From a student’s standpoint, there are many different learning needs/styles and many different levels of organizational ability.  For some, technology could be a great help.  For others, it could be a disaster.  It certainly gives a much broader, more powerful range of learning opportunities.  How much more interesting and information-rich to Skype with a class in another country than to read about that country in an encyclopedia!  What a great experience to tour Capital Hill  and debate a bill in Virtual Congress than to study one more worksheet on how a bill becomes law!  I think technology not only allows us to teach and learn differently, it allows us to teach and learn different things in a much shorter time frame because it makes it possible to have different experiences in school than we’ve ever had before.  The challenge to attempt a paperless classroom to push the boundaries and learn new methods is certainly a useful task.  While I’m a firm believer in utilizing new techniques, I see that as a way to expand rather than limit our options.  For example, every teacher I know has stacks of worksheets and papers to grade on a regular basis.  While some don’t “count” for a grade, they still require feedback for a student to learn effectively.  Having students grade each others’ work is one option, though often the feedback isn’t very reliable.  Using a technology-based system for many of those significantly reduces the time to collect, sort, grade papers while also providing much more immediate feedback to the students.  It can also be structured to help the students who have already mastered the information/skill to move on instead of enduring so much repetition while providing alternative learning opportunities for students who are stuck.  Teachers’ time can be spent helping students who need one to one assistance, enhancing their teaching or (gasp!) spending evenings with their family.  Certainly, the whole concept of collaborative learning is enhanced.

How would you measure learning in a paperless class?

I’m not sure having paper or not makes huge changes in how we measure learning.  Typically, paper and pencil tests are one of the easiest things to transfer to a computer format.  Corrections and tabulations can be much less time consuming in traditional T/F, multiple choice, short answer tests.  Grading essay tests wouldn’t change much.  The format might look different (write a blog instead of write a paper).  Again, it broadens the opportunities to use more performance-based options.  Those options are available now (build a model, perform a skit, conduct an experiment), though not utilized by some teachers as much as they could be.  Often that is driven by school-adopted textbooks and the assignments that accompany them.

Would a paperless space make it easier or harder to build a learning network? Why?

I think a paperless space would make it easier to build a learning network.  One of the biggest changes in a less paper classroom would be the dependence on textbooks.  Right now, in many schools, the textbook drives much of the pacing, assessment, structure of learning.  I know there are many teachers who have shifted away from dependence on textbooks, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.  As long as we have the notion that the answer is in the book, a learning network is an extra effort, not a necessary part of learning.  If we eliminate the book and associated worksheets, tests, etc., a learning network becomes much more necessary and time is freed up from studying the book to researching the best nodes to include in a learning network.

There is a difference, in my opinion, between a paperless classroom and making good use of web 2.0 technology.  A creative teacher could go paperless (or at least less paper) without web 2.0.  Utilizing 2.0 doesn’t have to mean eliminating paper.  If we’re looking at best practices of using Web 2.0, my arguments would look substantially different.

 

The Education Broker 7-A-1

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, each state received a few thousand dollars to train teachers on how to locate and use teaching resources developed as part of the Representative Democracy in America (RDA) Program.  These resources are free and amazing.  Each teacher received a totebag full of print materials, CDs and DVDs, lesson plans, etc.  We had some great trainings – very interactive, with teachers exploring the resources and sharing their ideas with other teachers around the table. Then the recession hit and the money went away.  Thankfully, the resources didn’t.  They left the world of totebags and bookshelves, however, to live in a parallel universe in cyberspace where they are cared for by a very small but talented and committed staff who continue to make sure they are well fed and up to date.  But the dilema for the State Coordinator (me!) was how to help teachers in Iowa find and use these wonderful, free resources?   Another state had already gone the online class route where teachers were pointed in the right direction, told to explore and given a little assessment all in return for a single credit that couldn’t be used in any program of study, only as an elective.  And people loved it!

Our face to face workshops, though, had been so alive, so stimulating, so dynamic that the thought of a “point and shoot” class just wasn’t enough.  I started trying to figure out how we could capture the synergy and inspiration of a whole group of energized teachers sharing with each other, but do it in an online environment.  A blog entry led to a class that led to a certificate program that brought me here.

Enter Big Shift Number 2 – Many, Many Teachers, and 24/7 Learning .

As homework for some of my earlier classes, I started developing components of the course I want to use for RDA.  I think I have begun some very good pieces, but still struggled with how to structure it to be as interactive as possible.  This particular subject matter is perfect for it!  We already have many, many teachers.  I can help them find some of the resources and show how they correlate with different standards and learning objectives.  One section of our face to face class developed a wide variety of lessons incorporating different resources into a diverse sampling of subjects and youth leadership opportunities.  Some of the online resources feature very targeted professional development videos on nationally known experts such as Thomas Mann and blogs by Lee Hamilton and Karl Kurtz.  It’s another great example of how “none of us is as smart as all of us.”  With all the RDA resources now online, both the resources and the training have the ability to be available 24/7.

I still have a great deal to do to get the online training completed.  I had a couple of good ways for the teachers to interact and share and have a decent “Swiss cheese” start – lots of independent pieces that aren’t quite all connected together yet.  It started before this course, but I have been rethinking much of my original plan.  As I’ve learned more about how to use some of the resources and explored the whole Connectivism theme, I’m re-envisioning this effort not so much as a great professional development opportunity, but as a way of building a learning community of Iowa teachers who can continue to exchange ideas, share resource, challenge and support each other.  Building a wiki together, sharing bookmarks, blogging – all are ways to help facilitate this shift.

There is already quite a bit of professional development training available on the web.  A great deal of it, though, is still “sit and git” with what basically amounts to video archives of lectures and automated quizzes.  As budgets get tighter, I see more demand for online education.  Quality online education, however, will require not just people who understand the technology of translating into an online format but people who understand the unique structures and possibilities of online pedagogy.

I am certainly not there yet.  I need more practice in utilizing the tools and putting them together in the most effective ways.  My thinking has changed, though.  Right now, one of the projects I’m working on is an onsite conference in November involving people from several different disciplines (education, medicine, engineering).  I find myself wondering and exploring different ways to use Web 2.0 tools to expand the content of the conference and extend the time frame so that attendees can benefit more deeply and over a longer period of time.  I always get so excited about all the new ideas at a conference, then get back to my old routine with a pile of new messages and emails to answer and no time to fight the learning curve that comes with incorporating new ideas “back at the ranch”.  How can we use online pedagogy to help these folks structure a learning and support network?  It’s an exciting challenge to undertake.

Is Connectivism a Learning Theory? 6A3

Is Connectivism a Learning Theory?  After reading compelling argument (good job, everyone!) both for and against Connectivism, I think I would have a tough time deciding which viewpoint would be the winner in a debate.  Each perspective has some excellent points.  If I were judging a debate, it might be important to declare a winner.  But I’m not.  And to me, anyway, it isn’t the important question to answer.

Is Connectivism relevant to our teaching practice?  Yes!

Kevin Costley, in “Why Do We Have Theories?” states that there is no completely right theory, that they help us gain meaning to what we see and do and are founded in the cultural values and belief systems of the times in which they were developed. Often, theories may take an extreme stance which helps to differentiate them from other theories. That helps to open discussion and drive research on important issues.  The cultural values of our times certainly are dominated by the networking made possible by the Internet.  I believe that to be the case whether or not any specific classroom, teacher or individual has an online presence or access.

A number of years ago, back in the mid 90’s, I had an opportunity to attend a professional development workshop with Christopher Gates when he was with the National Civic League.  He said that representative democracy was undergoing some major shifts.  In its original conception, citizens elected someone to represent their interests, in essence, giving them a proxy to make the best decisions on the citizens’ behalf.  That worked because the representatives: A) were trusted to understand their constituents and B) had access to more information either due to their education or position.  Gates argued that as our population has grown and become more diversified, we no longer trust that our representatives really know us or our positions anymore and the trust is significantly less.  With better education for all and with so much information so readily available, that is no longer an advantage that elected representatives have over the rest of the citizens.  This diversity and access to information results in many different groups, making achieving a majority a very difficult task.  Therefore, says Gates, there will continue to be more conflict, more contentious elections and more emphasis on stopping something from happening than in moving an agenda forward.  A visionary man, that one.

As I reflect, I can see some similarities in the field of education.  Teachers and especially college professors, used to be the authorities in their classrooms.  Now, as students are more diverse, a process accelerated by the ability to access online education from virtually anywhere in the world, it is easier for them to question whether or not the teacher really understands the world in which the student lives and the relevance of the knowledge.  We all know there are trust issues.  Teachers also used to have more access to knowledge than most people.  While they certainly maintain expertise in a particular field, access to information (and misinformation) has increased drastically.

David Pearce Snyder, a world renown futurist, is another person with whom I have had the honor to work.  In that workshop, we focused on technology and it’s impacts.  Some of that is reflected in his paper “Strategic Context of Education,” especially starting on page 15.  He has studied new technologies over the centuries and says there is a pattern that develops.  First, the technology has to become mature, that is, get beyond the prototypes and beta versions to where it really becomes something new.  The next stage (which overlaps somewhat) is using the new technology to do old tasks faster, more efficient, better.  Where it really has impact, though, is the next stage where it can be used to do fundamentally different things, completely changing our abilities and expectations.  Each of these stages has a learning curve in which it takes awhile to figure out the most effective ways to refine and apply the technology.  Productivity either decreases or stagnates until it gets to the final stage, where it takes a sudden jump.

So what do either of these have to do with Connectivism?

I think that technology has changed our abilities and expectations to do education fundamentally.  Lifelong education isn’t the hobby of the privileged class, it is necessary for everyone.  And it is no longer linear or sequential all the time.  Many of the long existing theories of education are no longer sufficient to account for these changes.  If, as Costley says, a theory helps us make meaning, opens discussion and drives research, I think we can make a case that Connectivism is a learning theory – one that still requires a great deal of research and evaluation, but a theory nevertheless.  In the meantime, I think it provides some excellent food for thought in what good teaching needs to look like in such a system.  If, indeed, there is much misinformation in some of the nodes, how does teaching help students evaluatate that?  Connectivism puts the emphasis on the pipeline of connecting to the nodes – what are the criteria for helping students develop skills to make strong, accurate connections?  To me, these are good questions that Connectivism helps us consider.

Regarding the following arguments:

1.  Not everyone has access to computers or the internet.  This is certainly true, but even for those who don’t, their world has been forever changed by the technology.  Secondly, mobile technology is advancing so rapidly, even in third world countries, mobile phones are becoming ubiquitous, to the point that SMS (texting) can be used to access bank accounts or minutes are being used as currency in come areas (Mobile Money Transfer).  There are many educational efforts looking at mobile phones as a major access point.

2.  “In most of the highest-performing systems, technology is remarkably absent from classrooms.”  For one thing, this quote assumes that education takes place in a classroom, which is not how Connectivism views education.  David Pearce Snyder would say that part of the reason this might look like it is the case is that education itself is still in a learning curve regarding how to effectively use education to fundamentally do things differently.  Simply having the technology doesn’t do anything.  Using it to do old tasks more efficiently can help in some cases (attendance taking?) but not necessarily make education more effective.  Powerpoint?  basically an automated way to do lectures, which we already know is not the most effective teaching method.  Substituting online videos for teachers?  If that’s all it is happening, it is still not making the most effective use of technology.  How about using an archived video of a Skype interview with a world renown mathematician demonstrating a proof?  Being “penpals” via Twitter, Skype, Facebook, whatever with a class of student who lived through a major event?  Working with a scientist and an international aid agency to help provide safe water to a rural African community?

We will not be going back to a world with less access to information.  Whether you consider Connectivism to be a theory, model or pedagogy and even if you don’t agree with all pieces of it, I think it provides a useful framework from which to explore new avenues in teaching and learning.

 

 

 

 

Can Skype Change the World? 6C2

So far, I haven’t been able to connect with any of the other three in this class.  Summer is a busy time and the likelihood of being at our computers at the same time across multiple time zones seems to be tough.  However, I have used it before with my colleagues on several occasions.

One of the most fun involved our statewide network of service learning folks.  The day our meeting was scheduled was one of the days I needed to travel home from a training north of the Arctic Circle in Canada.  This was the first meeting with a brandnew state leader, so I didn’t want to miss it.  I was able to free my whole morning, so I asked if it would be possible to join the first part of the meeting via Skype.  They not only connected me through Skype, but also set up a projector so everyone could see and hear clearly.  My training involved service learning as part of the program up there, so I took about half an hour of our meeting to explain some of what the students were doing in service learning and some of the unique situations they faced in such a climate.  I was able to take my computer to the hotel window (which was downtown with a good view of some of the major aspects to show) and not only explain, but show them some of the key characteristics of the Arctic community.  The hotel had both wifi and some historical/cultural exhibits, so I was able to walk down the hall with my netbook camera and show those as well.  I was able to attend my meeting and my colleagues learned about how another culture implements service learning, illustrated in real time!

The training that I did in Canada was for a drug/alcohol prevention program called the Leadership and Resiliency Program, targeting at-risk kids.  It isn’t a curriculum, per se, but a framework that can be adapted to best fit both the resources within any given community and the needs and interests of the students there.  Not having any set curriculum is a real asset in that it makes the program flexible enough to be relevant in many different circumstances and isn’t prescriptive.  It also is one of the most difficult characteristics because it places so much responsibility on the local people who conduct the program to assure fidelity.  There are so many times that it would be beneficial to have a more indepth opportunity to do continuing education and assurances with the various communities, but travel costs are such an expensive burden.  Skype could be a great tool to offer assistance from a distance.  It could also be useful in some peer to peer examples, either with the facilitators of the Leadership and Resiliency Program or with the students enrolled in it.

As a trainer, part of my responsibility is to assure that the participants really understand the framework well enough to be able to implement it effectively and with fidelity.  The training incorporates a great deal of small group work which in many ways are also performance assessments for met to determine whether or not they are on track to be able to do that.  Skype is a tool to be able to see those performance assessments without being in the same room.

There are a number of the reasons that service learning is a key part of the Leadership and Resiliency Program.  It helps students discover talents and passions in a very real and appreciated way.  It helps them see how others cope with adversity – both good and bad examples of that.  It helps them learn to set goals to solve problems, including what additional knowledge or skills they need, how to find the resources to make their project happen, why achieving that goal matters to someone else.  Often, we get locked into the view that the way things are for us are the way things are all over or alternatively, that the grass is greener on the other side.  With Skype, students can begin to build relationships with other students and get a view into a world that is different than their own.  That can open their eyes to broader horizons and new opportunities.  It can also help them to gain a new appreciation and be grateful for some of their own circumstances.  Most importantly, I think, they learn that they matter – they can offer ideas and resources that can contribute to making the world a better place.

Service learning has a growing body of research showing why schools should use this powerful instruction strategy.  Students are more likely to succeed academically, are more engaged in their own education, better understand the relevance of their education and become more involved citizens.  One barrier to service learning is happening in many schools in response to current economics – less field trips and off campus activities.  There are some excellent examples of how Skype has been used to expand the community in which service learning can occur:

Tutoring Afghan students in English

Leveraging Technology to Raise Awareness for World Hunger

Adopt-a-Class to help Gambian girls

I would love to hear your examples or ideas on how to use Skype to help with Service Learining.

Civics in 60 Seconds? 5B3

What role does civil discourse play in our world today?  Our society is so complex these days that it is much more difficult for our leaders to come together and agree on any solution to a problem than it used to be.

Really?  Is it more difficult than taking 13 independent colonies and joining them into one unified country?  With people who have come from many different parts of the world?  And no given rules to follow?

Disagreement has been part of our democracy from the very beginning.  Our founders understood there is strength in diversity and that it’s a GOOD thing to have different perspectives and a certain amount of conflict.  They planned our system of government so it wouldn’t be easy to make changes, so there would have to be debate and compromise.  They understood the difficulty in that so they made rules for themselves to follow as they drafted what was to become our Constitution.  They figured out how to have civil discourse.  Here is a series of three 60 Second Civics Podcasts about Key Challenges facing the United States that help explain how they did it.

60-Second Civics: Episode 923, Part 8: Civil discourse

60-Second Civics: Episode 924, Part 19: A model for civil discourse

60-Second Civics: Episode 925, Part 10: Civil discourse in 1787

There are over 1100 60 Second Civics Podcasts on a wide variety of topics.  The newest include a series on the Framers of the Constitution.  Each podcast has a daily civics quiz question.  They are developed by the Center for Civic Education.

The Center for Civic Education near Los Angeles is one of three partners in the Representative Democracy in America Project.  Other partners include the Center on Congress at Indiana University and the Trust for Representative Democracy at National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver.  Each of the partners has developed a range of teaching resources for students in grades 2-12.  The resources range from 30 or 60 second clips to full blown online Virtual Congress.

I serve as Iowa’s coordinator for this project.  Once upon a time we had funding to conduct face to face professional development.  The resources are still all available for free online, so I am writing an online training to help teachers access all these amazing materials and share ideas on how to use them.  The 60 Second Civics podcast series is one resource I definitely want to include in the training because they are so versatile – short, cover tons of different topics and a prewritten quiz question goes with each one.  Teachers can use them as discussion starters, attention getters or in lots of different ways.

I selected this particular set out of the whole list because in the current atmosphere of accusations and partisan politics, I think all of us need to remember that there are ways we can talk about important issues even if we disagree. Our founders knew they would need some rules to follow to keep their conversations and negotiations productive.  Wouldn’t hurt for us to revisit those rules.  Wouldn’t it be great to have our students help remind our current elected officials how to truly engage in civil discourse for the good of the nation?