Thursday, October 30, 2014

Connecting the Disconnected

This past weekend, I was lucky enough to go to the 21st Century Learning conference in Vancouver, BC. I was particularly jazzed to see two presenters; Will Richardson and my pal Bill Ferriter have both impacted my thinking significantly since I added them to my personal learning network.  And while their methods were different, both Will and Bill had some common messages in terms of the learning that students are doing in schools today and how (or if?) it relates to the types of skills that students will need in the hyper-connected environment that we live in today.  They pushed the group to think about how we 'connect the disconnected' by highlighting a some points that resonated with me:

As kids move through the K-12 system, they become less and less engaged in their schooling.
And while Sir Ken Robinson and others have affirmed this fact for us, both Will and Bill quoted the 2012 Gallup Poll Student poll (of more than 500,000 students) that showed the percentage of students that described themselves as being engaged in their studies dropping by over 30 points as they move from elementary to high school.  Each of them challenged the group:  are we comfortable with this?   Are we willing to confront this?  And for me personally, no matter how many times I hear statistics like this, I still cringe and think about what we can do differently.

We need to give students meaningful work
Students want to do something that makes a difference.  They want to help others.  The Kiva Club developed by Bill Ferriter's Grade 6 that raises money to provide microloans for impoverished individuals and the #sugarkills blog to fight obesity that his students created are sustained by students who are willing to give up their own time to help others that they have never and will likely never meet.  But worksheets are not meaningful.  Memorizing answers to questions that we can simply search for using Google are not meaningful. Right now?  Meaningful.  There is a chance you might need to know this at some point in your life?  Well, not so much.

Classrooms need to be places to make connections, not disconnect
We can no longer ask students to disconnect from the hyperlinked, information-saturated, teacher-laden world (yes, teacher-laden--because students have the ability to learn so much from virtual and face-to-face peers and adults in their world who have loads of expertise in different areas) where they learn for two-thirds of their day.  As Will Richardson said, we need to completely wipe that scarcity-inspired thought from our minds.  We have to.  Because if we think that students are going to settle for anything less than that, they won't (and they aren't).

We MUST have a clear vision
We don't begin with 'all of our students are going to blog'.  Or 'each of our classrooms will have Smartboards'.  Or spending a billion dollars on iPads (as the LAUSD did, with decidedly 'mixed' results).  We don't begin with the mindset that 'technology engages kids'.  We begin with a vision of the attributes that we want for our children (like the excellent work being done in the Kelowna School District and Farmington High School), and then use these attributes to guide our decisions, our structures, our PD, and our approaches to student learning in our classrooms.  (To see a way to get started with your staff, check out this fun way to begin the conversation about developing a mission in schools.)

So, I know what you are thinking:

"Ya ya ya...we know all this stuff, but how do we do it?

Both Will and Bill were very clear--in British Columbia, we enjoy freedoms in our curriculum that simply do not exist in most jurisdictions across North America.  And they were also very clear in their plea for us as educators to take advantage of this curricular latitude to create the learning environments that children need.  And finally, they both told the participants one thing:  get started.  Now.  The urgency lies in the idea that every day the world is changing, so we have a moral imperative to change the environment that students learn in for six hours per day to more closely mirror the world they live in for the other eighteen hours.
So at Sa-Hali Secondary, what are we going to do as a result of the message that I heard this weekend?

  1. We are going to involve our students in the development of and execution of a process that will both highlight our work on attributes to this point and involve them in the selection and definition of these attributes.  We will use the High Tech High Tuning Protocol to develop this process starting with the question "How will we involve our school community in the development of our list of attributes so that they are in the heads, hearts and hands of students, staff and the community?"
  2. We are going to use these attributes as a start point for the process of Instructional Rounds in our school.  We will reflect on our school through the lens of the attributes that we feel are important, and determine how we can scale the innovative practices that are currently happening in our school through making the walls of our classroom permeable to our staff and to others.
  3. We are going to make student and adult learning visible at our school through the development of a school-wide digital portfolio.  Our staff and myself will learn the process of developing digital portfolios by creating a three-dimensional digital portfolio that will serve as our school improvement plan.  We will do this so that we can learn by doing, and model the creation of a positive digital footprint that will allow students to truly demonstrate what we know.  This will allow us to prepare students to develop a capstone project as a culmination of their K-12 learning (a great example of Capstone Projects can be seen at Chris Lehmann's Science Leadership Academy) that they can take away to support them in what they choose to do after they leave us.
  4. On a personal note, I am going to start a Kiva project at our school.  I don't know how this is going to work yet, but I am confident that like every school we have the students who want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Perhaps these are lofty goals, but I am articulating them here so I can hold myself to them.  I agree with Will and Bill, we can change how we engage and empower students in their education, and we need to start. Now.

So we will!  Stay tuned.

1 comment:

  1. Terrific purpose and clarity here Cale! Like you, Will & Bill have influence my thinking on schools, learning, and education. I am in total agreement that every educational stakeholder should be visibly sharing the impact of their learning. My take on this here;
    I particularly like how your expectation to connect and learn spans all of your learners regardless of age. It's important for educators to "walk the walk" when it comes to modeling socially networked learning, and contributing to the well-being of others. Well said, this is a terrific post!


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