Thursday, July 26, 2012

Relevant is NOT Good Enough

Recently, I have been reminded of a podcast I listened to when I was a first year teacher. I was listening to this guy from the West Coast, Southern California to be exact. He is a writer, a fashion designer, an artist, and a speaker at national conferences. He said something that intrigued me… he said, “I keep hearing from people that they want to be relevant. I do not want to be relevant; we should not aim to be relevant. Because, at the end of the day, if you are relevant, that actually means someone got there first. You are second, or third, or fourth.” I think this gentleman had a point. I mean… how often do we hear about the new R’s in education: Rigor, Relationships, and Relevancy? The old R’s being Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic. The new R’s are better and more fit for education in the 21st century. But, lately, I am even getting the sense that this is not good enough. After all, I agree… to be relevant means we did not get there first. I want to trail blaze, dream of new and better ways and go after it. How about you?

Okay, maybe you are not sold just yet. Maybe you are asking yourself, how does this really apply to education? Well, I have also asked this very question. It has taken me a while to grab hold of the idea of surpassing relevancy in education. However, recently I have had some conversations with some educational leaders that have prompted thoughts and ideas that pertain to making better the pursuit for relevancy in the education arena in today’s educational climate. I have spoken recently with school principals who have recently obtained a doctorate. I have asked them, “Are you going to do anything with your doctorate? Are you going to extend yourself past what you are already doing as a school principal?” Now, don’t get me wrong… I do not have anything against school leaders going after a doctorate. I am actually in the middle of my own dissertation for a doctoral degree. However, the answers given to me by my colleagues struck me as (although seemingly noble), really mundane and shallow once I thought more of it. Their answers have all been very similar, “I just want to teach a few undergrad classes,” “I want to be a reader for a dissertation”, or, “I just want to keep up with new educational trends.” I would ask a follow up question such as, “why this?” or “why that?” and again the answer while noble at first has now given pause to think. Their answer, across the board, has been… “I want to do this to stay current.” In the contemporary educational lexicon, they are staying “relevant.” I cannot help but to resonate with the speaker from the West Coast. This is simply just not good enough. Our kids deserve better. To stay current means that we are not innovating, we are not designing new ways of learning, we are not creating, and we are arriving too late for the digital natives we walk alongside. What if Starbucks chose to be current? We would not have the Frappuccino. What if Apple chose to be current? We would not have innovative tools such as the iPod or the iPad tablets. What if Mark Zuckerberg chose to be current? We would not have, in my opinion, one of the single greatest tools in communication ever created, Facebook.

What do you think? Is relevant good enough?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

BYOT's place in the Creativity/Curiosity Movement

As Daniel Pink has laid claim in his grounbreaking book, "A Whole New Mind," the right brain is the most relevant and necessary part of the brain to use in the increasingly globalized 21st century of learning. Creativity is a HUGE part of this. Simply put, if we want students to have a fighting chance in this ever-changing 21st century landscape, then we MUST place more emphasis on this higher order thinking skill: CREATIVITY. Our student's futures simply depend on it. Pertaining to the future of students, the Vimeo video titled "the Future belongs to the Curious"  is an inspiring thrust to all students and educators in this world of stale and paralyzing standardized testing. If we want to truly make a difference, we must find ways to innovate and create, dream and imagine while staring standardized inititiaves like CCSS in the face. One way of doing this, is to implement BYOT/BYOD ("Bring Your Own Technology/Device") in the midst of the required CCSS initiative.

The technology is NOT the sole answer. The answer may lie in the fact that we as the adults/educators have decided to say "yes." By allowing BYOT, we are, in essence, saying "it is okay for you to be free to learn as you see fit." BYOT simply lends itself to a more "real-life" experience for students in the digital age. Students can use their devices to create for themselves, to search for answers to their questions, to muse, to simply be their curious selves while dreaming of the next best invention or cure for disease. What a treat we, educators, have to assist our students in this process! Below is a response from one of my school district's teachers who has mused about the thought of creativity and curiosity...

"Curiosity and Creativity are - I believe - at the heart of learning. With curiosity, the student has an emotional investment in his/her own learning and is likely to remember and apply what he/she has learned in real life. Creativity is allowing the student to use his own best set of skills to learn and produce results."

What do you think? Do you believe BYOT lends itself to a more curious and creative learning process for students?

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guest Post... "Global Irony- An American Educator's visit to China"

Written by Ryan Jackson, Journalism Teacher at Maplewood High School, Metro-Nashville Public Schools:
Previously, when I thought of China, the last thing I thought of was teaching and learning. Instead, I thought of the countless imprints at Wal-Mart that read made in China, America’s own suffering Gross Domestic Product, or, embarrassingly, John Woo’s Hong Kong action flicks from the late 80s. So, when I was asked by Vanderbilt and Metro Nashville Public Schools to travel to the People’s Republic of China so that I could help share insight on developing and fostering Chinese students’ critical and abstract thinking skills, while collaborating with Chinese teachers on incorporating 21st century teaching pedagogies, I was excited and perplexed.

See, I was under the impression, mostly due to our media and the U.S.’s own wild sense of paranoia, that Chinese students were quite possibly some of the world’s most perfect students. I’d heard of intense, even robot-like study habits, coupled with razor-sharp focus and a determination that would make the hardest pentathlon champion blush. Like I said, my perception was set and the thought of me teaching any Chinese student, let alone teachers, seemed absolutely ridiculous.

However, day one in Guangzhou, China, sitting front and center at South China Normal University listening to Professor Wu explain the Chinese government’s paralyzing fear that their own education system is producing a nation of factory workers not creative types, I felt my head was going to explode: Paradigm Shift. Due to my limited space allotted here on this blog, I’ll keep my rug-pulling awakening brief. Basically, Chinese teachers lecture, students listen and write down information, regurgitate that information on a standardized test, then based on this test score attend a post-secondary school which will ultimately determine their lives’ fate - literally. That is a succinct yet fairly accurate description of a Chinese student’s academic career. Sit. Listen. Write. Sit. Listen. Write. Sit. Well, you get the picture. Are the students focused? I guess. Are they robot-like in terms of work ethic? They have to be - the fate of their lives depends on it (this is no hyperbole).

Therefore, the rest of my time spent in Guangzhou was helping teachers appreciate the value of questioning, incorporating cross-curricular lessons and project-based group learning, all while infusing a bit of fun in an otherwise stale learning environment. My perceptions were again shattered at not only the students’ willingness to try and accept this frenetic, inquiry-based approach to learning but also at the Chinese teachers’ desire and appreciation for a fresh, right-brain approach to teaching and learning. At the risk of sounding of corny, I felt like I was making a difference. Sitting with my American educators at dinner, over a fresh plate of bok choy, I would smile and share the untapped love of learning and teaching the Chinese were experiencing. As an educator it was rejuvenating.

And then reality set in...

My American team and I couldn’t help dance around the irony of the Chinese government seeking out help from the perceived cutting-edge educators from the West in order to propel their country into the 21st century. I then realized that just as my perceptions were vastly skewed, so were theirs. America’s own educational system is orbiting around standardized test scores, sit-and-get pedagogy, and answers being more important than questions. Here I was doing my best trying to help Chinese teachers turn their students into the creators of the iPod not just the manufacturer, while back in the states our own academic stagnation was turning our students into regurgitation robots.

I’m frequently asked about my trip to China, and the reality is there were so many takeaways, both personally and professionally. However, only one truly keeps me awake at night: China realizes what it will take in order to be the world’s #1 powerhouse as we advance deeper into the 21st century. They even realize and respect the fact that the United States has the ideologies and pedagogies it will take in order to fulfill this prophecy. Then the irony sets back in.

Will America realize and respect the imperative ideologies and pedagogies it will take in order to compete in tomorrow’s global climate?