Independent Students?

As I was reading about the education project in Let Kids Rule the School. I was reminded of the overarching questions we used at the River School.  This is the same place I learned and first taught the Systems Model.

I went on to use each of the overarching questions we developed at the River School* in my next two teaching gigs.  The student’s final project was “Answer the question.”  At the beginning of the school year each group would look at me as if I were crazy.  I mean how could I expect 7th graders to answer the question “What is my relationship to the earth?”  And how could I expect inner city high school freshmen in Los Angeles tackle a question like “What does it mean to be human?”

It is on my list to write up the details of how I built a foundation of skills with these students so that they could tackle these questions.  And tackle them exceptionally well.

Two projects from my later two groups of students stand out.  The first was a 7th grade boy who was very bright but had other things on his mind that often put school at the bottom of the list.  I made them design their own final projects, setting their own deadlines, guiding them through the research process.  He had planned to create a video.  The day after his first batch of filming his mother was at school.  She told me how the night before he had told her that he needed to film.  Frustrated at his usual talent for procrastinating until the last minute she had begun to lecture him about putting things off.  He then proceeded to pull out his plan and explained to her that he had been planning and if he was going to get his project done on time, he needed to film that night.  His mother expressed her amazement and joy at seeing her son planning.  And his project turned out great!

The second project was one that even I wondered if she would pull it off. She decided to focus on her own learning obstacles.  She had incredible support from the Special Education Teacher, the Principal and the Assistant Principal.  When she wanted to learn more about how her brain worked, the Principal brought in a colleague from her PhD program for the student to interview.  The Technology Teacher helped her put together portions of videos.  The end result was nothing that any of us would have expected from her back in September.  It far exceeded anything she ever did at school.

I do honestly believe that more often than not, our current educational system is a hindrance to our students.  And I also believe there are many great teachers out there fighting to do the things they know make education good.

*The three overarching questions, still used at River School, based on the principles taught by Ed Clark in Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum are as follows:

  • 6th grade: What does it mean to be human?
  • 7th grade: What is our relationship with the Earth?
  • 8th grade: How does a United States citizen act responsibly in the global community?

I will be writing up the details to how I took these principles and incorporated them into a single science classroom with the culminating final project of “Answer the question.”


Teaching vs. Instructional Design

I came to a realization today that Instructional Designers do not seem to see themselves as teachers.  I say this because whenever I see ID it is more about the structure of content.   And much of the reading does not mention an instructor at all.  Now I do understand that the majority of those claiming the title of Instructional Designer are in corporate settings, but why is teaching demoted, relegated to the K-16 setting?  (The article that prompted these thoughts.)

I am reminded of my search for a job, after making the decision to leave teaching high school (long story, right decision, but I miss it terribly most days).  Because all my experience had been in schools I was not seen as “fit” to work in an office.  I honestly could not believe what I was hearing.  I had to defend my experience in organization (managing 200+ students – as people, in grading, in work assignments, planning lessons, working with the office staff); in interacting with a variety of people in a professional manner (parent teacher conferences with so many different types of parents, negotiating with publishers and vendors, fundraising, open houses, school psychologists, special ed teachers, district support people); and office machines.  (Ok, that last one – I don’t know a successful teacher out there that does not learn quickly how to fix just about any duplexer, copier or fax machine.  And when I finally did get an office job – I seemed to be the only one not afraid of the copier!)

So back to Instructional Design…I’m not understanding why the teacher is eliminated from the equation.  I understand that there are situations that demand a self-paced, individualized learning environment.  However, successful life-long learners seek out experts, colleagues and mentors.  This is the feedback loop in the Systems model.

I love the “Granny-cloud” in the research done by Sugata Mitra.  His research shows that children will naturally learn (Hole-in-the-Wall Education).   The “granny-cloud” is added in and the children get to practice their English accent, show off their work, be encouraged, pointed in better directions, made to answer questions about their work.  In other words they get feedback.

Feedback can be “programmed” in to any type of learning instrument.   My school currently uses Moodle and between creating questions and setting up the quiz there are 4-5 different types of feedback that can be made available to the students within Moodle.  But the real feedback comes from a person analyzing and adjusting the upcoming coursework based on the performance of the students.  A teacher’s compliment in a forum encouraging students in the right direction.  Feedback must be real if the system is going to effectively maintain itself and grow.

I suppose the root is I just don’t understand how an Instructional Designer does not see himself as a teacher.

Update: For more thoughts and explorations on Teaching vs. Instructional Design see the Teaching vs. Instructional Design Category.

Week 4 of PLENK2010

One of the readings this week is some advice from Dave Cormier in Cluster and Focus -> Surviving Week 4 of a MOOC.

The advice of cluster and focus is wise and timely.  I have been feeling a overwhelmed at all the information.  So many paths to take, so many exciting conversations, which way do I go? which way should I go.  So I am taking a moment to re-evaluate my own goals in joining PLENK2010.

My original goals…

  • I wanted to connect with other like-minded professionals and learn from others.
  • I have wanted to learn more about PLE/PLN and Open Learning and this was a perfect opportunity to learn and experience these two ideas.

During the first week’s discussion of PLE/PLN several thoughts and ideas came crashing together with the phrase Personal Learning Ecology. I have been focusing, at least my thoughts in this directions since week one.  I feel like I side-stepped week two, am trying to play catch up for week 3 and am thankful for Dave’s post about looking for a focus.  I still need to create my “mindmap”, but I have yet to find the right tool to create what I have pictured in my mind.  I also feel like my PLE (I use this term in the sense of Personal Learning Ecology) is a work in progress, perhaps even still in that primordial goo, trying to figure out how to connect all the atoms into a coherent whole.

So to add to my first two goals, I now want to explore, extend, expand upon this idea of Personal Learning Ecology.  I like the living, breathing, changing nature of it.  I like the idea of a system – its speaks order, purpose and potential to me.  I like the personal nature, it is mine.  It does not need to look or act like yours.  Learning is central.  I honestly do not know how not to learn.  I have moments when information comes to my mind and I can’t recall how I know that little known obscure tidbit, but I do.  There are days I come home and just want to shut out all the “inputs” – no light, no sound and yet my mind continues to work, searching for connections from the day until some other “input” demands my attention or grabs my curiosity.

I am going to add this – “Do more about Personal Learning Ecology” to my list, hopefully there are others who will want to “cluster”.

In another presentation that I attended via elluminate on Monday from The Future of Education Foundation Elevating the Education Reform Dialog, I was brought again to that age old question “What is learning?” So many things rest on how one defines this action.  So I add to my list – “Create my definition of learning”.  This is the central word in my PLE, so I think I should be able to define it for me.

So my goals are now

  1. Connect with other like-minded professionals and learn from others.
  2. Learn more about PLE/PLN and Open Learning
  3. Do more about Personal Learning Ecology
  4. Create my definition of learning

Ecology and Systems – Exploring Personal Learning Ecology

This idea of a Personal Learning Ecology is pulling me to think a bit more deeply.  I still need to put together my concept map for PLENK2010 but I feel I need to really look at how some of my concepts connect to what I feel my PLE/PLN is and what it should be.  I will admit that I have been reluctant join in “mass discussion” via twitter, blog commenting, etc.  I feel so many pulls on my time and I can see if I am not vigilant, my PLE/PLN could suck me in to always being at my computer.  But the idea of ecology – a system feels comfortable to me, there is change and adaptation, but there is also balance and cooperation.  I will get to publishing my concept map, but before I get there, I need to better explore how this all fits together.  So I will begin with some background information on systems and ecology.  In a workshop on Designing and Implementing an Integrated Curriculum, I was taught a systems model by Edward T. Clark, Jr. From my tattered and worn paper handout…

Understanding Systems


There are seven functions that are characteristic of all living systems.

  1. The Resource Base Function Every system must have a resource base which provides the necessary raw materials for that system.
  2. The Unity Function Every system must have an integrative force which unifies the system.
  3. The Duality Function A basic duality principle in the universe is present in all systems as in “explicit duality expressing an implicit unity”
  4. The Maintenance Function Every system must maintain itself in order to insure the continuity of the system.
  5. The Growth Function Every system must grow or die! The function of growth, representing the cutting edge of the system, provides the creativity and direction for the system
  6. The Feedback Function All complex systems must have information feedback to enable them to utilize the information for the purpose of effective system maintenance and growth.
  7. The Energy Function Energy Flow, external to the system, powers all complex systems.

From an ecological perspective, these functions may be characterized as follows

  1. Resource Base – Carrying capacity/ Sustainability: Defines the limits within which the system will survive.
  2. Unity – Interdependence: Defines the mode of relationship that exists between the parts of a system best illustrated in the niche-community relationship.
  3. Duality – Cooperation/Competition/Partnership: Defines the mode of survival for living systems.
  4. Maintenance – Diversity: defines a basic mode of system maintenance which insures system stability
  5. Growth – Evolution/Adaptation/Succession: Mode of system change, creativity and transformation suggesting developmental directionality
  6. Feedback – Cycle: Defines the feedback loops that are fundamental to all systems.
  7. Energy – Energy Flow: Describes the entropic nature of all systems.

In explaining these concepts he shared the following diagram (created digitally using GoogleDocs Draw).

Systems Model

Systems Model diagram from Edward T. Clark, Jr.

As a science teacher I used the model to introduce the rock cycle (resource base), the water cycle (unifier), the air cycle (1/2 of duality), and the food cycle (the other 1/2 of duality); keeping in line with the ecological context.  While this model was presented in the context of ecology it can adapt well to other types of systems.  One of the keys I have found with applying this model in other contexts is to define what/who is the “Unifier”.  For example, a high school with the principal as the unifier will have a different feel than another where the students are the unifier.  Or using government, a unifier of a president would be different than if the unifier were the judicial branch.

My next step is to look at these concepts and see how they apply to my PLE/PLN.

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