How I Spent My Summer Vacation

2 Jul

I’ve been on summer break for about a month. In less than a month, I’ll be heading back. I know that sounds crazy to you folks that just got out of school a week ago! I’m sure that in a decade or so, the feds will require all schools to run on the same calendar.

So I’m getting my mind wrapped around the idea of doing a 10th year with the SID/PID classroom. Not an easy thing, and for several weeks, I was headlong into denial/escape mode. Basically, I’ve been doing quite a lot of reading this past month. All of these books have been extensively reviewed, and they should be widely read. Here they are, with my short take:

Disrupting Class:How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. By Clayton Christensen Curtis Johnson and Mocheal B. Horn. Most of the books that I’ve been reading make the case that our method of education is outmoded and outdated. It has not essentially changed in 60-100 years. But now technology is making change possible, but in order for real change to occur it’s going to happen through the backdoor, which the authors describe as being deployed disruptively. Most change happens in areas of nonconsumption or where existing programs or technologies are not getting to. In education, that means drop-outs, or students that need to make up credit or have been kicked out of school or students who need courses not offered by their schools. This is primarily looking at making online education more universally available which is happening as several states have virtual schools, including Georgia. The authors do a good job of describing a process that is already underway. It’s a wothwhile read, but I can see it becoming really dated in a few years as online education becomes more ubiquitous.

The Global Achievement Gap by Tony Wagner – In this book, the author describes how far behind U.S. schools are compared to other schools in the world, and how students are not being taught the skills they need in the modern world. Basically, the current system isn’t training kids for work, or for college or for basic U.S. citizenship. After he get through describing the shortcomings of the best schools in the country, you begin to wonder, “What are public schools even good for?” It is deeply disturbing in a lot of ways and gives a lot of food for thought. According to Wagner, the skills needed are the seven suvival skills. The seven survival skills are critical thinking and problem solving; collaboration across networks and leading by influence; agility and adaptability; initiative and entrepreneurship; effective oral and written communication; accessing and analyzing information; and curiosity and imagination. Copies of this book are going to some influential people I know.

Two Million Minutes by Bob Compton. Okay, this isn’t a book, it’s a documentary. Yes, I actually ordered the D VD after watching the Youtube videos. He made a documentary following 2 students from the U.S., India and China and compared their educational practices, attitudes and habits. Like Tony Wagner, Compton points out that there are serious problems with U.S. education compared to just two of our biggest competitors. While Compton’s videos are disturbing they do not go into the source of our ills as much as Wagner’s book. While the DVD might be a worthwhile purchase for a school district, I think Compton’s Youtube channel gets the message across handily enough for most individuals. You could send it to your legislator!

Why Don’t Students Like School? by Daniel Willingham. I’m about half way through this book, and Willingham chops and cuts and slices and dices through a lot of cherished beliefs teachers have about learning styles and learning modalities. As a cognative scientist, his specialty is learning and memory. His basic premise is that 21st century skills like problem-solving and critical thinking are fine, but students actually need to have content to think about and background knowledge to draw from in solving problems. Students don’t like school, mostly because humans are designed and setup to not think or at least keep thinking to a minimum. It takes a lot of work and effort to think, so teachers have to devise strategies to make thinking less burdensome and less painful. Out of all the materials I’ve looked at and read so far, Willingham’s book has the widest application for teachers, parents and even students. Unlike the above books/movies, Willingham’s book does have relevance for the kids that I’ll be teaching, no matter who they are or what age or grade level. Basically, cognitive scientists have done a lot of research on how we remember things and how we go about applying the knowledge we learn. So until I picked this book up, I was looking more at broader policies that will change how education is done, but this will influence how I look at teaching and learning on a day-to-day level. I’m already working on an online course that I might try to offer in the fall using this book, thus applying all of the concepts I’ve been reading about. Take a look at his videos for some quick learning. His video on merit pay alone is worth the time.

I also spent a considerable amount of time attending various webinars on the Web 2.0 comunity. These are good ways to get some knowledge without burning up a lot of time or having to travel. Steve Hargodon is into all sorts of nifty collaborative efforts, including the recently held EduBloggercon. My goal is to be able to make one of those one day. I also want to get a video up to contribute to the PBS Frontline project they have going on. And in it, I’m going to document a conversation I had with a couple of administrators last fall about my educational videos.

So the first part of my summer was devoted to a lot of thinking about education, technology and learning and most of it doesn’t apply much to the job I’m getting ready to mark a decade of doing. But my mind is shifting a bit back. Plus, my oldest son and I are gearing up for an adventure together traveling across several states together next week. I might blog that a bit. Once we get back from our trip, the preparations for school starts in earnest as I’ll have less than 10 days before preplanning!

Stay Cool!

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