Sunday, April 29, 2007

Moving to the Edge of Chaos

(Cross posted to LeaderTalk)

Last week I attended a Professional Development meeting for principals in our area. Among the things discussed was reflective evaluation and planning for the future. One speaker presented the concept that we need a new model for thinking about our schools and how we approach administration. I did not make notes on what he suggested was the current model but the model he suggested for the future did catch my eye. He called it the Life Science Model and here is what I got down:

  • Equilibrium is a precursor to death
  • Living systems move to the edge of chaos
  • Self organization and emergence take place
  • Systems can not be directed along a linear path

Being comfortable with living on the edge of chaos is a real challenge for our educational system ( and myself as a type A personality) but I believe those of us who are embracing all things 2.0 see this as a reality. I am also struck by the fact that it is a mandate for living systems to approach that edge so we better get used to it …

I was also struck by the last statement…Systems can not be directed on along a linear path…can we substitute the word learning for systems? Or what about adding the word learning so we are talking about “Learning Systems”.

I have not had time to fully process this but I am both challenged and given hope. This is the model I am moving toward so I am on the right track but it also is a radical shift from where I (we) have been in education. It pushes my boundaries. What do you think?

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Long Term Global Connections- Seeking partners for a new way to teach and learn

Below I have reposted in full a recent post from Clarence Fisher at Remote Access. We are beginning to set in motion plans for next year and this is his appeal to find others who might want to make this commitment. It will require tenacity and perseverance but the rewards should be very great for students and teachers alike....Clarence has already done some exciting global projects and now is looking at a more all embracing model that will push us toward school 2.0...
Think of it as team teaching or co-teaching a class without walls...

As I've watched this year turn into one of successful international projects blossoming across various spaces and continents, I find that I'm still concerned about the "specialness" of these connections. They are carefully orchestrated events working on strict timelines initiated by teachers. While I am a strong advocate of carefully crafting a classroom environment, I think its time to move beyond this. We have proved we can connect kids using the tools that are available to us. We have proved that kids can be successful working in international collaborative groups.

With this in mind, I am beginning to plan for next year. I'd like next school year to be different. I'd like next year to be a year of becoming a truly globalized classroom. I'm looking for a few partners (3? 4?) who are interested in working together long - term. While I've had the privilege of meeting a lot of wonderful teachers who I could simply email and ask, in the spirit of openness and network connectiveness, I'm opening up instead.

The best matches would be classrooms that:

- are around the same grade level as mine (13 - 14 year olds)

- are self - contained or are a group of students that are taught by small group of teachers

- have access at school to tools like wikis, Skype, blogs, Thinkfree, YackPack, etc.

- have good enough Internet access to be be able to work with technology like VOIP and exchange videos, photos, etc.

- are able to get access to the Internet on a daily basis

While I'm not looking for our classrooms to be connected all day, I would like to be connected on a daily basis (might be through blogs, wiki research, a VOIP call, etc.) on at least one ongoing unit (we would work on a math unit together for awhile, switch to a novel study, then move into a group photography project)

I'm looking for a small group of people looking to change what classrooms can be. I want to create a network of people looking to have "thin - walled" classrooms.

If anyone could re - post this call to spread it far and wide I'd be forever grateful. Email me (,

or leave a comment here

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Sunday, April 15, 2007

Cool New Tool for the Classroom

Maybe this is old news but it was new to me. I was looking for a widget and stumbled on this little gadget from I am testing it here because I can see it being very useful for students.
It will work anywhere on the blog but I thought the following paragraph might provide a little test drive... ...
(It is an excerpt I had saved from Will Richardson's blog about Wikipedia)

Just double click on any word in the paragraph

(Via Smart Mobs) So here is a research study (and I mean research, full of all sorts of funny looking formulas and symbols and stuff) about Wikipedia that comes to the conclusion that the more edits there are to a particular article the more accurate it is. Not surprising, to me at least, but since smart people are publishing quantitative results, it might add to the discussion.

Since its inception six years ago, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia has accumulated 6.40 million articles and 250 million edits, contributed in a predominantly undirected and haphazard fashion by 5.77 million unvetted volunteers. Despite the apparent lack of order, the 50 million edits by 4.8 million contributors to the 1.5 million articles in the English-language Wikipedia follow strong certain overall regularities. We show that the accretion of edits to an article is described by a simple stochastic mechanism, resulting in a heavy tail of highly visible articles with a large number of edits. We also demonstrate a crucial correlation between article quality and number of edits, which validates Wikipedia as a successful collaborative effort.

What do you think....see any applications for the classroom and course content?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

How Should 2.0 Transform our Models for Curriculum Planning and Evaluation?

New sources of information and new ways of learning

How do these impact our traditional models for 45 minute lessons? Should elementary school teachers still teach all subjects? How does Classroom 2.0 effect the administrative instruments designed to review and support excellence in the classroom? How should Classroom 2.0 effect teacher preparation and models of lesson planning and assessment?

These are among the myriad of questions which have been causing me to focus on the practical side of class/school 2.0. I have spent some of my timeover at Steve’s Ning site and enjoyed making some new connections and getting a perspective on the diversity of people who are interested in what is going on with everything “Deuce”.

But the more I read on Ning and read through my aggregator the more pressing the practical questions become…This is my time of year for hiring and for planning for next year and so issues of models and expectations are important and I have an obligation to my faculty to consider the impact of change and effective practices that will help us achieve our vision.

45 minute lessons and 180 teaching days

We can (and have) play (ed) with block schedules but this is not exactly the issue. The issue is deeper. As we talk about myriad source of information, constructing meaning, global conversations and students building “texts” how do we deal with the finite timeframe of school. The 180 days are not going anywhere soon and as educators we may try to look at more holistic solutions and developmental groupings rather than the traditional grade levels but in the end we have a finite amount of time in which we have an obligation to facilitate learning.

The more I work on constructing model classes the more my learning options expand. How can we encourage exploration and following interests with our students and still hold them to some kind of timeline. Clay you are building a text with your students so how do you handle the time line.

Multiple subjects vs specialties

Should all teachers play to their strengths? Can anyone teach everything well?

But even more to the point as we move away from reliance on textbooks how do we work through this time of transition and learning curves. As we ( educators) struggle with the digital learning curve (understanding and using Web 2.0) it seems that teachers would be more effective in making the transition if they were playing to their strengths. It is a time consuming task to get started using Web 2.0 to build a class even in a subject that you know but if you have to learn the content and build the class it takes a Herculean effort.

Tools for supporting and reviewing curriculum

The last two questions above are related. I am writing about this topic for LeadersTalk this week ( it will post on Friday). Basically I am asking about the efficacy of the “7 point Lesson Plan” in Classroom 2.0 and also standards for formal observations and walk -throughs. I do not believe our current models are adequate. I think we need a new model for planning and providing constructive feedback. The following is part of my post…

In some ways, I would say planning is more critical than ever because learning will not take place in discreet packages. The teacher and the students need to know they are on a journey and what the expected destination is as well as the mile markers along the way. A syllabus for K-8? Why not?

What about the plans for an individual lesson. We still need to make those 180 days count and so there needs to be a definite focus for each day but will I see an anticipatory set, review, whole class instruction, modeling, semi independent practice, independent practice and closure? Should I see this?

New expectations and new models for formal observations will also mean new models for teacher preparation which is the last question I raise. Right now I am happy when a teachers has some exposure to the tools of the digital world and sees their value. At some point however it has to encompass more than that…it will need to reflect a pedagogy that sees knowledge and learning differently.

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Sunday, April 01, 2007

Textbooks and Curriculum- Perspectives and policy- Think aloud continued

This is a great discussion about textbooks! The various voices who have weighed in have added valuable perspectives and insights and I encourage you to read the previous post with all of its comments. ( 14 comments – some are my own- but this is a real conversation). The more I reflect on this issue the more I am convinced that while we need something different it is not going to be forthcoming anytime soon. So the question is what we do in face of this reality. A discussion of textbooks is the gateway to questions of pedagogy, curriculum, course design and lesson planning.

As I stated in my original post textbooks do have a place in the curriculum and as Clarence commented learning to read formal pieces of writing is still and important literacy skill. There are two related but distinct aspects to our current textbook models. One is the message to students that this is all you need to know and the other is to the teacher this is all you need to teach. As Mr. Maher comments it is well suited to the industrial age educational practices and to assembly line thinking but it does not work well to meet the needs of today’s students.

Meeting the challenge presented by this model is a difficult task because it has to do with breaking away from the traditional mold, the traditional pedagogy. To move away from student and teacher dependence on textbooks my mantra for the last 5 years at least has been “ textbooks are not the curriculum, they are a tool…standards drive our curriculum.” I have never held a teacher accountable for moving from page 1 to page 230. However in reality it does often become the curriculum because it is in the zone of comfort and it fits the training most current teachers received.

In addition, the standards which are the curriculum have proved to be too broad and cover too much area (especially in Social Studies) which furthers the reliance on the textbook as a default approach. We have begun looking at power standards identifying critical knowledge as a means to focus instruction and empower the teachers to be authors of curriculum but it is not an easy task.

Another aspect of the textbook/course design issue has to do with grade level skills. Basic academic skills like reading, phonics, computation etc. are well served by a structured text driven curriculum. Critical thinking and knowledge skills are not. How do we strike a balance here, particularly at the K-8 level? In answering this question I believe I will approach an answer to the budget question. What money do I allocate to textbooks and what is the justification for that expense in terms of a holistic approach to budgeting?

So here are my initial ideas in trying to write a policy for curriculum resources or in more traditional terms a textbook policy that can guide purchases. It presupposes a standards based curriculum and honest ongoing discussion of course design I also think our movement toward the Moodle arena will be well served by these criteria.

  • All texts will be supplemented with online resources ( and perhaps with library purchases)
  • In the upper grades student scribes and wikis will help to build resources for future classes. Take a look at what Clay is doing with a “textbook” wiki
  • As knowledge based texts ( like Science and Social Studies) age the online supplements should increase and be well defined.
  • Purchases in Social Studies and Science will most probably be in the form of smaller, lighter more reasonably priced trade books and trade magazines.
  • Grade level skill acquisitioning each subject must be clearly articulated and resource provided. (Skills however can not be taught in isolation but must be applied across the curriculum)
  • Leveled readers in subject areas should be considered to make the curriculum more accessible.
  • Language Arts will encompass digital literacy.
  • Reading component will progressively move toward literature as the grades progress and can then employ less expensive lighter novels instead of anthologies.

As I said this is my initial brainstorm but it needs more work. What do you think? Will this work? What would you add or delete? It is my goal to put together a working document for my school and your comments will be invaluable to the process.

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