Posts Tagged ‘Marc Prensky’

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So, I’ve been thinking about student choice and format of work. I have been trying to remember and put into action what Marc Prensky said at an ADVIS event several years ago, “assign the verb not the noun.” This means assign what I want students to do, not exactly the tool or format it must take. (I wrote about something else from the event at the time; isn’t it interesting what you think is going to really stick with you and then what does stick with you?)

To date, I have been able to put this idea into action on more creative assignments. This year I have assigned things like “research and share your findings” or “demonstrate interdisciplinary thought” (that one really made folks crazy) but not “powerpoint presentation” or “podcast”. As it turns out, most students ended up choosing a similar format for these exercises, but I made a real point to talk about the actions and the important thinking work rather than numbers of slides or minutes of audio.

The current assignment my English 12 students are working on is the first time I have assigned “write” and not added “a paper” or “a story” after it. The assignment is, for the most part, an analytical paper that is meant to get students thinking about two works of fantasy and some other big ideas of the course. It is an assignment that lends itself to a typical English paper, but it is not an assignment that REQUIRES a typical English paper. It turns out that for the vast majority of my students, a regular, old English paper is just fine right about now. However, for one student a screenplay was the format of choice. He is SO excited about this prospect. Now, I did not just say, “great. Go for it. See you later.” We chatted about some of his plot options, and I definitely pushed for one particular idea over the others (which I thought was manageable and better answered the requirements of the assignment). It still may not be great. However, the student has been working hard on it, and, given that. I think there is a better chance that the finished product will be a better representation of this student’s best work.

Whenever I assess work, I want to learn something about the student’s progress with a particular skill or mastery of a particular concept. If I know that the student didn’t put forth much effort or that the format in which I collected this data was particularly difficult for the student, then the results on the assessment are less meaningful for me. Of course, there are some assessment formats that may be important skills as well. In that case, I just need to be aware of what I am actually measuring when I evaluate the particular assessment.

Back to my student. I have read the first draft and have made a number of significant suggestions. So far, the student continues to be willing to engage in the discussion; therefore, I am still positive about the experience for the student and the amount of thinking the student has had to do about the ideas and content. Since I always want my students to be successful, I hope that there is a lot of revising between now and the final draft. The screenplay has a lot of potential. But, even if it doesn’t get a lot better, I will know that I am looking at the result of significant time and engagement.

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Gwenaël Piaser:

So, I’ve been reading and thinking about professional learning.

One of the things I did for my own learning last year was to take a Coursera course: E-Learning and Digital Cultures from the University of Edinburgh. (Link to next version) I’ve done other online courses and participated in this and that, but it’s been a while since I took a course that was this theoretical.

Not only was the course well-organized and filled with excellent resources, it was a good reminder that although there are many ideas about technology out there, there are theories and philosophies that help organize those ideas into groups and schools of thought. These philosophies and schools of thought have names, leaders, and followers. Even if some of the followers don’t know who they’re following, it’s good for me to put a lot of the commentary I am subjected to hear into a larger context.

This class was another way for me to step back and see the big picture. It’s easy to get caught up in the nitty-gritty of what accounts need to be made, who is having trouble with her audio-visual set up, and what will we do about computers and exams. However my job as Director of Educational Technology means that I need to be thinking about the bigger vision of technology use at school. How do we as a school want to view technology?  To which philosophy do we subscribe? What constitutes safe, ethical, and effective (Will Richardson‘s trifecta) technology use at our school? Are we as adults and administrators modeling this?

Since this digital culture is a new setting, it really comes down to how are we dealing with it. “Adapting to this new context of change, variability and uncertainty is the biggest challenge we are now facing—as educators and as people.”   (Marc Prensky “From Digital Natives to Digital Wisdom“) And yet Grant Lichtman makes the point in his new book #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education:

Change at most schools is not hard; it is uncomfortable. Sometimes it might be very uncomfortable for some people. It can be messy, complicated, and tiresome. Uncomfortable means making some tough decisions. But using the excuse that we can’t change schools because “it is hard?”–well, we need to get some perspective on the difference between hard and uncomfortable. (xii).

So whether we frame this as adapting to a new environment (a la Marc Prensky) or uncomfortable change (a la Grant Lichtman), how do we as individuals react? Do arrive ready to do battle with a powerful foe or do we come to a table to engage in conversation with a potential partner?

The more I think about it the more I think there is another theory is in play here. Carol Dweck’s work on Mindset seems very relevant. In education we think about this idea of the fixed or growth mindset in terms of students, when it comes to change in education, and technology related change in particular, the mindset of the teachers is the critical factor. Do we as teachers see ourselves as good teachers because of what we know and what we have always done in the classroom (fixed mindset)? Or, do we see ourselves as good teachers because of what we continue to learn and what we can add to our skill set (growth mindset)?

Is the future friend or foe?

I vote for friend. How will/am I preparing to meet this future friend? What am I doing to advance my own professional learning?

I think I am going to sign up for that Coursera course again. It’s starting soon. I think a second time around will help the material stick. Plus, I’m almost finished Grant Lichtman’s book and am going to get a chance to hear him speak soon. And, I’m thinking and reading a lot about assessment (read this book) and how to connect to self-reflection and digital portfolios (a favorite topic of mine) for a complete assessment package.

That should do it for me for a while. What are other people doing to prepare to meet the future and is s/he a friend or foe?


Context Change

Posted: January 21, 2013 in Uncategorized
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So, I’ve been thinking about the context of teaching. In the fall, I attended an ADVIS event at which Marc Prensky spoke. He’s the guy who coined the term “digital native.” One of the things that I thought was most compelling about what he had to say was his idea that people are not good at, and don’t necessarily like, the idea of change. People are good at adapting, as evidenced by our continued existence. With that in mind, he suggested that it is worth reframing the discussion to be one of adaptation to a new context. So he says it goes like this, “as the context in which we teach changes, it is important to adapt.”

Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.37.36 PMThen over winter break I read the YA book, The Girl who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of her own Making, by Catherine Valente. Cover art and title aside, I have my doubts as to whether this is really a kid book. I think the title and art work suggest a younger audience than would enjoy it, but moving on. At one point our heroine, September, is getting all cleaned up to enter the city of Pandemonium (it’s a little Phantom Tollbooth-y in some of the plays on words) and is told (p.61):

The wishes of one’s old life wither and shrivel like old leaves if they are not replaced with new wishes as the world changes.

Context and adaptation.

I love the idea that it is not just what one does in a new context, but what one wishes that changes in a that context. And, when I think about it, it seems obvious. My wishes are certainly relative. When it’s close to dinner time, I wish for the dinner fairies to come and cook. When I’m at school, I wish for things like time to meet with teachers to think about new ideas. The good advice continues (still p.61),

And the world always changes. Wishes get slimy, and their colors fade, and soon they are just mud, like all the rest of the mud, and not wishes at all, but regrets. The trouble is not everyone can tell when to launder their wishes. Even when one finds oneself in Fairyland and not at home at all, it is not always so easy to remember to catch the world in its changing and change with it.

Now, if you remove the Fairyland parts, I think the you are left with some real words of wisdom, If you don’t update as the world changes around you, you’re likely to be left with regret. Or, wishes left unattended to can easily become regrets. Word it how you want and feel free to share your version.

So, now I’m wondering which of my wishes need a little laundering. I do not think my new office is Fairlyand, but my office is attached to a new job, a new context. What are my wishes now, in my new context? And, what will I do about them, for as the title of the book suggests, I must get there in a ship of my own making.

As I think about my fellow educators, some of whom are unnerved by this new digital context, I worry that their wishes are the wishes of a long ago time. Being the old guard, the keeper of tradition, starts out being charming and the voice of experience. But if that voice does not adapt at all, how long will it have any influence and at what point does it become simply the voice of the past that gets put aside?

Who wants to be put aside? Ignored? Found to be irrelevant? My guess is no one.

I wonder, is some of this concern about adapting to this new digital context at its core about becoming unrecognizable to oneself or to others? Will one’s toughness, or expertise not be recognized? Some more words from my novel. September says, upon meeting someone who recognizes the wrench she is carrying,

You know my. . . my wrench? [this makes sense in the story, insert me/a name here]

Of course I know it. It was not a wrench when we were last acquainted, but ones friends may change clothes and still one knows them. (p.171)

I believe that excellent teaching may, in fact must, change its clothing, be it room design, delivery, or assessment. The context has changed already. It’s time to launder our wishes lest they become regrets.

Search and Research

Posted: November 30, 2012 in Uncategorized
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look downstairs into stairwell whirl

photo by Quapan used under creative commons license

So, I’ve been thinking about the difference between searching and researching since I attended an ADVIS tech retreat with Marc Prensky on Wednesday. One of the things he said, and that I and many others in attendance then tweeted, was:

Kids need to know the difference between search and research.

I was talking about this with a colleague at my school the next day. We talked about how quickly many students say, “there’s nothing here” in regards to an online source. Many times it seems students say this before the page has even loaded. As the adult in the room here, it is time to say, “um, have you read any of the words here?” or something to that effect. Less snarky would probably be appropriate.

What we then talked about was that perhaps the students are not really aware of when and how to switch between these two modes of online behavior. Some people love the hunt, the search. It’s exciting to collect all that stuff. They would prefer to search and gather all day long. The reading and digesting of the results, not so appealing to them.

Others, may prefer to sit with that first result and read it start to finish before moving on. This group might spend time on a mediocre source because it came up first and they are in research mode when searching is more appropriate.

How to help kids understand when and how to do both?

Well, I think that being very explicit and naming and explaining these 2 modes of working is a great place to start. So in fifth grade, just to pick a random grade, I would certainly explain these 2 terms and spend a few minutes talking about what it would look like in various settings.

  • Is a dog fetching a ball search or research?
  • What about Trick or Treating?
  • What about examining your candy after trick or treating and trading with your friends or siblings?
  • Maybe have kids make a quick (really quick, 2 minutes quick) skit of what each might look like in our classroom

Once we were good on that, I think a few minutes working on a T-chart of the uses and benefits of each would be in order. I’d also probably ask people to freeze mid-work a time or two and identify which they were doing, search or research.

I’m not guaranteeing any of this would solve the problems of students not wanting to take the time to read carefully. If I could solve that problem, that would be a great gift to society. I do think that being able to name the behavior has to come first.

Does this issue arise in your school or classroom?