Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Chance Favours the Connected Mind

“New innovations more often than not tend to be cobbled together from the parts that are available at the time…”

In “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom Using: 20% Time, Genius Hour, and PBL to Drive Student SuccessA. J. Juliani cites Steven Johnson's book "Where Good Ideas Come From" about seven patterns of innovation that are repeated in nature and culture:

  • The Adjacent Possible: New ideas are rarely all that new. Innovations comes from building on previous ideas and connecting our ideas to as many people and places as possible.
  • Liquid Networks: The elements of an idea are worthless unless they are properly connected. Liquid networks allow for those connections, and collisions, to happen between all ideas.
  • The Slow Hunch: It usually takes time for ideas to connect and evolve into something tangible. The hunch allows people’s ideas to grow and morph. This is why a “commonplace book” is so important. Collect all of your ideas and small bits of information. Then let them grow.
  • Serendipity: Innovation is rarely planned. However, one key condition is that the discovery must be meaningful to “you.” There has to be a purpose and reason, or a hunch will never materialize into a connection.
  • Error: Noise and error are often associated with unpredictability. Unpredictability is a key component to innovation. Fail fast and keep moving on. Innovation will then happen.
  • Exaptation: Allow for diversification in ideas and connections. This way a combination of ideas can connect to accidentally tackle new problems.
  • Platforms: Google is the best example of a platform for innovation. The company’s procedures encourage collaboration, the sharing of new and old ideas, and experimentation. A platform is a place where the other innovative patterns exist in community.

Johnson suggests that new ideas, new innovations tend to not just happen in a stereotypical "eureka" moment...they evolve. As ideas mingle and bump into each other and over time they sometimes grow into new innovations.
As you review the seven patterns Johnson lists (above) you may think to yourself that these patterns aren't terribly new. In fact, Johnson cites examples that go back hundreds of years in history where these patterns are in play. 

The question for me is, how to we create these conditions in a sustainable way in our schools for teachers AND students?

Here are a couple of quick videos to introduce you to Steven Johnson:

Saturday, August 9, 2014


So I'm reading Education 3.0 - Seven Steps to Better Schools and I come across the following questions:

  • What should Education 3.0 look like?
  • What should students learn to prepare them for Workplace 3.0?
  • How should they learn it?
  • How should teachers teach in Education 3.0?

Schools, and the Education System they serve, have always lagged behind the needs of a society's economy. When our economy was industry/factory based, so too were our classrooms. When we felt we were falling behind the Russians in Science and Math...our curriculum changed to place greater focus on the perceived subjects of need.

What parent doesn't want their school system to prepare their children for future work? All parents want the reassurance that their children will be okay, that they'll have a job and be able to support themselves and a family of their own. But what if we can no longer predict what the “good” jobs will be in the future?

It seems to me that economic systems of the past seemed to "last longer" than they do now. What I mean by that is that the Industrial Age was just that...an "age". Generations of families could work in the same industry...possibly even the same factory, mine or mill. Today, to mention just two examples (first ones that popped into my head) in about 30 years we went from vinyl records, to CD's to MP3's - how many record stores do you see in your local mall? Also, we went from BETA/VHS to VHS to DVD to...downloading movies online. How many video rental stores do you see around?

It is still important to prepare students for a future in our economic system...to get a job. Having said that, jobs of today have changed quite rapidly and I suspect that will continue into the future. Students will have to learn to adapt, to be creative, to build social networks and to be able to work with others. When I walk through classrooms I often seen students collaborating and learning to work with others in a dynamic social learning environment. What I don't always see much of (in a system-wide manner) is students being provided the opportunity to develop, practice and show "creativity". Is this a problem that we should be concerned about?

For years it has bothered me when people say that school should only be about preparing students for a future job...I would often declare, "What about learning for the sake of learning? How will students love learning if all we do is make it into a chore? What about learning through play, through experience and through being creative? What about learning to learn and to be comfortable with change? How about balancing academics, arts and emotional learning in order to better develop the whole child? How about learning to adapt and be flexible?”

It's important in most areas of life to find a healthy balance and so too is it with education. Having the skills to get a job later in life is important; however, I would argue that having the opportunity to be creative and to work with a diverse group of individuals is also important and quite possibly complementary to the former.

Could it be that "creativity" could be the missing link to ensure a student's future employability?

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Are We Ready for Education 3.0?

Today I had the pleasure of attending a symposium at the SFU-Downtown campus. The title of the symposium was "Moving Educational Technology from Enhancement to Transformation". In the lead-up to today's symposium we all read an article by James Paul Gee titled, "Digital Media & Learning: A Prospective Retrospective". One quote I'd like to reference from Gee's paper is:

"Businesses - but not yet schools - are asking their consumers to help them design and produce."

What Gee is getting at here is the fact that our current school system is still stuck in an old Web 1.0 world.  We haven't gotten to Web 2.0 where feedback from students is welcomed let alone a Web 3.0 world where students work WITH teachers to assist in co-creating curriculum and learning experiences.

"There is a crucial role of teachers as designers of experiences good for learning. As in a good video game, this is not 'anything goes' learning controlled by the learner (player) or 'do what you are told learning' controlled by the teacher (game designer). It is, rather, a mutual, collaborative, social act in which, nonetheless, there is an 'instructor', 'teacher', and 'designer', at least at the outset."

"Such learning is neither progressivist or traditional. It is what I have called 'post-progressive learning'. There are times where it builds connections, there are times when it blocks them, and there are times when it makes new ones. After all, the best learning is often a new game for a new day." 

Is our system ready to move towards an Education 3.0 model? Are we prepared to invite students to help design their own learning experiences within a safe and guided environment?

Where do we start?


Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"It's not where you are at now that matters or how you start rather than where you end up that should define you..."

The title of this blog post is actually a quote from a parent at our school. She sent me the following inspirational article about a Principal who was first a Janitor.


Now, there's absolutely nothing wrong with being a janitor - a very important and respected part of any organization. To me, the point of this story is more about how we view ourselves in the present and how that view can change over time, or with the gentle encouragement of another.

This story reminds me that we are not defined by any ONE moment; rather, we evolve over time to reflect all of our experiences. We learn, we change, we move forward regardless of where we started.

This story reminds me that anything is possible for anyone...even me. Perhaps a "Principal" can aspire to...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Two Mindsets

Earlier this week a parent at my school sent me the following link: http://www.brainpickings.org/index.php/2014/01/29/carol-dweck-mindset/ to an article based on Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset.

A few years earlier I came across the same book at a workshop, purchased it and read it. I was so impressed with the optimistic theory that, along with a colleague, we provided Head Teachers in our School District with a copy of the same book.

We used the book, and the “growth mindset” philosophy, to guide discussions at future meetings.
On a personal note, the book really spoke to me about possibility. It reminded me that what we are today is a reflection of what we were and a foundation for what we are yet to become. The book and it’s philosophy reminds all of us that the road of life is a long one and that it IS possible to change, to evolve, to improve and to become anything we set our minds on.

This also applies to students. In fact, it may have greater impact on students than any other demographic group. Just because a student had a tough year; just because a student’s behaviour today is not ideal; just because a student is struggling with reading, writing, math, behaviour (or...fill in the blank) doesn’t mean they always have to. Much like mutual funds and stocks...past performance is not a guarantee of future performance and we need to keep this in mind with students as well. As much as we want to instill a “growth mindset” in our students, I think it’s equally important for educators to maintain a “growth mindset” on their behalf - believing that any student can achieve and evolve over time.

This book is about possibility. It’s about redemption, forgiveness and looking at “failure” as a learning experience, not an indictment.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What if we thought of schools as families?

A blog I like to visit from time-to-time is maintained by an American Teacher teaching in Finland - Taught by Finland. In this blog post titled, “What Do Finnish Teachers Think of Teacher Rankings?” Tim references a quote by Diane Ravitch which I have copied below. The title itself resonated with me...what if we thought of schools as families instead of ranking them? Good question.

“It seems to me that we [Americans] are thinking about children, teachers, and schools the same way we think about sports teams. In every league, there are winners and losers… What if we thought of schools as if they were akin to families? Then we would work to develop school cultures that are collaborative and supportive. We would make sure that those with the greatest needs got the resources they need. We would stop thinking of winners and losers (and ‘racing to the top’) and think instead about the full development of each human’s potential.”

Rankings make it difficult for students, teachers, and schools to function like families because it appears that some individuals are more deserving than others. If we thought about schools as families, we’d make sure that each "family member" would be treated with dignity and respect. No school, teacher, or student would ever be defined by a number.” -- Diane Ravitch

What if we focused less on competing and focused more on collaborating? What if we provided more support to those schools and families who needed it most? What if our funding models were based on needs rather than budget. I realize that some of this applies more to the situation in the U.S. than here in Canada, but I think there are lessons here for Canadians as well.

I’m wondering if we are beginning to leave the current phase of educational reform (a corporate model in my opinion) and moving more towards a community-based model of educational reform. In a community-based model teachers, students, parents and community stakeholders all come together to work collaboratively towards common goals.

This is not to suggest that data and accountability measures have no place - quite the contrary. The focus and purpose of those accountability measures however would be used for very different purposes: instead of being used to rank, compare, win and lose...they would be used to learn, share, innovate and problem-solve.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Children, Learning and Sleep

How can I help my child do better at school? This question is probably asked by most parents and the answers will most certainly vary greatly. Some will challenge their children to work harder while others might look to tutoring services or even a change in diet – all good options. Have you ever thought about looking at your child’s sleep patterns?

With how busy we all are it tends to be easier to cut back on sleep rather than cut back on other things. With today’s work schedules, homework assignments, sports and music practices and a host of other commitments, it’s often easier to sacrifice sleep than something else...but at what cost?
In reviewing some web sites lately, I came across the following statistics that you might find interesting:

  • “Sleep is an active, repetitive and reversible behaviour serving several different functions, such as repair and growth, learning or memory consolidation, and restorative processes: all these occur throughout the brain and the body.” (Curcio et al. 2006)

  • Small but constant deficits in sleep over time tend to have escalating and perhaps long-term effects on brain function.
  • Children with higher IQs -- in every age group studied -- slept longer.
  • For ADHD children, improvements in sleep dramatically improved peer relations and classroom performance.
  • Healthy sleep positively affects neurologic development and appears to be the right medicine for the prevention of many learning and behavioral problems.
  • About 69 percent of children 10 and under experience some type of sleep problem, according to the National Sleep Foundation's (NSF) 2004 Sleep in America poll.
  • How much sleep is appropriate for my child?
    • 3 - 5 years old: 10 - 12 hours
    • 5 - 12 years old: 10 - 12 hours
  • Watching television, movies, or video games close to bedtime may all contribute to a loss of sleep. Although we may feel and appear calm when enjoying these types of entertainment, our minds are excited.
  • Up to 24% of teenage students have reported that their grades dropped because of sleepiness. In addition, a study has shown that students who had grades of C, D, or E averaged 25 to 30 minutes less sleep per weeknight than their classmates who achieved A’s or B’s.
As you read these statistics please keep in mind that we all react differently and some people may require additional sleep while others can get by with a little less. The research on the importance of sleep is still evolving; however, the trends to this point are clear: we need more sleep and we need to take “sleep” more seriously. Sleep by and of itself may not improve your child’s report card letter grade from a “B” to an “A”, but, it won’t hurt, may improve their mood...and...it’s free to try!

Additional Resources: