“Business” or “Busyness” of Life

Standard

I’m starting to read Amy Blankson’s book, “The Future of Happiness.” (From what I’ve learned from the press associated with the book and author, I’m quite certain I’ll be posting blog(s) related to this book in the near future.) In the Foreword to the book, her author / brother, Shawn Achor, writes: “Amy has her fingers on the pulse of what YOU can do in the midst of the busyness of life to harness technology to serve our true needs: social connection, meaning, and well-being.” This was the first time that I had seen the ‘busyness of life’ – and, for me, led immediately to the conparison found  in the title of this post.

That quote of Shawn Achor also triggered my seeming recollection of related writing of a favorite author of mine, the late Stephen Covey. Sure enough, looking through the Covey pages of Brainy Quotes (a great source by the way if you haven’t checked it out), my recollection was validated via the quote found in the featured photo above, referring again to life.

The two quotes I truly believe are so very compatible to each of our lives – including a critically important portion, education / learning. I totally reject and rebel against Considering education a business; it’s not!!! But because ‘busyness’ is so close to ‘business’ in the dictionary, the title of this post is acceptable to me – with business being associated with the “change, choice, and principles of Covey!

True for any activity as noted but limiting this blog post to learning, there are far too many politicians, policy people, citizens, and – yes, sadly – educators that either somehow believe strongly in (or just can’t see ‘the forest for the trees’ in getting overwhelmed with) the ‘busyness’ of education instead of the facilitation of Effective Learning. Front and center as Exhibit #1 has to be Standardized Testing!!! And I would add memorizing facts, exams, most homework, grading, … The ‘busyness’ of education that can only be defended with the comment “That’s how we’ve always done it” is robbing our students of the preparation for a satisfying / rewarding career and personal life.

So here’s my proposal: Let’s all agree to work together to make a list of the efforts currently being facilitated in education and the efforts that are being proposed for facilitating learning in education as well as efforts that we ourselves might propose for facilitating learning in education. Next, let’s include our students, parents, and interested community members in a determination of the school culture. Then, let’s assess out full list of efforts with regard to both school culture and the “change, choice, and principles” (most importantly principles) of Covey to develop a general local school approach to Effective Learning. I’m absolutely convinced, minimizing the busyness will provide more than sufficient time to implement this general approach.

But then it’s not straight to the classroom… First, we educators need to engage with our PLCs and PLNs to become more prepared to bring this general approach to each classroom. Next, each teacher needs to Consider the tweaks necessary for each student; one general approach will never be optimal for every student in the classroom. Finally, the facilitation of learning begins – with ongoing assessment and refinement of approach since planning / preparation can never be perfect!

That’s my thoughts with eliminating the busyness of education in order to facilitate Effective Learning. I’d love to learn your thoughts!!!

Educators and Learning

Standard

I’ve just completed my first reading of the latest post to the blog of R.H. Steele. His blog, “Risk to Learn,” is one of my favorites; this post, as I do for each of them, will be Considered very carefully. He reflects on the many needs / challenges of students today and asks two questions: ‘Where do academics fall in today’s education?’ and ‘Whose responsibility is it to tackle these needs / challenges?’ I agree with his thinking: It’s the responsibility of teachers to facilitate more than academics, to deal with all the needs / challenges of students.

Steele makes the statement: “When I was growing up schools had one job: Educate through the teaching of content.” For sure, back then (you know, ‘when dirt was clear – not dirty yet…’), there was much stronger parental influence reducing some unfortunate demands on teachers. But I’ll take issue with this comment in the following sense: I’m quite certain there were many educators that did more than teach content; many facilitated the learning (not the memorizing) of core knowledge and the development of the skills of lifelong learning.

Learning has progressed from the time of no books to today when books document yesterday’s research at best. My thesis: If the research and the learning tools that exist today were available at the time of Aristotle or any of the scholars of later times, the great educators back then would align with the great educators of today. And the demands for dealing with the needs / challenges of students would be the same… “I only provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

REFLECTION & THE INNOVATOR’S MINDSET

Standard

It’s Week Two of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) currently underway. The featured image above illustrates George Couros’ list of the eight characteristics of an innovator teacher’s approach to learning. I have referred to this image quite frequently since first encountering it. While each one is as important as the others, I’ve selected “Time for Reflection” for this blog post.

In the most recent Considerations post, I discussed the four skills that, to me, are the highest purpose for formal education. They are: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. Among many of my strongly held beliefs are these: (1) Every situation anyone faces will yield a better outcome more quickly if addressing that situation is treated as a problem to be solved. And (2) the two features of effective problem solving are ’embracing ambiguity’ and ‘regular self-assessment.’  I have used the phrase, embracing ambiguity, since first hearing it in a presentation long ago (source long forgotten unfortunately). It is I believe one of the keys to innovation and that link could be (maybe will be) the subject of another blog post! Because ambiguity raises the level of risk, it increases the importance of self-assessment.

Regular self-assessment is really the first of three associated frequent steps in effective problem solving: self-assessment to gather evidence, reflection to Consider that evidence in terms of addressing the situation at hand, and refinement to the work procedure to better address the situation. My observations as well as anecdotal feedback from many educators suggest that students do not like to reflect, giving it lip service at most, all too often.

What is reflection? Let me provide my word description of it. For any situation being addressed, at any time, is defined in terms of its status – the features of its being. These would be identified through self-assessment. Also, for any situation being addressed, there are ultimate features of the outcome(s) satisfying our goals for our efforts. Finally, there is the latest set of features for the currently used procedure presumed to get from the present status to the final outcome. Three sets of features. The very important role of reflection is to consider all three sets of features in terms of whether the currently used procedure is still working – or does that procedure require refinement. As note, this self-assessment and the associated reflection and possible refinement must happen frequently during the overall addressing of the situation.

But there’s one last reflection that is equally important: the reflection on the two sets of features of the outcome – the set of desired outcome features and the set of actual outcome features. In the ideal world, these two sets would be identical and the reflection would consist of making sure all desired features were included as actual features. IF the regular assessment / reflection / refinement were done well, in the ideal world, this would be straightforward. But there is no ideal world! Time might not be sufficient, a needed resource might not be available, a ‘documented’ capability might not really exist, … The final outcome will hopefully be useful but even that might not be the case. So the reflection this time has two purposes: deciding how useful (or maybe not useful) is the final outcome; and what recommendations are appropriate for consideration if the effort were continued or repeated?

Reflection, as described in this post, has not been identified for any situation. It must be an important characteristic of all innovative efforts for or between / among the important communities associated with education: teachers and students of course; but also administrators, families, general citizens, policy people, and elected officials. For example, it’s important as teachers develop their pedagogy for facilitating student Effective Learning. And it’s important as administrators work with teachers and policy people to develop a plan to identify and address the standards for education. And so many more.

Notice I have assumed any interactions among the communities listed are fully functioning… It may very well be that some problems to be solved are improving the functioning of communities and across communities!

i hope my thinking on innovation are of value to you.

The Purpose of Education

Standard

[Aside: Yes, I’m finally back to my blog… It’s been quite a while since my last post. In the interim, my wife and I – with much help from family and friends, and our builder – have built a beautiful new home in Midlothian, Virginia; packed, given away, or thrown away our things in Connecticut; and moved into our new home in Virginia.]

I have joined IMMOOC 2 having found the original offering of great value. One feature of this course is the encouragement to blog regularly – with blog prompts listed weekly. Hence the blog title. To me, the highest priority purpose of school is facilitating the development of four skills by each student: Effective Learning, problem solving, communicating, and working in groups. That development must include the application of these skills to meaningful situations to indeed  convert the skills to habits. You might ask “What about the core knowledge associated with the appropriate standards?” My answer is that such knowledge will indeed be learned (and thus be useable) in conjunction with skills development and subsequent use on assignments.

Why these four skills? Effective Learning, to me, is deep learning associated with the development of what I call a vision (an overall organization of facts, equations, theories, links, … with appropriate connections) that enables the learner to use this learning to address the previously mentioned meaningful situations / assignments. The most critical use of the Effective Learning skill will be for the lifelong learning necessary for a successful life and career.

Problem solving will be the structure associated with the addressing of all situations encountered. It is a very nonlinear passage through steps that break down what might first seem a daunting task into smaller less complicated sub-tasks. Very important to this skill is that it is not associated only with the more technical fields such as science or engineering; all fields of interest will yield more useful outcomes more quickly through the use of an effective problem solving procedure.

Communicating is, I expect quite obvious. Whether in the course of collecting materials for Consideration during Effective Learning, the outreach to more experienced individuals during problem solving, the interaction with group members, or the presentation of objective(s), procedures, and outcomes to others for review, feedback, and use, effective communicating is never an option. One additional point important to me at least: communication skill development is not fully  dependent upon the type of situation addressed; but it is best developed in conjunction with a specific type of situation.

Finally, working in groups is such an important skill. There are the likely obvious advantages of a diversity of backgrounds and experience and the lessening of any one person’s efforts when working in groups. There is the ability to develop a richer, more useful outcome for any situation. BUT these advantages will occur only if the skill is developed. In my efforts with student groups (every class I ever facilitated), I always had the students develop a team agreement – a contract among the group listing how they were going to proceed as a group. I also reminded them that the sum total of accomplishments wasn’t great for a group over individuals until they had worked together for a while / gotten to know each other better. By, the way, all those people such as artists who often insist in conversations with me that they don’t work in groups are mistaken. They might not work in formal groups but they certainly work in informal (still very important) ones!

So there you have my thoughts upon the four skills and their importance. Developed in school – I’d suggest as early as possible, the students will assess and refine them into key habits that will serve them well in the furthering their formal education as well as in the personal lives and career. Referring to the photo at the top of this post, you will find a quote from George Couros, the author of the book “Innovator’s Mindset” and organizer of the previously mentioned IMMOOC. What better way to help our students focus on their curiosity than to have the four skills / tools in their toolbox…

A GROWING TREND

Standard

image

Maybe it’s me but I’ve noticed lately a growing trend in published / posted articles – you’ve seen them, ones along the lines of ’14 Reasons Why Dairy Queen Is the Best Dessert.’ (While I’ve never seen such an article, I do personally believe there’s a lot truth to the claim!) I have raised this trend in a few comments I’ve added to posts lately. I subscribe to the daily email, “Inc. Wire” and immediately in one of them I noted the following first four article titles:
10 Daily Habits of the Most Confident People
7 Skills You Should Master Before You Turn 30
10 Toxic People You Should Avoid at All Costs
30 Awesome Last Minute Gifts for $100 or Less

In no way am I endorsing, promoting, or taking issue with the Inc. series, their editorial staff, the article authors, or the messages within the articles – necessarily… But I do want to raise a situation that would concern me; without the articles ever saying so, some readers (in a rush maybe, young maybe, wanting to be ‘right’ maybe…) may in fact take the suggestions the author(s) intended as required for their success, happiness, advancement…

Why do I suggest this can happen? I have talked and witnessed too many people at conferences, workshops (including mine), seminars, that say things and ask questions that strongly suggest they came to get THE solution / approach that will address their situation. In my 29+ years of teaching, I never had any student actually say “Tell me what I need to know / learn to do to be a successful” but there are many over the years that surely want that and reveal their wishes by the questions they ask and the way they approach their classes.

Confused as to my thinking? Consider the titles listed above: “10 Daily Habits of the Most Confident People” might lead to people deciding the 10 habits are required for a person to be confident. “7 Skills You Should Master Before You Turn 30” might lead to people deciding their success is doomed because they don’t have all the skills and they are in their 40’s. You get the idea, I’m sure.

BUT this is not an issue those series, editorial staffs, authors should do much about. Sure it would be great if they reminded the readers that everyone / everything is in some part unique, having specific constraints, criteria, needs. That the likelihood that the advice / suggestions will work well is very small. But we educators and leaders as well must remind our students / employees that Considering (shameless plug: http://johncbennettjr.com) carefully is always important. During formal education, teachers must facilitate development and use of effective learning skills so important to that Considering. Every person addressing any situation must know that that situation will almost certainly require a non-repeated approach. At least that’s my belief.

The good news: Those pieces such as the four noted above are of great value in Considering situations. As you will see when you read these and most pieces, they do represent other research / consideration and thus inform that Considering. Just don’t allow yourself to see any one piece having ‘everything you need to know.’ What’s your thinking?

Parallels Between Success in Sports & Effective Learning

Standard

It has been my thesis that successful sports teams (having excellent coaches) have much in common with effective learners (having excellent teachers). Here is an example that I believe illustrates this quite well.

From the Manchester Journal Inquirer of Thursday, November 12, 2015; article by Carl Adamec titled “WINNING FORMULA” on Page B4:

“So many times teams that put the focus on ‘Refuse to lose’ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to win,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to lose. Who goes into a game saying it’s OK to lose? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to win.

“Some have a greater will to win. To do that, you can’t be afraid to lose. Sometimes teams are their own worst enemies. Coaches are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about losing. We know that losing is part of the game. Any time they keep score, you might lose. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to be successful?’ It works for us.”

[Aside: For those of you who don’t follow NCAA Women’s Basketball, Geno Auriemma is the head coach of the University of Connecticut Women’s Basketball program. They have won ten national championships since 1995 and will be seeking their unprecedented fourth national championship in the season beginning for them on Monday, November 16, 2015.]

Let’s take the excerpt from the Jounal Inquirer and change / add just a few words (italicized and underlined):


“So many times schools that put the focus on ‘Refuse to make mistakes‘ would be better off putting it on ‘Desire to learn,’ ” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said. “No one wants to make mistakes. Who goes into a situation saying it’s OK to make mistakes? Nobody. But not everybody goes in with the will to learn and get the best outcome.

“Some have a greater will to learn and get the best outcome. To do that, you can’t be afraid to make mistakes. Sometimes teams of learners are their own worst enemies. Teachers are their own worst enemies. At Connecticut, we don’t talk about making mistakes. We know that making mistakes is part of the learning / doing process. Any time they assess learning, you might make mistakes. If it happens, it happens. You focus on, ‘What do we have to do to learn from our mistakes and be successful?’ It works for us.”

Two thoughts: First, Coach Auriemma could talk about his team and his coaching style using the alternate version I concocted and his players might wonder about the lack of basketball terminology; but they would understand the message I think. Second, I believe this alternate version should be the goal of all schools and teachers for their students: take risks, learn from your mistakes, don’t focus on not making mistakes, and you’ll have greater success.

A Disturbing Post From ASEE On K-12 Engineering Education

Standard

This blog post is associated with an item in a newsletter I received today.

From ASEE Connections of 06/23/15:

PURDUE STUDY FINDS K-12 ENGINEERING PROGRAMS LACKING
“A new Purdue University-led study found that only a dozen states have clearly defined engineering curricula for K-12 students in their science standards. But it also found that of those 12 states, only four had “comprehensive” engineering programs. The researchers created a framework of 12 indicators to define an ideal K-12 engineering program, then used that framework to assess state-level standards in all 50 states. The four with comprehensive engineering standards were Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota and Oregon. The framework is now being used in an $8 million, National Science Foundation-funded curriculum-development project called EgrTEAMS, or Engineering to Transform the Education of Analysis, Measurement and Science. The investigators are working with 200 teachers in the St. Paul, Minn., area to introduce the approach to 15,000 students in grades 4 to 8. The project includes professional development workshops for teachers. Lead author Tamara Moore, an associate professor of engineering education at Purdue, says the goal is to teach science and mathematical thinking through engineering and problem-solving.”

This is sad for two reasons, for me at least: (1) the obvious lack of significant statewide programs – in spite of NGSS; and (2) the fear that the funded project curriculum will be seen by politicians as THE curriculum to mandate for use – or if they do not, policy people will, maybe even school systems will. I’ll be Considering the proposal further and eagerly looking for reports on efforts made!

I sincerely hope the curriculum is NOT detailed enough to be used without the understanding of what engineering is!!! A comment to Professor Moore (If she happens to see this): Neither you nor I nor anyone else can “teach science and mathematical thinking through engineering and problem-solving” to anyone!!! Once the students choose to learn, you can facilitate that learning – but only that and only then!! Right?

But here is my main concern. The curriculum being developed will be expected (if not mandated) to be used for all students across the country. To me, I have absolutely zero confidence that success doing this is possible! And this does not reflect one bit on NSF, on Purdue, or on the project investigators; no matter the source, NO curriculum can work for every student. I personally have facilitated topics for two different sections of the same course, taught using the same textbook and notes, taught during the same semester at the college level. While these sections might be expected to have more comparable success that two different K-12 classes, there were many instances where the same approach yielded drastically different levels of success… So, I ask you about two classes with different teachers: one in an urban neighborhood and one in a rural / small town neighborhood. How can anyone expect the same curriculum to work?

My beliefs: We should work with teachers (as the investigators are doing with teachers from Minnesota) to provide experience with engineering and to facilitate rich discussions about engineering based upon that experience. And we should facilitate their efforts in developing curricular approaches to use with their students. AND of course, we could provide scripted lesson plans and engineering kit lists for their use with their students. I do not recommend the latter – even with attention to the previously noted efforts! The latter, while done with good intentions, invites the horror of blindly following that script! Only the teachers in every class can know what curricular approach will likely work for their students; they should be / need to be the ones doing the development! Good suggestions from an effort similar to the one identified here will be very helpful – but not curriculum please…