Learning & the Brain conference: Day Two Keynotes

February 18, 2011 Comments Off on Learning & the Brain conference: Day Two Keynotes

So this morning was a little chillier here, but I caught a glimpse at the mercury back home, and all of a sudden, 11C and rain doesn’t seem so bad…  Anyway, here are my notes from this morning’s keynotes.  All three were pretty jam-packed, but particularly the third one, where there was very little on each slide, they went by quite quickly, so I didn’t catch everything.  Here goes:

Overcoming the Global Achievement Gap: Learning, Leading, and Teaching in the 21st Century

Dr. Tony Wagner, EdD
Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard
[email protected]
www.changeleadershipgroup.org

“The formulation of the problem is often more important than the solution.” – Einstein

New education challenge: the rock and the hard place.

The rock: new skills for work, continuous learning and citizenship in a knowledge for all students

The hard place: the net generations is differently motivated to learn

Reframing the problem: reform vs. reinvention. We reinvented the one-room school house 150 years ago to the factory model we’re still using today.

The 7 survival skills for careers, college, and citizenship

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving: leaders of business and non-profit require that employees learn to think critically. U.S. Army battlefield manuals are written as wikis by people in the field, instead of by “experts”. What is critical thinking? Asking really good questions. School is more interested in answers than questions.
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence: IBM teams collaborate across the globe. How will schools do this if we’re so isolated?
  3. Agility and adaptability
  4. Initiative and entrepreneurialism: employees who meet 8 of 10 stretch goals would be B students in schools. Failure is a part of innovation. How do we reward innovative risk-taking?
  5. Effective oral and written communication: kids can’t write because they don’t know how to think. Dell CEO “kids don’t know how to write with voice.”
  6. Access and analyzing information: textbooks are obsolete before the ink is dry
  7. Curiosity and imagination: world will increasingly rely on right-brain creativity. 70% of economy is based on consumer spending. -2% savings rate in 2007.

Learning walk in one of the top schools in the country: AP government class – teacher had just handed back 80 multiple response questions. Extended response is 3 sentences. No requirement for research papers. 0 for 8 classes showed evidence of teaching kids to think.

Bill & Melinda Gates foundation school: looking for evidence that students are doing college preparatory work (college level). In only 1 of 18 classes was there evidence of college level work. AP chem students unable to propose hypothesis of what went wrong with an experiment – no idea of the scientific method in a supposedly college-level course.

The global achievement gap is the difference between what even our best schools area teaching, versus the skills all students will need for careers, college, and citizenship in the 21st century.

Only 1 of every 2 college students will complete a degree.

What motivates the net generation?

  • Accustomed to instant gratification and always-on connection
  • Use the web for 1) extending friendships, 2) interest driven, self-directed learning and 3) as a tools for self-expression
  • Constantly connected, creating, and multi-tasking in a multi-media world – everywhere except school
  • Less fear and respect for authority-accustomed to learning from peers. However, they want coaching, but only from adults who don’t talk down to them
  • Want to make a difference and do interesting things

One college’s attempt to redefine rigor:
These courses aim not to draw students into a discipline, but to bring disciplines into students’  lives… in ways that link the arts and sciences.

Old way – Focus on “Timeless Learning” (academic content that has stood the test of time):

  • Rigor is content mastery
  • Study existing content by discipline
  • Learning alone and in competition
  • Motivated mainly by extrinsic awards

New way – Focus on using content to master competencies of “Just-in-time” learning

  • Rigor is figuring out the right question/problem to be solved
  • Exploring questions and new problems within and across disciplines

Critical thinking is the ability weight evidence, consider perspective, balance of pros and cons. Fundamentally, the ability to ask really good questions.

  1. Hold ourselves accountable for what matters most (AYP versus attainment). Track cohort graduation rate and how well students do once they are in college. Use college and work readiness assessment to analyze analytic reasoning, critical thinking.
  2. Doing the new work: teaching and assessing the skills that matter most. Develop skills and assessing the 3 c’s: critical and creative thinking, communication, collaboration. Pilot interdisciplinary courses around essential questions. Digital portfolios and practicums.
  3. Doing new work in new ways “isolation is the enemy of improvement”. Every student has an adult advocate. Every teacher on teams for collaborative inquiry. Transparency: video taping teaching, supervision and meetings. Digital portfolios for teachers and leaders.

Policy implications for REAL innovations:

  • Accountability systems: tracking grad rate and attainment %
  • School-based r&d: creating lab schools. Businesses that want to innovate devote a portion of budget to r&d.
  • Performance standards for licensing and re-certification

Transforming Teaching, Learning, and Assessment: How can we Prepare Learners for a Flat World?

Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, EdD

Much of recent education policy has been assertively backward-looking. The world of facts is growing so fast that it can no longer be packaged, divvied up and dished out in the twelve years of k-12.

The notion that teaching is a smart person that stands up and tells the content to students has been debunked for a long time. Students must construct their own knowledge if it is to be remembered.

Process of educational reform:

  • 1983: Nation at Risk Report
  • 1989: Goals 2000
  • 2001: No Child Left Behind

The top PISA results countries were low-achieving and highly inequitable 40 years ago. What is prioritized as to what to learn (in America) is not connected to research done in the US.

Most US standardized tests are designed to assess if students have learned what they were taught in school, focusing on recall and recognition of facts. 7th graders take seven tests lasting several hours each, with no writing on any of them.

PISA is designed to assess if students can apply knowledge.  Questions are open-ended, application-driven questions.

Reform of standards, curriculum and assessment is happening world wide.

  • Schooling in medieval age: school of church
  • Industrial age: educate to do rote task
  • Challenges today: create motivated and self-reliant citizens

Expectations for learning are changing. New content means new expectations. Most studies include:

  • Communicate
  • Adaptability to change
  • Work in teams
  • Problem solving
  • Analyze and conceptualise
  • Reflect on and improve performance
  • Manage oneself
  • Create, innovate and criticize
  • Engage in learning new things at all times
  • Ability to cross specialities

Worldwide reform initiatives are emphasizing higher-order skills.
Teach less, learn more. Increase emphasis on project work and tasks requiring research, analysis, application, self-assessment and production. Expand assessment of intellectual skills. Develop assessments of, as, and for learning. Arm teachers with learning progressions and greater capacity to use a wider range of assessment tools.

Hong Kong moving towards increasing school-based assessments in order to assess skills that cannot be trsted in pencil and paper assessments.

Students worldwide are moving towards assessments which reflect the kind of tasks they will be asked to do in the real world. Focus on skills rather than content. This is happening everywhere countries are moving up the PISA charts. A score is not the be-all and end-all. If you’re not measuring anything that matters, the score is meaningless.

“Remember the goal: for students to learn to use their minds well, and to apply their knowledge in the world beyond school.” — Ted Sizer. Assessment of, for, and as learning should be designed with a primary aim of fostering these goals. Assessment systems should support the learning of everyone in the system: from students and teachers to school organizations and state agencies.

Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning

Marc Prensky, MBA
www.marcprensky.com
[email protected]

Guiding questions

1. How can we get our students more engaged?
2.
3.
4. How do we move toward the future?

What do today’s students want and need from education?
How can we give it to them within the constraints we have as teachers?

Learning vs. Teaching

Neuroscience is incredibly important, but is in an incredibly early stage. Neuroscience therefore has the potential to steer educators in wrong directions.

Levels of granularity: behaviour (cognitive science)

Learning strategies have been known for thousands of years. If you do them well, you will learn stuff.

Too many politicians and educational reformers are looking to the past. The context of education has changed.

Are we educating kids for when they leave us, or are we educating them for the rest of their lives?
Previously, for students the future was more or less the same as the past. Now it is incredibly different.
3 kinds of change in school: changing students, changing technology, changing pedagogy.
In their lifetimes, students will see technology become one trillion times more powerful. Mainframes to cellphones are a billion times more powerful.

Get prepared for, and plan for continuous change and be flexible.

There are ways of preserving the past and moving towards the future. We tend to think of technology as nouns (tools), but we need to think of the verbs. Verbs stay the same (presenting, communicating, learning) but nouns change.

What are the key verbs we want our kids to learn, practice and master? Am I using the appropriate/best/latest nouns for the verbs I’m teaching?

The latest digital tools are required for all students.

The world is moving to a new type of person. Wisdom requires digital tools. There are things our brains do well, and there are some machines do better. Wisdom means combining the things our brains do well with the things machines do well. What do we keep in our heads, and what do we delegate to machines? However we resolve this, our kids need digital tools. Everyday our kids have to wait to use 21st century tools, we deny them their birthright as students in this century.

Students should be evaluated using the tools that they use to solve the problems. We don’t make doctors do tests with no stethoscope.

Digital tools do not lead directly to learning, engagement or wisdom. That’s where teachers come in.

Better pedagogy: partnering. For teachers and students to work effectively in the 21st century, they need to partner in a new way. Share the work: let students do what they do well (use technology, find content, create), and teachers what they do well (ask the right questions, etc).

A move from lecturer/controller to guide/partner. Teachers are a tool to educate kids. We need to change to 21st century tools.

Students teaching themselves with their teachers’ coaching and guidance. Lecturing + technology is like an airport runway that crosses a highway (Gibraltar).

Focus professional development on changing pedagogy first.

The Prensky apostasy: teachers shouldn’t waste time learning the tools (unless they want to) because the kids already know how, and they want to! Teacher-centric tools are the wrong way of going about it.

How to motivate kids? Use their passion. “Learning comes from passion, not discipline.” — Negroponte.

What percent of students want their teachers to know their passions? Almost all of them.

We need to encourage passion-based learning.

Educators must become digital multipliers to bridge the digital divide. Only one kid has a cellphone? Whole class is a group. Three cellphones? Three groups.

Bottom line: we have to change how we teach and what we teach.
The reason we should change: the context around the kids is changing.

Come to the conference next year and bring the smartest student you know to start getting student perspectives.

My take:

Happy to be in Canada where some of these changes that American educators are only dreaming about are already ongoing.  Dr. Darling-Hammond’s presentation really nailed what we’re already starting to do at my school and why it’s important.  Schools in Finland or Singapore (can’t recall which one, she talked about both) have reduced their curricula to about 20 pages.  I bet if we pulled the “outcomes and indicators” pages from the new SK curriculum guides, they’d be about that size.  If Dr. Wagner is correct and schools in the factory model are no longer preparing students for the world outside, we need to change our focus from teaching content to skills, which will be transferrable.  Content becomes the vehicle for the skill acquisition.  Prensky’s presentation was the only one not backed up with research, but he made a couple of valid points about the changing role of the teacher, and I totally agree about the mis-application of teacher-centric technologies like SmartBoards.  Now I have to find a way to make them more student-centric in my class.

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