Monday, July 13, 2009

Post For Leadership Day

My thoughts for Leadership Day

Some thoughts for building principals and Curriculum Directors. No answers, just some questions to consider as you look around at what is happening in your schools. I'm going to TRY to resist the temptation to expound on the ideas with my personal views. Rather, I'd like to ask the question and present points to consider and then move on. This is all food for thought.

What does a World Class Education Look like?
What is your definition of, for want of a better term, a "World Class" education? (Trying to avoid the tired, '21st Century' term) Given all that is happening in this 'flat world', what skills do you truly believe are necessary to compete in a global market? Don't talk in metaphors or generalities; talk in specifics as much as you can. If you have a difficult time talking in specifics then your vision isn't clear.

What is being taught in your school's computer classes?
What is included in your "Computer Curriculum"? If you stop at "Microsoft Office" then you may want to mark that one down as an area to keep in mind as you think about this topic. Things have changed SO quickly that it's not anyone's 'fault' that the computer and Business curriculums haven't yet caught up. But, it's not something that can wait any longer, either. Between the computer teacher and the librarian these two can be teaching the skills that the students need as they take other classes.

The role of the librarian
What role does your librarian play in the overall information literacy of your students, besides controlling the inventory of books? For example, who teaches your students how to do real research? A google search isn't it. And, who teaches your students how to manage the information they find when researching? I asked that question to some juniors who were doing Internet research on their laptops in an English class. They said that they print out the pages and use the highlighters that the teacher has provided to mark the important content on the pages. I'm not kidding. My ideal library would be one in which mini classes are taught several times throughout the course of the year to try to match student's schedules. There would be mini-classes on effective research, both in the databases and online searching (who else shows the kids how to do that?), how to cite internet sources, how to manage them, how to tag them, and where to find copyright friendly images and sounds. Who teaches that now? That's not a rhetorical question, either. In your school, who teaches that?

Understanding Copyright
Do your students (and teachers) truly understand copyright? Do they know what Creative Commons is? (Ask the next ten teachers you see if they know what it is.) Do they know where to go to get images and music and sounds that they may use in their projects? If you've sat in on a student presentation and heard an entire song being played in the background to a powerpoint or a digital movie, then you've got an opportunity there.

The role of the school filter
Do your teachers have a different filtering policy than your students? Can your teachers, for example, access youtube? If not, you've got the wrong filter. Can your students and teachers access sites like social bookmarking sites, wikis, and blogs? If the answer is no, then you've got the wrong filter - or the wrong vision on the purpose of the filter. Kurt Paccio sent this article to me just this morning: Read it. Then think about your filter. Ask yourself if the filter itself is shaping your curriculum, or does your curriculum determine what's filtered? No, citing CIPA and walking away from the discussion won't do, any longer. If you say, "We can't use blogs in our creative writing classes because blogs are blocked", then your filter IS shaping your curriculum. If you say, "We can't use wikis for collaborative projects with students from other countries because wikis are blocked", then, again, your filter is in the way. Try this: Call an emergency meeting of all "concerned" parents in your district for the purpose of discussing their child's education. In that meeting tell them that you'd love to be using blogs and wikis, and you'd love to allow teachers access to youtube, and you'd love to be able to use Flickr and social bookmarking sites, but you can't. Why? A foreign country - as yet undetermined - is blocking it. What do you think their reaction would be? They'd want to declare WAR! But a foreign country is NOT blocking it, we are.

Something else to consider: if you've not seen the WolframAlpha site, go there now and check it out. Try some of the examples. You'll see that this site is a search engine, but instead of it just returning a list of sites that contain those keywords, it computes the answer. You read that correctly - it computes the answer. And, where appropriate, it will show you the step by step solution. When this technology matures you're going to have some teachers who will want this site blocked. They'll want it blocked, not because it's inappropriate material as defined by CIPA, but because it's a distraction. Now, project that out another 5 years as the web grows more and more sophisticated. Now what? Block it all? Or teach with it?

Global Connections
How many of your teachers have ever done a project that involved the students working with other students from another country? This is safe and easy to do, yet I see so few examples of it. When you think of your vision for a "World Class" education, is the idea of collaborating with students from other countries part of it? Can anyone say that this is not good, sound education? Can you make the case against doing collaborative projects? Then who is doing them in your school? Does your staff know where to go to begin to find a partner to collaborate with? Has your staff seen examples of such projects? Do students with experience in global collaborations have an advantage over students who have not?

Think about this: How many different languages are spoken in your buildings? Or, how many different countries have your students come from? What is your building doing to take advantage of this situation? There are some amazing opportunities there for students to learn about the cultures, politics, religions, etc from those students. They may even be new enough to the US that they can help to connect their classes to ones from their country. This is a Golden Opportunity that is going untouched in most schools. There are websites that are perfect for managing this networking, too. Celebrate your cultural differences!

Who are the leaders in your district who can help?
Nobody can fault you for not being as clear on what this vision looks like as, perhaps, some of your teachers who are taking grad classes and who are being exposed to these issues. So, who are they? How can you empower/enable them to teach both you and your staff? Yes, they do summer workshops with titles like, "Web 2.0 Tools for the Classroom", etc, but do you know what that is? Do you know if the tools are being shown as tools to help facilitate a more rigorous classroom environment, or just fluff? Do you know if those tools help to accomplish your vision?

Failure is not an option
You've seen the videos that talk about the new global marketplace and global competition for jobs and how kids are coming to school expecting to be able to use current tools and how the world is flat and ... ALL that. Ask yourself, "What's at stake if we don't begin to raise digitally smart and information literate students?" And that isn't a rhetorical question, either. What IS at stake? If we are satisfied to keep turning out kids whose sole technology experience in school amounts to Microsoft Word and Powerpoint, then have we failed them? And, if we don't start right NOW on insisting that our classes reflect that new vision, then WHEN DO we start? Do we wait another year or two? Three? Five? If the building leadership doesn't begin to understand it, recognize it, model it, and expect it, then WHO will? If not you, who? If not now, when?

Things have changed so much and so fast over the past few years that it's an entirely different world, now. It's not going away, and it's only going to become more sophisticated. The more we see of the incredible things that we can do online (Make sure you see wolfram alpha!) the more we can also see what a misfit our curriculum is. Not all Don't throw it all out, certainly. Just update it. Talk to your computer department and your librarians and see if they can help to create the curriculum that will teach the kids the skills they truly need to access and manage the vast amounts of information that your students will be exposed to while in school.

If not now, when?
Part of the posts for Leadership Day:

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