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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Educon 2.3- Is this a movement?

Educon 2.3- Is this a movement?

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I was at Educon 2.3 this past weekend, and the educators there, from all over the country and Canada, shared some of the amazing things happening in their corners of the education world and beyond. Yet teachers are still frustrated at the fact that personalized learning, project based learning, and other things we know work to make learning meaningful and exciting to kids still seems to be happening in isolated pockets rather than system-wide. One teacher spoke of being frustrated that her peers seemed to want her to conform to very traditional projects like "coloring the Thanksgiving Turkeys" for the bulletin boards, where she opted out in favor of more interactive lessons for her class on how holidays were celebrated all over the world, and taking virtual field trips there instead. This made me step back and think: is one of the problems facing personalized learning being adopted one of overturning "that's how we do it" and traditionalism? Another teacher said (jokingly) that one of the older teachers on staff still had a three day hole in their November lesson plans because school was closed then when Kennedy was shot. Could we get more buy-in for things like differentiated instruction if we find a way to integrate traditional with the new? Where do you think the common ground lies?

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Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

I think it is difficult to get people to think in new ways if the only thing we offer them is a new method. These new methods spring from a philosophical underpinning which is fundamentally different from the philosophies that have thus far guided educational thinking in our culture. Without a paradigm shift many people will be unable to implement these changes.

The old way tells us that knowledge in the head of the teacher is to be transferred into the heads of children. Our new philosophy indicates that learners must be active to fully engage the learning capabilities of their brains.

The old way tells us that authority must be vested in the teacher and students should follow pre-determined rules to guide their behavior. Our new philosophy indicates that involving students in guiding their own behavior leads to more positive socialization and a diminished need for discpline applied from the outside.

These new ideas are based on observations about the way human beings really learn. They promote a different view of the child than is traditionally held. If teachers cannot embrace the child as an active learner and decision maker who is constructing his unique intellect, they will be unable to effectively use these new techniques even if given a step-by-step guide.

Nothing less than a revolution in thinking is required in order for we educators to take the next step in our development. In the past, this inability to bring many of our colleagues on board with reform ideas has meant the death of the reform. Whole language was so poorly implemented in my state that people have come to the conclusion that it is a bad idea. Meanwhile, another generation of Montessori students have become eager, confident, early readers using the whole language approach.

My greatest fear at this fertile moment is that our movement toward implementing this new philosophical approach will be derailed by those who aren't ready to participate in implementation because of their personal bias toward the failed methods of the past.

In our teacher training program we use a great deal of emotional support to ease people through the transition. Most find the training very challenging, but ultimately, freeing. If their classroom experience is followed by good mentoring during their student teaching year, most embrace the constructivist philosophy and are able to participate in implementation.

Without a change in philosophy and our view of the child, our efforts to make real change will be sucked under by the riptide of tradition. Clearly, the first battleground will be training.

MK

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

What do you think holds people back from accepting there's another way to do it? What they know and have been trained to do only? Is the brain-based learning evidence not presented in a way that's compelling enough. or is it more about learning to implement these tools and techniques that's the problem?

Are people looking for personalized learning in a box? Or are they unsure where to start? Or is it more complex- based on the whole psychological phenomena of cognitive dissonance- if you accept there's a better way, it means you have been doing less than the best up until now, and holding both concepts in mind at the same time causes pain, so you stay with the status quo?

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

I think we're asking people for a really huge change in philosophy.

If teachers believe that they must control children, they cannot embrace these new methods.

If everything is going to have to be weighed and measured and reported quantitatively, the new methods will not gain support.

If we continue to measure success with a very narrow ruler, we will never be able to move forward.

To embrace child centered learning, or project-based learning, or alternative evaluation, we must learn to trust the child's innate desire to learn. If we can stop trying to force children to become what our insitution needs in order to run most efficiently and commit ourselves to reconceiving our institution to meet the real developmental needs of children, then we will be ready to make this switch.

Even though the course is scientifically sound and clearly logical, it is still asking a great deal of those who have been brought up and immersed in reward/punishment paradigms their whole lives. They honestly CAN'T imagine any other way.

The solution, it seems, is to show them. The question is how to do it in such a way that would create a popular groundswell for this new approach (which is truly very old in the Montessori community). There are certainly enough successful programs to facilitate the making of an awesome documentary film...

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

I think things like Reggio Emelia and Montessori are great examples of how project based learning work, and how kids really get to the core of what's important in lessons based on having to apply the knowledge- it makes it come alive. That's why I think a core principal of personalized learning has to be project-based learning, and assessment is based not only on rubrics, but on a demonstration of mastery of the skills and objectives. that seems to be a better assessment of learning than any unit test or standardized test, but maybe I'm just utopian and crazy.

Mary Kate Land's picture
Mary Kate Land
Montessori 4-6th grade teacher
Blogger

The very idea of free universal public education was utopian and crazy when first proposed. Now it is so expected that we must excuse and explain ourselves if we make a different choice for our families. My hope is that these things which seem so impossible right now will someday seem so normal we don't even question them.

Meanwhile my students are learning about the structure of the US government. I'm working on the concepts of separation of powers and checks and balances. This week we're having a hands-on experience with the Legislative Branch. We formed three committees to codify "laws" for three different situations (lunch time, work time, and group meeting time). Each committee drafted a bill, and the full legislature (all 19 of my students)met today for debate and voting. One bill (Group Meeting Time) was passed into law with a few amendments. Debate on the Lunch Law adjourned just before dismissal with the promise we'd return to the activity tomorrow.

We had a few minutes to talk after the activity and the students were brimming with questions. Many of them had taken dramatic advantage of those moments when I told them they "had the floor" and made their points emphatically. They peppered their speech with "I object!" and referred to one another as "Senator so-and-so" or "Representative so-and-so." At one point they voted to forgo sharing time (our version of show-and-tell) for more debate. One of the older boys has decided to switch his career aspirations from actor to politician, and each time the chair recognizes him he pauses to puff himself up and grab onto his lapels.

Not only is it great fun, but the students couldn't possibly forget what the Legislative Branch does.

MK

Hubert Yee's picture

Hi Mary Kate,

Just wanted to say "thanks" for teaching our students about government. I'm especially impressed that the students were so engaged! =)

Was this lesson used previously by you? Do you think that it can be used for older students such as grades 9 to 12?

Hubert

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

There's really nothing better than making the abstract come alive for kids- why do you think more teachers don't make this kind of learning available across the curriculum? I don't see very many math teachers, for example, assigning projects to help kids understand how the math is applicable in real life, etc. but it seems to me it would drive home the usefulness of what we learn in school....

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Educon 2.4 is coming up at the end of the month, and as I get ready to go to this incredible conference, I'm starting to think about what I want to take away from it this year.
One of the most important things is to start to help the teachers in our local district begin to think differently about their classroom. About their role as "enablers" of learning or perhaps conductors of the learning orchestra, more than Captains of the Ship and Guardians of Knowledge that parse it out to others as they see fit. But so many teachers see "control" as their primary issue in the classroom. However, from my experience, the more you help students take control of their own learning, and acknowledge that you are always learning too, and are not infallible, the more of a learning community evolves in the classroom.
How do we help teachers gain the confidence to at least try new things without threatening the "control" thing that seems so central to how they see themselves?

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