Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Competition is a Myth, Cooperative Refinement is the Reality

             In commonly held micro-view it appears that we are all competing individually in a zero sum game which tends to depress most people upon pondering, but that belies the fact that we are more and more interdependent each day as globalism entrenches further into societies nearly everywhere.  My iPhone represents a cooperation of thousands of people and dozens of countries into a seamless culturally adaptable device that connects me to the vast international digital network which in turn connects everyone else to myself and my part of the world & culture as well.

             In the macro-view we can also fail to see the potential: we have a limited supply of everything & humans tend to be destructive and cruel… but that would also belie the historical trends & actual numbers on the ground. Once you shuffle off the talking heads & their statistics, you find some interesting things. Humans are much more humane nowadays on the whole; equality is spreading. Disagree? 300 years ago: slavery globally. There may be more slaves now (human trafficking), but it isn't more slaves PER PERSON, a vital distinction. The status of women and all minorities is also testament to this.

             What about starvation?? Food shortages?? Well, we actually have enough food being made for 10 times the amount of people; it's just we are using that food for fuel nowadays. STILL: Food shortages???? There's also proof that our farming and grazing practices create deserts. There are NEW practices emerging that cooperate with nature rather than fight it to great success. Farming without irrigation, tilling & fertilizer is emerging globally with extremely high yields, and it is a result of…. COOPERATION GLOBALLY that the ideas have been able to come to fruition in Permaculture & all the new farming practices like it. The creativity of the world gestalt is speeding up.

             Why? Simply because people exchanging information creates innovation & micro-competition pans out globally as macro-cooperation. Humans are the ultimate adaptors; we can't help it. The modern age's problems & issues are both not as bad as they seem in canned statistics and opportunities for growth & progress universally. Look past the hype & the power grab of opinion & fear which doesn't help anyone do anything.

            Instead we need to embrace the cooperative refinement, move past "grades" which are static indicators in a fluid system of progress & thus not good indicators of growth (seeing as the test itself also changes perception as it is being taken). We need to focus on performance, Why/How explanations/demonstrations, & oral/aural assessments. Only then will learning leave the rote feedback memory/regurgitation machine behind.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teaching How to Think not What to Think

   Control the how not the what or why. To do this, build choice into the lessons but keep the skills and objectives the same. An added benefit of each student or group of students doing something different is you can have them present to each other & keep their peers' attention; there's nothing worse than having everyone present on the same thing… 

   You'd think this would be obvious, but it was and still is being done. Here is what I think of when I create a project (chart below), and then I think of how to tie in as many standards as I can. I usually look at how I can connect something from each section into an activity that is meaningful to the students. 


ResearchWeb Search, text-based, audio-based, video-based, interaction-based with peers, local community centers/monuments/historical societies/libraries/etc, field trips, & interviews
PresentationVimeo, SlideShare, GooglePresentations (not public), Keynote (not public unless posted), Live presentations by all for all work. Include Compliments & Reflection as well as MLA formatting & citation.
CollaborationPartners or 3 - 4 person groups. Rotating through whole class. Though constant free choice, you must work with everyone. Sometimes have a free choice group with anyone.
StudentInterestThemselves, Sharing, Movies, Music, Books (Audio), Sports, History, Family History, Personal Experience, etc. Take a Survey.
ReflectionSurveys, Collaboration, Feedback, IronChef Feedback-Response Presentations, Application of Reflection in Future work/teaching

  Here is one of the simplest project examples that is solid CommonCore (Science/English/History), or at least what I'm going to say CC should be (it still could boondoggle on us at any moment  ;) From the Research Project Menu:

Nature Research 
Day 1 - Steps 1 - 3
Step 1: Pick a Group of 3 - 4
Step 2: Pick an animal, geographic location, or aspect of nature to research.
Step 3: Reflection: Why do you want to research this aspect of nature? (2-3 sentences). SHARE.
Research: 5 websites per person, 5 quotes per person, & 5 analyses per person (1-3 sentences on what the quote is saying and why it is important). SHARE.

Day 2 - Step 4 
Step 4: Write an outline of your research - have as many aspects (body paragraphs) to research as group members- use all the 5 quotes & analyses from each member as a pool to pick from. Collect pictures to support your evidence. Use Google Doc. SHARE.

Day 3 - Step 5 
Step 5: Finish your research essay complete with Works Cited, introduction, conclusion, InText Citations, & completely correct spelling and grammar. Google Doc. SHARE. 

   Here is another example but one for essay writing. It is Science/English using a novel example to help focus on organization, form & logic (higher taxonomy):


An Essay Example - The Lorax from Matt Powers

   This model of Remix-My-Presentation is most valuable in classes that rely upon any form of memorization. Students can watch it over and over (and they do!!) to refine their ideas. 

    Students have fun with this "icebreaker" English assignment because they can choose a novel example. It is self-affirming & easy:


Characterization with Homer J. Simpson from Matt Powers

It can also be very randomly creative as well. The randomness will protect you from cheating, increase engagement & win you admiration. Students hate boredom & condescension most. Win their loyalty & attention, and you can begin teaching anything. Half of "teaching" these days is classroom management which is controlled by design easily. 


The weeds that grow in a garden
 are simply helping heal & hold 
the soil together 
for the flowers to bloom their brightest. 
When we spend all our time pulling 
up the weeds, we kill the soil 
and starve the flowers 
we were trying to nurture. 

Teachers, 
be careful gardeners

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An F Is Not Motivating, or Why Public Ed Needs A Reboot


Motivation must be intrinsic… we can't force it, drug it or "teach" it.        

          D's and F's are useless at motivating students. They are good at motivating parents and teachers to punish rather than instruct, resulting in a veiled resentment and thin obedience. We should instead have just A, B & C. If the work is not satisfactory, it is not finished. 

        We should also eventually just move to interviews with parents & students at the end of each semester in a comfortable, celebratory fashion where we focus on ways to improve and strengths rather than weaknesses & concerns. This dovetails with the idea that we shouldn't graduate kids through by year but by completion. Mixed aged groupings have been shown to cut down on misbehavior on the whole, but then again this dovetails with the idea that school should be non-compulsory… If students chose to learn then they would come to school ready to learn, & discipline issues would evaporate, & engagement would skyrocket. Teachers & students would be empowered by it. This also means that ADA money et al would have to be scrapped. Funding should be localized with federal offerings tied to programs in a locally adaptable application but no mandates. We shouldn't have any standardized tests. The data is no good anyhow, and we, students, teachers, & parents, all know it. We say it to the kids, but we then turn around & accept the practice as inevitable: What are we teaching our students & children then?? 

      Right now our Secretary of Education & President Obama want to COPY CHINA by focusing on testing more, lengthening the school day & lengthening the school year. Experts in China have even dubbed their system a failure… so why are we copying it? One can only guess. They send their people over here to figure out what makes us creative, adaptable & innovative. Evidence shows that PLAY without adult intervention is the birthplace of creativity & so much more: http://aeon.co/magazine/being-human/children-today-are-suffering-a-severe-deficit-of-play/ If we want creativity, adaptability, innovativeness, "American" qualities, we have to back off and let control shift away from top-down education. 

     Schools should not indoctrinate kids: they should be an offering of courses in different skills and perspectives. The reality is most of what we are told to teach could be self taught if the students were motivated enough (i.e. if it was related to what they cared about). Much of what we "teach", they already know, and we are only labeling and organizing their knowledge. It's like a cultural matching game; that's why cultural minorities can't play it as well: their culture doesn't match their teacher's or the textbooks' editors.  

     The idea of "organization" we cling to is unnatural. We think in uniformity is strength, but we clearly see it is not in architecture, monocropping, & thinking. It is in small unique successful grouping closely links to natural cycles that last and create overall systemic stability. Israel Zangwill's Melting Pot is the American Strength, the assimilation and recognition of the best in all cultures and systems. Our education system as it aligns further and further with a national test will weaken the scores, our economy & collective future to devastating effect. 

     We can see this in nature where the straight lines and severely organized patterns of our agricultural and cityscapes create deserts, endless landfills and toxic wastelands. It is only in the allowance of chaos that we see real control as we let things go & achieve balance in design. Teachers need to control their classrooms via design not behavior modification or force. Candy bribes turn children into nothing more than trained dogs. The highest degree of motivation is intrinsic. If we didn't have to force kids with law & consequence to attend schools, they'd only show up when they really wanted an education. Teachers would adapt and change. 

    Would this be entirely new? Yes. What we are doing now that is "great" and "new" is still housed in an ill-fitting basket and doesn't change enough. We need to start over. 

   Public non compulsory school is the only way to create a fair and equitable environment for all children. Depth instead of breadth. No grades. Real engagement & learning. Goodbye discipline issues (for the most part). Short courses organized around skills and interests. 3 week courses? Courses in the summer (farming, gardening, etc)? Courses on the trail camping? Trips abroad/History Courses? Internships/Apprenticeships as courses? Real skills? Real jobs/work?

Anything can happen.