Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Mass Customized Learning…Curve

Living in a world where
...Amazon can send me books I might be interested in before I even know about the books themselves…
…Pandora preloads the ads to match recent searches I've done---and I'm actually interesting in the ads they show…
…products from our phones, our computers, our TV's to our experience before and after a heart surgery are customized…just for us…
makes me hear presentations from Bea McGarvey or Will Richardson and sit up. I take notes on my iPad, save them in my Dropbox, open them at a stoplight, and email them to a colleague. I pick up my daughter Greta from preschool and get a call from my doctoral admissions advisor saying I need a 500 or less essay on my experiences in literacy; I pull over and have Siri, the voice recorder on my iPhone, record my thoughts as I craft my essay for the admissions committee. This is 21st century. This is not quiet rows and uninspired worksheets. This is not memorizing dates of wars or completing packets of vocabulary. This is not jump-through-this-hoop because the teacher requires 45 blogs or jump-through-this-hoop because the teacher requires 5 pages not six. This is today, 2013, not 2003, and certainly not 1913.

We do not need to sort out the top 10% of our students, so that they are the college-bound students and the rest become skilled workers---for those top 10%. No, today we need to hone talent. We need to push our students to be poised for creative, critical, and collaborative thinking.

Educational talk revolves much around terms like personalized learning and customization. I've heard presenters like Rushton Hurley say that our students are plugged in today---phones, computers, internet, etc., but have to power down for school. Why is that? Why are we as educators stuck perpetuating an antiquated system? Change is hard and breaking down walls, like Chuck Schwahn states--the "weight-bearing walls"--feels impossible. How do you change grades, so they reflect student learning…not compliance? How do you change the school schedule, so it's not decided by bells, but by the length needed to complete tasks? How do you change grade levels, so a child moves onto the next level when proficiency is reached, not because it's September? How do you change feedback from A's and F's to levels of proficiencies of specific skills?

Many educators say mass customized learning is the answer. It is necessary. It is essential. It is time.

But what a huge learning curve…not for students, but for us, the educators.

At Arapahoe High School in Littleton, CO there were a group of us teachers and one technology specialist/math teacher, Karl Fisch leading us to rethink how we "do school. Karl created a PPT to get us to think about the 21st century in new ways because as he so cleverly stated at the end: Shift Happens. And it does…whether we help our students to be ready for board meetings in Chicago, yet with colleagues in India and China. Shift does happen. Together, this group of teachers studied ways to change grades; it empowered many of us. We studied constructivism to change the classroom from teacher-centered to student-centered; it empowered our classrooms to grow beyond just our four walls.

And now, sitting in a brown-bag lunch conversation with 20 other Educational Specialists at TIE in SD, we're debriefing about a training we had with Bea McGarvey about mass-customized learning and how we can grow our own capacity for such events like our TIE Conference to individual coaching and trainings we do throughout SD, WY, and MN. I am struck by my experiences and how we embraced the learning curve and didn't worry about the "weight-bearing walls", but changed our own paradigms. We read research-based findings and shared our thinking, we modeled new teaching strategies and shared feedback on how to improve. We shared the burden of re-thinking education. I am so inspired to help teachers find inspiration to change the classroom as we know it. I don't know what my role will be or how I can help, but I do know that living in this world requires students to be flexible, creative, collaborative, persuasive, communicative, and technologically savvy. I know, together, we can "share the load" as Bea and Chuck state, so that we face this seemingly giant learning curve head on.