Designing Learning to Stick

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What is the purpose of education? This seems like a simple question on the surface, but one that can yield many different responses if you queried a room full of people. Answers may range from a government’s responsibility and a citizen’s right to be prepared for life, to preparing a workforce for the benefit of society, and everywhere in-between.

I believe that no matter your point of view, there is common ground in the belief that education is essential to both the future success of the individual, and to the success of community in which the individual lives. Thomas Jefferson said:

“An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic. Self-government is not possible unless the citizens are educated sufficiently to enable them to exercise oversight. It is therefore imperative that the nation see to it that a suitable education be provided for all its citizens.”

How we go about the business of education, or schooling, is another matter, and opinions abound on this topic. When I am working with groups of teachers and parents to help them understand how to make learning more relevant and lasting, I often ask them to reflect on their own experiences as a learner to reveal the elements of their education that have made a difference to them.  I ask, “What is the most memorable and powerful learning experience you can remember?”  Small groups will have time to think and reflect, and then share these experiences with each other. Then I have them create a list the common elements. I have done this exercise at least a dozen times. The amazing thing is, that even though the stories of powerful learning are all very different, the elements that made that learning powerful and lasting are the same.  These are the elements of powerful learning I consistently hear during this exercise:

  • Real world problem solving/
  • Opportunity for creativity
  • Hands-on
  • Thinking is stretched
  • Collaborative
  • Personal connection
  • Building skills along with knowledge
  • Choice/freedom of process and final product
  • Authentic/real world audience
  • Time & pace relaxed –not rushed

Surprisingly, when these same groups have reflected on the frequency of opportunity to learn in in ways that produce powerful and lasting results, the answer has been minimal.  The focus in schools and education is covering content, and that takes time.

Right now, schools around the country are preparing to launch the 2017-18 school year and students will soon begin a new year of learning. Wouldn’t it be awesome if teachers and educational leaders designed learning that would incorporate these common elements of powerful learning?

Understanding Content Curation – A Refresh

curating refreshedIn the summer of 2012, I began an exploration of the concept of Content Curation, and what this meant for teachers and students. Little did I know at the time that my journey would involve curating…about curating.  Given the task of providing professional development for teachers to curate resources for backwards-designed units, I started researching to better understand why the word “curate” was being used – so I set out to define what curation meant in the field of education, and realized early on in my research that student curation is where our focus should be. My original post, where I shared my discoveries and understandings, has generated more traffic than any other post on my blog, with hundreds of cross-postings on sites in the fields of education, marketing and libraries.

For the past 5 years I have continued to curate information about curating, using the same Scoop It site I started in 2012. I investigated the skill sets that are practiced with content curation, and how this aligns with skills needed for the workforce. I collaborated with teachers to design learning that included content curation, and saw the powerful learning that this produced.  As more projects were completed with students, I began to see the elements that were essential to really produce the passion for learning that was so evident in the first project I had done with 8th grade social studies students.  As a result, I have adjusted my original infographic to reflect these elements.

Revised Curating Infographic

There are three important additions to the infographic: personal connection, an increased emphasis on sharing with opportunity for comments and discussion, and the element of storytelling.

personal connectionPersonal Connection

Students who are given choice in selecting a topic for curating are far more likely to engage in deeper learning, in my experience. Providing some parameters to keep the project aligned with content and standards is still possible, provided you offer a broad range of topics and give students the flexibility to take the curation project in a direction that they can personally connect with. This begins to resemble passion-based learning and genius hour.  For more on these topics, I highly recommend the work of Angela Maiers.

sharingSharing, Audience – Comments & Discussion

A curator’s need for an audience and authentic feedback became apparent when I launched two nearly identical projects with two different classes of middle school students.  The process for topic selection was the same -using a gallery walk of images related to the content and standards being addressed and Question Formulation Technique for students to select a topic that generated the most interest for them, and then having the students use a blog to share their curation work. One project was hugely successful in generating high interest, deep learning, and passion for the topics beyond the life of the project.  The other was much less so.  The primary difference between the two? The teacher in the highly successful curation project made a concerted effort to provide feedback and comments daily on the student blogs through the life of the project – enlisting the help of dozens of teacher friends to assure that students knew their voice was being heard. The other teacher had concerns about sharing student work publicly, and so students did not receive any outside visitors other than classmates who were required to comment on a handful of blogs as part of their grade. In my own curation work, I have found the need to share and seek feedback on the new directions of my thinking grow along with my passion for curating. The act of sharing and discussing a curation project adds more depth to my understanding and helps me make new connections. In effect, it is creating a community of learners who share your passion to understand the concept or topic at a deeper level.

storytelling2Storytelling

This element first became apparent to me as I looked at curating through the lens of a museum curator. Beth Kanter used the phrase “cherry pick” to describe the process of curating, and this always made me wonder why this was such an important part of the definition of curation that sets it apart from “collecting.” I began to understand it better when I investigated what a museum curator goes through to select the artifacts that will make their way into a museum display.  There are many items that are left in the archives. Why? Besides the fact that there would not be room to display all the collected artifacts, not all the items are needed to tell the story that the museum curator wants to tell. In content curation, it is the same. When we curate, we “cherry pick” the items that best tell the story that is forming in our minds. We arrange the content in such a way to tell that story, and we feel compelled to share the story as it develops. I believe this is one reason that a blog, or a curation tool that provides the ability to arrange, write, and reflect on the curated content is essential.

 

As I reflect at the 5-year anniversary of my curation journey, I am very happy to know that the education community now recognizes the value of students as curators.  In the new ISTE Standards for Students, introduced at last year’s ISTE conference, the third standard is “Knowledge Constructor.”

“Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”

I look forward to continuing my work with teachers and students to help develop content curation skills, and in so doing, help them find their passion for learning!

New ISTE Standards Include Curating

2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), iste.org. All rights reserved.
2016 ISTE Standards for Students, ©2016, ISTE® (International Society for Technology in Education), iste.org. All rights reserved.

Good news!  ISTE has included curating in their new standards! After 4 years of researching (curating!) this topic, I have a real appreciation for the importance of this skill and the depth of learning and connections that can be made through curating.  Additionally, multiple other skills are practiced in the process of curating.

Curating is mentioned specifically in “Knowledge Constructor” Indicator 3c: “Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.”
Check out my wiki on this topic, with links to earlier posts:

Transformative Learning

Planning learning with the end in mind is a time-consuming task, but the results are definitely worth it.  As a teacher, you have a clear idea of what learners need to understand and be able to do, based on the standards, and hopefully, how those ideas, concepts, and skills apply to the real world so that students are motivated, engaged, and an authentic performance assessment can be planned.

If the learners are able to transfer their knowledge and skills to a new situation to solve a problem or create something new, the teacher can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the learners truly understand, and will be able to recall that learning and apply it whenever needed.   To me, this is innovative, transformational learning – whether technology is used or not.  Quite possibly, an authentic task will require the use of technology – as these are real-world tools.  But it is not the focal point of the learning.

Recently, I had the opportunity to observe a group of 6th grade science learners engaged in this kind of transformative learning and performance task.  The teacher, Laura Murray, had created a unit using Intel Education Transformation Model – a backwards design process.  According to the Colorado Science Standards, students need to be able to understand that objects, processes and events are systems that consist of interacting parts, objects and events can be viewed at various scales, and that change follows patterns that can be directional, predictive, and/or cyclic. Students are to learn about the constructive and destructive earth processes.

IMG_5786Laura’s backwards plan was able to address these understandings and  big ideas, and culminated in a performance based assessment where students had the opportunity to apply their understanding in a unique way.  Students assumed the role of museum curator –in the far away future.  They were able to choose –500,000 or 1,000,000 years in the future!  Their task: Create a museum display depicting what the landscape of our area of Colorado might look like in that amount of time.

Prior to this culminating event, the students spent a good deal of time studying geologic periods.  You can imagine, to the typical 6th grader, this can IMG_5787seem very abstract – perhaps even a bit dull.   But it really came alive for these learners when Laura introduced them to an online resource provided by the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.  They featured a special exhibition on Ancient Denvers: The Denver Basin Project.   And –the task that they were given within the role of museum curator was exciting, creative, and engaging. Students had a connection because it was about their own landscape that they were challenged to make a prediction.  The students worked in teams to research the exhibits the museum currently offered, read the descriptions, and then used their knowledge and understanding to predict their future landscape.  This is a 1:1 iPad school, so they used the iPads to research, draw the landscapes for the exhibit, and write up the description for the museum placard.

IMG_5783The day I visited, the students were working specifically on their understanding of scale.  Students were using rolls of cash register tape to physically see and understand the time distance between the geologic periods. They used a scale of 1 millimeter = 10,000 years and had to mark them all out on the tape.   One of the things I loved about this as that Laura chose the best tool for the task at hand. Trying to create these models of scale using the iPad might have resulted in students not being able to see the physical distance from one mark to the next, and reduced understanding as a result.

What’s next? Seeking authentic feedback from real museum curators at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.  Providing authentic feedback is the finishing embellishment on a unit that provided these 6th grade learners with a transformational learning experience that they may carry with them for a lifetime.
laura

Laura has been teaching middle schoolers for 13 years at Academy District 20’s Challenger Middle School in Colorado Springs.  She has taught Science and Social Studies in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. She has earned Outdoor Recreation, Business, and Curriculum and Instruction degrees from Colorado State University and University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. In her spare time, Laura coaches Forensics, is a NJHS sponsor,  and serves on many school and district committees. Laura also volunteers with theater programs at Challenger and Pine Creek High School.

Systematic Approach to Innovation for Learning

One of my primary job responsibilities is helping educators in my district to innovate by providing thought leadership and professional development to get us there. We have embraced University of South Florida’s Technology Integration Matrix (TIM) as a way to help teachers understand the different levels of technology integration, with an eye toward reaching transformation, all while understanding that not all teaching and learning will fall into this category. Much like with the Rigor and Relevance Framework created by the International Center for Leadership in Education, we recognize that learning brand new content often occurs in Quadrant A, or, on the TIM, in the “entry level.” We explain that we hope teachers can increase the frequency of teaching and learning that occurs in Quadrant D of the Rigor & Relevance Framework, or transformative teaching and learning in the TIM. But lately I’ve been wondering, will this get us to innovation? Or, will we have teachers that will be content with the low-hanging fruit – which would be Quadrants A & B, or Entry/Adoption?

TIM and RR Framework

The two models are different, in that the TIM focuses on levels of technology integration –the strategy for learning, rather than describing the learning. TIM is all about how the tools are being used – not on the results they produce. It is about inputs. The Rigor & Relevance Framework describes what the students are doing, and the outcome. TIM and RR Framework reflectionAs I look at these models and reflect, I wonder if transformation, as described by TIM, is enough for innovation. (See https://nancyweducationinnovations.files.wordpress.com/2013/05/technology-to-learning-design-chart.jpg) For instance, if we are using technology in transformative ways, but it is only for acquisition or application of knowledge, or is limited to one discipline, can we even describe this as transformative, in terms of the impact on the learner?

TPACK-newLet’s face it, educational technology departments are stretched pretty thin, and so much of our efforts are still being spent on just trying to get more teachers to use technology. But to obtain the level of innovation that we seek, transformative learning that will prepare our students for an “unimagined future,” a systematic approach is needed, that meets teachers where they are, and consistently moves them forward in both pedagogical and technological knowledge, so that they can achieve the sweet spot described in the TPACK model –Technological, Pedagogical Content Knowledge. We can’t just focus on TIM, because that is only about inputs. To really achieve innovation, I believe we must also use the Rigor and Relevance Framework and backwards design process outlined in Understanding by Design, which includes setting learning goals for transfer.

Underlying truly meaningful and deeply skilled teaching with technology, TPACK is different from knowledge of all three concepts individually. Instead, TPACK is the basis of effective teaching with technology, requiring an understanding of the representation of concepts using technologies; pedagogical techniques that use technologies in constructive ways to teach content; knowledge of what makes concepts difficult or easy to learn and how technology can help redress some of the problems that students face; knowledge of students’ prior knowledge and theories of epistemology; and knowledge of how technologies can be used to build on existing knowledge to develop new epistemologies or strengthen old ones (Koehler & Mishra, 2009, accessed at http://tpack.org/tpck/index.php?title=Main_Page).

 

 

Backwards Planning Professional Development for 1:1

I love the Understanding by Design  (UbD) method for planning learning with the end in mind.  This makes perfect sense, no matter what you teach – if your goal is to make sure that your students learn. (it’s not enough to say you “taught” it.)  In my case, my learners happen to be teachers, and so modeling backwards planning when designing professional learning is essential.

Ubd Elements and BenefitsCurrently, I am working on a plan for professional learning to support teachers who may pilot 1:1 through BYOD  “Bring Your Own Device” in their classes next year.  In UbD, Stage 1 involves identifying the learning goals for transfer, understanding, knowledge, and skills, and an overarching essential question that can drive the learning.  I love how thinking through these learning goals can spark ideas for the “performance assessment” – which in this case will be the teachers designing learning that is focused on learning goals, and then designing a performance assessment and activities to support those goals – which is where the technology comes into play.

Here are the goals I’ve drafted–what would you add?

Transfer Goal:

Teachers create learning ecosystems that motivate students to own the learning by using technology to support deeper, more personal learning.

 Goals for Understanding:

  • What is possible to do with technology that could not be done without it
  • Understanding how to design learning that motivates learners to take ownership
  • Understanding how to give learners voice and choice
  • Understand that learning is a social endeavor
  • Understand that learner questions and questioning are at the heart of learning
  • Understand that real world problem solving motivates learners to reach higher
  • Understand that the more they release control, the more students will own the learning

Goals for Knowledge

  • Teachers know how to backwards design learning
  • Know what it “looks like’ when students are using technology in transformative ways
  • Teachers know how to design learning for authentic problem solving
  • Teachers know the 21st century skills
  • Teachers know how to facilitate, rather than just deliver learning

Goals for Skill

  • Basic troubleshooting  of devices
  • How to use a core group of apps and tools for creating and connecting
  • How to model, teach, assess and give students feedback on 21st century skills

Essential Question: How can we make the learning ecosystem meaningful for each individual learner?

Student Curators: Powerful Learning

During the past 2 weeks, I had the pleasure of working with longtime friend and 8th grade social studies teacher extraordinaire, Terri Inloes, to transform her students into curators of information as they learned about the Social Reform movements of the late 19th century in the U.S.  My head is still spinning from the many successes and highlights from this unit – and the powerful learning that occurred!  Here are some of the highlights, examples of student work, and some amazing feedback from the students. I am convinced that this is a strategy that not only helps to develop 21st century skills and address Common Core research standards; it also is a strategy that leads to personalized learning and motivates students to learn.

 

Day 1:  The QFTQFT

By the time students get to middle school, it is rare to hear them ask questions – other than to get clarification on what needs to be done for the assignment.  The good news is there is a great strategy to help get them back in touch with their own sense of wonder and curiosity –the Question Formulation Technique –or the QFT, which was designed by  The Right Question Institute. Terri prepared pairs of photographs representing each of the reform movements, one picture dating back to the late 19th century, and another representing where that social reform movement stands in today’s society.  After checking out all of the photos, students settled on the pair of pictures that most caught their interest. They brainstormed and refined questions, and then shared their thinking with the class.  This was how they selected the topic which they would curate.

Day 2: Defining Curation; Creating a Research Plan

PoemEverything happens for a reason, right?  Originally, students were scheduled to be in the computer lab and begin setting up their curation tool –Wordpress blogs–  on day 2.  As it happened, a snow day in the previous week caused the lab to be double-booked, and so we had to come up with a plan B.  In retrospect, not going straight to the computers that day ended up being one of the best things that could have happened. We spent this class period helping students to truly understand the difference between “collecting” and “curating” through a beautiful poem, The Curator, by Miller Williams.  You could have heard a pin drop as Terri read this to her students.  You will see the big ideas they gained from this poem show up again and again in their reflections and responses to the survey we had them fill out after the project. The other good thing we accomplished this day was insisting the students plan their research strategies.  We copied 5 different graphic organizers from the book Q Tasks, by Carol Koechlin and Sandi Zwaan, and students were allowed to choose the one that they thought would help them the most in planning their keyword search strategies.

Day 3:  Setting up a WordPress BlogBlog creation

Our school district has our own domain and server set up for WordPress blogs, and this is integrated with Active Directory, so every single teacher and student in the district already has an account set up there. This made “D20 Blogs” the best choice for the tool to be used for the student curation projects.    With about 57 minutes per class period, we were able to show students the basics of WordPress, and encouraged them to work on more sophisticated design features (if they wanted to) from home.  Most  of the kids worked in collaborative groups. By the end of the day, 130 students had created 70 different blogs and published their first post describing why they chose their topic for this project. The technology worked beautifully!

CuratingDays 4- 8 Curating

I was not able to spend as much time during the curating days with the students, but I kept up with reading their curation blogs as best I could.  Terri is the real hero here – commenting on every student’s blog every single night!!  She also kept me up –to-date on all of the cool stuff happening during her classes.

From Terri:

 

Things are really crystallizing for kids.  As I’m making comments to kids I’m noticing them commenting to one another with new questions! Kids are totally engaged, you can hear a pin drop in the computer lab.

 

This is my favorite story:

 

The class is completely quiet.  Riley says, “Mrs. Inloes, I’m also doing research on mental health care because it is in a lot of my research on prison reform.”

 

Jacob replies, “That’s what’s happening to me, I’m doing prohibition and I’m finding the women’s rights movement.”

 

“Well, I’m doing women’s rights and now I’m doing almost all the reform movements,” says Paige.

 

Pretty soon the whole class is piping up with the connections they are making.  I didn’t say a word!

Reflection and FeedbackCurating2

Terri and I were ecstatic reading the reflections and comments from the kids at the end of the project  These kids did an amazing job, and the learning went deep.  Here are some of my favorite student quotes –reflections on the project, as well as what their understanding is of a curator.

 

paintStudents Describe their Understanding of Curating:

“A curator paints with words. They describe what they are talking about so well that it doesn’t even have to be there for you to see it.”

“With curating, you are using heart. You use emotion and find passion to do that certain job or write about that certain topic.”

“A curator is someone who puts back the history into something and tries to find the story or background from where or what it is truly from.”

“A curator is someone who goes into the details of something to find its back story.”

“With curating, you become engrossed in your topic. You know anything and everything about it. You can talk about it with personality and passion.”

“The difference between curating and collecting research to me is that when you curate research, you have the passion to learn.”

Students Reflect on the Curation Project:

“Curating this project really got me thinking and allowed me to give my own opinion while staying on topic and informing others.”

“It taught me to take research, analyze, and organize it. I liked it because I had to collaborate and come to an agreement on what to post.”

I liked learning new things that I had no idea about before. I liked showing off my talent and curating what I knew.”

“The only thing I would have liked to do differently would be given more time to learn even more about the topics.”

“A project doesn’t have to be stale and boring. It can be fun. You can really care about what you are writing.”

“This project has given me a new respect for bloggers who curate their research because it is hard.”

“My thinking on learning has changed a bit. I suddenly feel like learning isn’t a chore, it’s an opportunity that can open so many doors!”

One of the questions we asked the students is how many would continue their research. Over 1/3 of them said that they would!   Want to see more?  Here are three student curation blogs:

Equality and Inequality Rights; Then & Now
Mental Health Treatments Past to Present
Prohibition Acts Project