Tapping into the passion for learning

 “Content is just the context for participating”…

This thought-provoking interview with Connie Yowell, is addressing essential questions about learning, especially meaningful in the middle school years, still vibrant with passion, curiosity and creativity. See interview transcript below:

“Content is just the context for participating. It’s the context for solving broader problems. It’s the context for being engaged with peers. And that’s – and this is an academic word – but that’s one of the big paradigm shifts that we have to make in education today, is to not think about that content as an outcome of learning, but as the context of learning, and instead, think much more about, Well, what do we want kids participating in, that that content is at the core of it? And that’s a much harder thing to design and to think about.”

Connected Learning: Real-world Engagement from DML Research Hub on Vimeo.

“We really think that part of what’s wrong with the current educational system, and why people talk about it as ‘broken’ is that it’s fundamentally starting with the wrong question. The educational system often now starts with the question of out- comes. It starts with, “What do we want kids to learn?What are the goals and what’s the content? What’s the material they need to cover?”

Then everything [we do] is defined by that. It doesn’t almost matter who the kid is so long as we’re going on pace through the material and the content, and reaching those educational standards, and those outcomes – because that’s our starting point.

Our core question is, “What’s the experience we want kids to have?” So, the core question is around engagement. And as soon as you start with,“Is the kid engagedWhat is the learning experience we want the kid to have,” you have to pay attention to the kid. In the design world, you have to start with the user. You have to start with the experience of the young person – of the learner. So instead of starting with the outcomes, which is, for most educational systems, a math problem, or a math fact, or a literacy fact – which is not particularly [useful]… it’s decontextual- ized – it has no relevance to the learner, we instead start with, “What is the experience? Really, what do we want them discovering?”

 In our traditional school system, where we’re driving home facts and discreet knowledge, we don’t  make room for curiosity. We don’t create the opportunity for kids to take things apart anymore,

to look inside, to see how they’re made, to put them back together again. You know, we used to do it with our old chemistry sets. We used to just play and see what would happen, and wonder about it. And that engages the imagination, and can trigger the imagination. As we get more and more serious about test scores in our kids’ future, we move further and further away from those little opportunities to constantly fail and to iterate. We forget that those are also opportunities to iterate with one’s identity, and to play around, and to mess around. It’s so important to do that when you’re at the middle school age and early and middle adolescence. Even as adults, we’ve got to have these opportunities to be curious about who we are in the world, and about how the world works, and to fail and not be embarrassed by it, and to come back to those failures and do things over and over again.

We all understand what a page turner is. You can’t wait to turn the page to find out what’s on the next page, and what’s happening. You feel it viscerally. It’s not just in your head. You don’tjust have an intellectual curiosity. You really have a desire, a physical desire, to find out what’s happening next. In fact, sometimes you can’t go to sleep because you just want to keep reading the book. That’s a need to know. In school, we so decontextualize what they’re learning. We take it out of context and just teach them discreet facts. Because we’re so focused on these outcomes we’ve forgotten the learner, and we’ve forgotten that we actually have a passion for learning.

But how do you create a need to know in a kid? That’s an emotional question. That’s an intellectual question. That’s an identity question. When you start designing learning experiences around that, then getting to the content and getting kids to engage in core questions related to academic core, that’s actually the easy part. How do we design an experience where kids have a need to know fractions? What in the world would that look like? If I really wanted to design an experience for a 9 year old – a nine year old boy – a nine year old girl – to want to know what a fraction is? And often, that’s one of the reasons in our grant making we’ve turned to games. So games create an incredible narrative and a wrapper of meaning that you can put discreet skills or competencies within, that you might want to desperately know how to do a fraction in order to solve a broader complex problem that’s wrapped inside a game, [or] the narrative of a game. I can tell you that my son just jumps at stuff like that. But in school, he could care less about knowing what a fraction is. If it’s in the middle of game play, where he’s really working with a set of peers around solving some complex problem, he’ll demand that somebody teach him how to solve a fraction so that he can move on to the next thing.

Content is just the context for participating. It’s the context for solving broader problems. It’s the context for being engaged with peers. And that’s – and this is an academic word – but that’s one of the big paradigm shifts that we have to make in education today, is to not think about that content as an outcome of learning, but as the context of learning, and instead, think much more about, “Well, what do we want kids participating in, that that content is at the core of it?” And that’s a much harder thing to design and to think about. And so one of the challenges for education is for us to actually step back and say, “We’ve got content over here. This is one of the things that is so disconnected in our educational world. We put content over here on one hand, and then we think about what kids are doing on the other hand. And they stay discconnected in our educational world. We put content over here on one hand, and then we think about what kids are doing on the other hand. And they stay disconnected.We have to deeply connect those for kids. Otherwise, the learning has no meaning.”

A Culture of Freedom and Responsibility

August 15 is Leadership Day 2013
Here is my contribution to Scott Mcleod’s call to all bloggers to celebrate Leadership Day 2013 with one message to school leaders:

Given the demands of 21st century to instill responsibility in a culture of freedom, I would like to share a resourceful Slideshare by Reed HastingsCEO of Netflixentrepreneur and education philanthropist:

A Culture of Freedom and Responsibility … A model we can no longer fake.

“Responsible people thrive on freedom, and are worthy of freedom.  Actual company values are the behaviors and skills that are valued in fellow employees: Judgement, communication, impact, curiosity, innovation, courage, passion, honesty, selflessness. Actual company values, as opposed to the nice-sounding values, are shown by who gets rewarded, promoted, or let go.”



I did not fly to San Antonio for the June 23-26 ISTE 2013 Conference, I followed it from Paris, and was fired-up by that same buzz and passion streaming through live Twitter feeds which kept me glued for 3 days in some virtual jetlagged space. The amazing participants’ motivation shared on the conference’s fire, could be measured, not only by the amount of #Iste13 tweets, but also by the extra care taken to share most tweets with a related link – a true touch of class for remote followers! Thank you all for the awesome take-aways which I’ve now posted on my public Diigo library.

As the conference has been extensively blogged, with sessions and keynotes profusely acclaimed, I would like to focus on one particular aspect that had a great impact on me: The Ignite sessions. Ignite sessions, designed by O’Reilly Media in 2006, have become an ISTE tradition and could be the answer to George Couros’s question:

“What does your school do to promote the sharing of your expertise?”

Ignite is a fast moving event where presenters have 5 minutes and 20 images to tell their story, share what ignites their passions, and inspires their audience. “Speakers use 20 slides, rotated automatically and each shown for 15 seconds—this could be a professional practice from the classroom, excitement about a new tool that will spark creativity for their students, or a personal story of student engagement. The presentations are meant to ignite participants by generating awareness and stimulating thought and action.”

Adopting Ignite presentation model in schools:

Now that a great part of school meetings’ agendas can be addressed ahead of time via Google Docs collaboration, more time is available for sharing ideas. I can see Ignite as a perfect format to re-connect school communities and open the floor to anyone, faculty, staff, parents or students, eager to share passion and expertise to spread the fire.

The two videos posted below are vivid illustrations of teachers and students’ passion generated by Ignite fast spaced presentations:

Examples of some ISTE13 Ignite sessions: Move play head to 0:19:38 to start Ignite sessions

Student’s model of Ignite presentation that will blow you away!

If schools embraced the power of Twitter…

If schools embraced the power of Twitter…

  • Twitter’s apparent frivolous motto: “What are you doing?” would gain full potential and extend to: “What are you thinking, learning, discovering, “visioning”, designing, listening to, reading, blogging about?“.
  • Barriers between admin, faculty, staff, students, parents and community would dissolve in a cloud of connected passions, unsuspected ties, latent connections and opportunities irrespective of age, role, status, and class – grade or socio-economic.
  • Teachers’ meetings would turn into an ongoing (transparent, and accessible) stream of resources, professional development, bouncing-off ideas and experience on what works and does not, with instant targeted feedback:

“Tweeting is like directed Googling. Instead of doing a Google search, you’re harnessing human power, a human-generated search engine driven by education professionals who are passionate and have determined that having an online presence will have a dramatic, positive impact on their professional practice.”  Eric Sheninger

  • Locked cabinets would open-up their resources to be used, mixed, remixed and attributed.
  • Sharing, collaborating, and attributing each other’s work would be the new norm.
  • Upcoming conferences, would be public knowledge, repeatedly announced, retweeted, and back-channelled, so great ideas can spread to those who can’t attend – and supplement the experience for those attending.
  • The 140 characters limit would become the art of minimizing thought in a nutshell – Good or bad is debatable…
  • Minority voices would no longer be silenced by those who:

“embrace the status quo and drown out any tribe member who dares to question authority and the accepted order” (Godin, 2008, p 4) Tribes: We need you to lead us. 

  • Competition would give way to collaboration with a growing understanding that the more you share the more you gain…

It is commonplace for the “unfamiliar” to undermine the power of social media: “I don’t tweet I don’t twat, I don’t Facebook I face life.” slammed a recentkeynote at a tech conference. Yet, Twitter remains one of the cheapest, most accessible, real-time, and transparent tools to connect otherwise inaccessible educators to Professional Learning Networks and mitigate the potential drowning resulting from isolation, and help develop gills together.

So, better hang-out than be hung out to dry…

And for what it’s worth, “unfamiliar” is how I – and most people for that matter – feel everytime a new technology surfaces, evolves, spins-out, or matures into a worthwhile applicative tool. That’s ok. We deal with it, shake the unease, and try to run with it. Sometimes we fail, make a fool of ourselves, but we’re trying it and more often than not, that growth, experimentation and learning process is where we get the most out of it, and is also most likely one of the key skills we need to teach the next generations; the ability to learn, unlearn, adapt, search, evaluate, experiment, and think critically with their own experience – and embrace that process.

And yes, its often them teaching me that.

​I love my job.

Learning to love the iGeneration

ECIS TECH CONFERENCE 2013, 14 – 16 March, Hosted by ACS Cobham International, London, England

Learning to love the iGeneration… and… embrace the irresistible IT vision of tomorrow’s classroom….

A confronting double edged conference’s title that implies a generation divide wider than any preceding ones, in a new context of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity and an urgency that can no longer be ignored: The paradoxical co-existence of “Education 1.0” in “Society 3.0

Who is the iGeneration?

A generation fully at ease with fast changes, “born to be wired” whose first digital footprints date back in time of a fetus in the womb, for whom

“WWW doesn’t stand for World Wide Web but Whatever, Whenever, Wherever, and for whom, a phone is not a phone but  a portable computer to tweet, surf the web, and, of course, text, text, text”. Larry D. Rosen

A mobile generation, no mouse, no desktop, no landlines, who chats rather than email. A generation who does not get what we did with computers before “the internet”, why we had to buy 10 songs to listen to one, nor the time wasted trying to locate a track on an audio cassette… A generation of “screen-agers” connected 24/7, who doesn’t separate work life and social life, school and world. Who has tasted the honey of participation and authentic audience and who sees creating videos just as essential as writing essays. A generation who can work past midnight on a shared Google doc and does not see why Facebook should be banned at 11am. A generation blamed for their short attention spam who…

“…certainly don’t have short attention spans for their games, movies,music, or Internet surfing. More and more, they just don’t tolerate the old ways—and they are enraged we are not doing better by them.” Mark Prensky.

A generation who has figured out before us, that “Community Trumps Content”, that learning is more meaningful when “collaborating, tagging, voting, networking, sharing, juggling with tools to create user-generated content”, rather than sitting in classrooms consuming and regurgitating data for tests. A generation still herded in classrooms by date of manufacture and core subject: Math, English, Science, Social studies (MESS), who questions Why Do I Need a Teacher When I’ve got Google? Thus echoing Nicholas Negroponte’s prophetic: “is Knowing obsolete?” A generation who would prefer independent projects and would not draw classrooms if asked to design schools. Finally, a generation who does not seem to care or understand whyprivacy matters.

Is education ready to embrace the irresistible IT Vision of tomorrow’s classroom?

Jean Vahey, ECIS Executive Director, set the tone in her opening keynote:

“It is not about bringing IT into the classroom. It is about bringing classrooms into the world. Should we call it classroom still? “ Is technology an enabler or a Distractor? Does it extends the thinking and prepares students for the future?

The fire from the conference’s 1300 participants (400 schools, 80 countries) spread through sessions and keynotes, all inspired by a shared understanding of the “irresistible IT vision of tomorrow’s classroom”. Summarized below as the 8 characteristics of Education 3.0:

Meaning is socially constructed and contextually reinvented.

Community as Curriculum:
Plan curriculum around connections, information, communication, location, generation.
The greatest changes of our future will not be technology, but the power of people as they connect. Its communities that change the learning not the content.
Its over the content that we teach that we need to build in our schools.
“Flipped instructions” should be created within a network of open learning, and connectivism.
Munich International school presented a session on how to avoid the top-down flop side of Khan Academy: “Khan’t we do better”?
Gafeclass.com is a great example of an online class within a community: students have to learn in 8 weeks the content together, share sources and take a final exam.
The new participatory architecture of learning: collaborating, tagging, voting, networking, sharing, juggling with tools to create user-generated content, will free up classroom time to facilitate more meaningful collaboration.

“Best learning takes place when the learner takes charge.” Seymour Papert creator of Logo before Scratch.

Technology is everywhere.

We can’t compete with connection, so let’s embrace it together and through connections, acquire habits of life-long learners without bringing in our fears stemming from past baggage. Change is normal. With strong resolve, fire and passion will dissolve resistance: “Dont-teach-your-kids-this-stuff-please!
Trust leads to intrinsic motivation. Students and teachers need to be trusted to take advantage of the educational opportunities provided by social media. Rather than separate life and school, we should be teaching time management.

Responsible Internet use is best guaranteed by positive reinforcement, not restrictions alone.” Johnson Jacob

Jeff Utech’s presentation showed that integrated digital literacy will reduce teachers’ fear that students may use internet for bad things rather than good things like this anonymous FB page to “Send a compliment” to other students. Jeff explained how we fail students by not teaching search. Students should use Google Search quickly and efficiently to obtain quality information, evaluate internet sources, and understand the use social bookmarking to help facilitate collaboration. See Jeff’s search page and Google Search skill links. Are our questions for students googleproof? If Goggle can answer it, it’s not a good essential question! Do “A google a day” question for 5 minutes per day, to understand how to ask a good question.
When things don’t work out, don’t blame the kids, don’t blame the tech. Blame the context & learn to adapt.

Marc Prensky and Stephen Heppell discuss the concept of turning nouns to verbs.

“Technology is not about stuff but Verbs vs Nouns. Verbs are the skills that students need to learn, practice and master, verbs are the underlying learning, and pedagogy is typically about the verbs, that is, how to provide students with the subject-specific and general skill they need” (See Digital Union – Teaching Digital Natives. What’s Your Role? Partner or Lecturer? p. 45) Nouns are the tools that are used to learn and practice the verbs or skills, including hardware and software –in other words, the technologies that can be used to learn and teach such as social networking sites, podcasts, You Tube, etc. For example, if the “verb” is Researching and Managing Information as it relates to watching and listening, the “nouns” would be podcasts, You Tube, Big Think, TED Talks, video search engines, speed-up tools for audio and video clips, text-to-speech programs.”

Teaching is done teacher-to-student, student-to-student, and people-technology-people.

“Engage me or enrage me”,“It’s Not ADD—I’m Just Not Listening!” Engage with students rather than try to engage them.
Find-out their passion, inspire rather than train.

“The fight for the kids’ attention, for me, is not a fight for attention, but steady focus, by choice, driven by passion. It isn’t that they can’t pay attention.  They just choose not to.”  Marc Prensky

Teachers must model collaboration for students.Teachers with good digital literacy in social media can become part and parcel of positive initiatives in a community. The fear of the new context should not become an excuse to exhort more control but instead to learn. “Feel the fear and do it anyway”. There is no best practice in a fast moving context, but shared new practices. Sometimes teachers need help with technology; students can help with that. Schools should embrace responsible sharing with their students; a skill to be taught and practiced in classes. Sharing is key, the more you share the more you learn.

“Our job isn’t to teach, it’s to get the students to learn.” Ian Gilbert.

Make teaching less important than learning. Its not what we learn but how we learn. Teachers are more than ever innovators in their crucial role to guide students through the abundance of information and changing the culture of teaching in a collaborative network.

“technology will never replace teachers.  However, teachers who know how to use technology effectively to help their students connect and to collaborate together online will replace those who don’t. Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

A teachers’ role is more than ever to discriminate between fads, trends and principles.
What about The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking? Asynchronous conversations online are now giving an unexpected opportunity for introverts to share, participate and be recognized in their own time and space.

Schools are located everywhere.

Julie Lindsay: Flatten classrooms through connection, citizenship, collaboration.

“Technology is now as foundational as reading”.

Flatten the classrooms walls, open-up to the world, digital classrooms feel like the world, connecting and teaching schools, students, and teachers to reach out for new learning opportunities. “Flat learning” is important because it connects learners with the world and impacts the contexts in which we learn. A good leader is one who gets out of the way of the learning.
Digital learning will change the way schools are designed and will enable access, exploration, failure, focus, imagination, independence, collaboration, agility and… success. Designing new schools without first designing learning is like going back to the future: “Is”classroom-design-and-(then)-learning’ the best that we can do?”

Parents view schools as a place for them to learn, too.

Between, teachers, students, parents, there is a dialogue waiting to happen if we let it.
Make the best out of parents’ expertise and connections. Integrate them in digital literacy.

Teachers are everybody, everywhere.

Teachers become “teacherpreneurs” and reach out to find profitable opportunities to create relationships and communities that can foster learning in interdisciplinary projects.

Hardware and software in schools are available at low cost and are used strategically.

Invest in student-centered technology enabling connections and collaboration. Google apps to: Stay connected, Study together, Get stuff done, Invisible IT, Green, Security.

See clip: Spreading the fire with Google apps

“Most of the discourse around innovation in education has been around infrastructure, but do not focus on new strategies for knowledge acquisition or transfer.” Invisible learning

Apple TV vs Interactive Whiteboards as a low cost alternative for engagement. We must really the power of online learning like Coursera. In 2014 0.5 Million K-12 students will go to class online in 2014. MOOC ( Massive Open Online Courses) are growing exponientally watch this great discussion on MOOC.

Industry views graduates as co-workers or entrepreneurs.

What is entrepreneurial learning?

“How do you constantly look around you, all the time, for new ways, new resources, to learn new things? That’s the sense of entrepreneurship I’m talking about, that now in the networked age, gives us almost infinite possibility. “As we move into the 21st century, we have to completely rethink the works-cape and the learning-scape. We have to find ways for each of us to get more talented by working. Just getting being able to learn as individuals not enough. The question is, how do we start to scale these types of learning systems…and invent new types of institutional forms, new types of practices, and new types of skills to be able to leverage the capability of technology. The technology is the easy part. The hard part is what are the social practices around this, and also the institutional structures. We have to ask ourselves, what will the institutions of schools and universities…look like five and ten years from now.”

Credentials will become far less important than people/projects/portfolio. Companies will be looking for people who are ready to take risks, apply new experience, with workers motivated to share and collaborate, thrive in non-hierarchical organizations, try new technology, be ready to learn unlearn relearn, not afraid of failure. The qualities required will be: persisting, managing impulsivity, responding with awe, questioning, innovating and thinking interdependently. Programming and coding are literacy skills that should be taught and required.

Genius will trump gifted:

“The whole educational and professional training system is a very elaborate filter, which just weeds out people who are too independent, and who think for themselves, and who don’t know how to be submissive, and so on– because they’re dysfunctional to the institutions.”-Noam Chomsky

From the the iGeneration to the “weGeneration”.

The term ‘IGeneration” came from Steve Jobs’ 98 keynote introducing the iMac with fast access to the Internet. “i” then, stood for internet, Individual, Instruct, Inform, Inspire. Today’s urgency is less to “Instruct, Inform, Inspire” but grow together as S.O.C.I.A.L. “Sincere Open Collaborative Interested Authentic Likable”.

“Learning to love the iGeneration” may be less crucial today than participating in a “weGeneration” with collective intelligence in building communities, writing textbooks together, in a world that is always on. Connect old and new literacies, and be Net smart and thrive online”.

We all need to open-up to the ability to use those skills socially, in concert with others, in an effective way. MIT press edu

“One-to-one” learning is turning into “one-to-world.” Alan November

And balance remains key:

“I would trade all my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.” Steve Jobs

Thank you @steven_cliff and the ACS Cobham International team for making #ECISTech2013 happen!

Some keynote speeches: Jefft UtechMarc PrenskyJulie LindsayChandran Nair

Conference tweets: #ecistech2013