What a crock of….

Remember Lyle Lanley? No?

Maybe this will jog your memory:

Mr. Lanley’s notebook revealed more of his dastardly plans:

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There are plenty of Lyle Lanleys blighting the education landscape. 21st century learning is a nebulous term. It has fuzzy edges along with many competing definitions. This leaves it ripe for hucksters like Lyle Lanley to sweep in with overly simple answers to increasingly complex situations. These reductionists pitch products and/or programs based on shoddy research or sadly in some cases, no research at all.

Neuroscience has largely been a progressive venture but it has also been hijacked by those looking to make a buck off of education. Reductionists seek to deconstruct complex systems in order to prove that they are no greater than the sum of their parts. There are three pervasive education/neuroscience myths that the Lanleys like to exploit: 1) Right Brain vs. Left Brain leanings 2) Learning Styles and 3) ultimately Brain-based Learning as a whole. It is time to pull back the curtain on each of these myths and expose them for what they are and their pushers for whom they are.

1) RIGHT BRAIN vs. LEFT BRAIN:

This myth has led to many students being labeled as “right brained” or “left brained” depending upon a perceived level of creativity. This damaging myth has been exploited by publishers and education entrepreneurs for decades. This poorly conceived notion can lead to a fixed mindset whereby students can be led to believe that their levels of creativity are static.

This myth has its roots in the the work of Gereon Fink, at the time from the University of Düsseldorf in Germany, and John Marshall from the Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford. They used brain scans to support the idea of hemispheric dominance. This led to a movement where people began to speculate that the creative abilities were based in the right hemisphere, and logical faculties in the left. This myth infiltrated education for many years (and still lives on in some places)  with students taking left/right brain questionnaires so that their learning could be tailored. Countless research studies have led to contradictory results. Neuroscience and true research definitively discounts the idea of hemispheric dominance. So to the idea of Right Brain vs. Left Brain,  I call….”BULLSHIT!”

Thankfully, there is a movement afoot to debunk this damaging myth and to recognize the complexity of the human brain. The “No Right Brain, Left Brain” advocacy group is backed by Deepak Chopra and Sir Ken Robinson but sadly many resources based on hemispheric dominance are still being published.

2) LEARNING STYLES:

This damaging myth has been heavily exploited by profiteers both past and present. The supporters of this movement purport that an individual learns best when information is taught in a manner consistent with his or her “learning style”. Researchers investigating the validity of this myth have uncovered as many as 71 supposed learning styles. The concept sounds great, but has no credible research support.

The idea of learning styles is rooted in the theory of multiple of intelligences, developed in the early 1980s by psychologist Howard Gardner of Harvard University. Gardner claimed to have identified 7 distinct types of intelligences (visuo-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical-mathematical), and that this “challenge[s] an educational system that assumes that everyone can learn from the same materials in the same way”.  It’s a myth though. There is no scientific evidence that children learn any better or differently when presented to them in their “preferred learning style.” Research actually points out quite the opposite. According to Paul Howard-Jones of the University of Bristol,  while speaking at a workshop about the impact of neuroscience on society at the BNA Festival of Neuroscience ,some research actually suggests that children learn better when presented with information that pushes them out of their “comfort zone.” So to the concept of “Learning Styles”, I call “BULLSHIT!”

This infographic does a wonderful job of debunking “learning styles”:

The Myth of Learning Styles Infographic
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics

Many 21C or Ed Tech entrepreneurs and publishers are looking to make a buck from the excitement and ambiguity of “EDUCATION 2.0”. Many of these products are based on neuromyths. The OECD states, “A neuromyth usually starts out with a misunderstanding, a misreading and, in some cases, a deliberate warping of the scientifically established facts to make a relevant case for education or for other purposes.”  These myths are dangerous and duplicitous. The OECD continues, “Parents, teachers and educational specialists are naturally eager to put into practice what they have read or heard in the popular media. There is a danger that they might be tempted to too readily adopt so-called “brain-based” teaching or rearing strategies that are in fact not based on any evidence at all.” People are always looking for answers and the Lyle Lanleys of the world are looking to sell them. Just like the human brain, education is a complex system. When we try to reduce it to its base parts, we strip it of its beauty.

Don’t just take my word at face value, do some follow-up on your own as well. The following links are both source material for this piece and further research:

OECD Neuromyths

Think Neuroscience – The Myth of Learning Styles

Separating Neuromyths from Science in Education

Edutopia – Education Neuromyths

CEA -Neuromyths are a Barrier to Changing Education

There are countless research based ideas to support the integration of 21st century learning fluencies. We just have to be patient and judicious as we seek to discern fact from fiction.

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Did you put the new coversheet on your TPS Report?

Picture it, a small room filled with a team of educators. Its late September or early October. EQAO IIR’s, CAT/4 scores and other forms of student achievement data are strewn across a table. Highlighters, pencils and possibly a few laptops are being furiously engaged to find the “magic bullet”.  The room is filled with equal parts apathy, cynicism, excitement, hope and a bit of fear.   The educators around this table are an interesting cross-section of the staff. There are the keeners who love to be involved, the vets who know where all the bodies are buried, the career minded and the true believers. You guessed it folks, it’s School Improvement Planning time! It’s time to make use of trailing indicators of student achievement to plot out the future of the school! It’s a quant’s happiest time of the year.

I am an education geek, which should come as no surprise. I have always loved the idea of school planning and its potential. I have great difficulties with what the process has become rather than with the process itself. We have some very talented and well-intentioned board leaders who see the best in the process. They work tirelessly to try and breath life into this dead horse. They see the potential for change in the process but sadly in schools, it has become an accountability piece to be completed for sign-off by a supervisory officer and then put out to pasture. As Pasi Sahlberg says, “Accountability is what’s left when responsibility has been subtracted.” While there are always exceptions, most schools cling to narrowly defined goals that sound good but have little potential for change. The goals are framed in the lens of a system that has long valued improvement FAR more than innovation.

Ontario’s school planning process is old school business. It places emphasis on the analyzing and less on the doing. As the private sector moves away from static business plans and models to a lean mentality, education must follow suit. If we don’t, then we are simply doing school rather than making improvements. I think that SMART goals by nature are nonsense and become even sillier when put into practice. It rings of acrostic poetry at its finest! As a wise man has consistently reminded me, education is a messy business. The speed of innovation in this era makes things even messier. In 2009 Clay Shirky put it best:

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It is time to stop planning and to start designing.  IKEA is a perfectly designed ecosystem from its entrance to its exit. It provides an experience that engages more than it infuriates. It is designed around a set of core values that  inform all planning. The general design shapes any strategic planning. Education runs directly opposite to this premise. This is why education fails prey to fad programs. Ad hoc or shifting plans that are not grounded in a deeper design or philosophy are like a house built on a sand.

I love Duke basketball (which gives some reason to hate me!!!). Coach K is a genius at creating culture and established values. Year in and year out Duke wins. They don’t always win the whole thing but they are always in the reckoning. Improvement planning for Duke might include a goal like a 3% increase in FG% a la SMART BUT it would be part of a larger design structure rather than an isolated and inconsequential goal. Winning programs win because of culture and design. They have a program that weathers storms. Alex Ferguson thrived for 26 years at Manchester United because of a designed structure and culture. He did not bend to fads or silly trends. Core values ruled the day. He changed with the times but he did not bend to them.

School Improvement Planning in its current construction is simply another example of “doing school”. I am so amazed by the number of things that we just because we have to do them. This is dangerous business since we risk alienated staff, students and parents while wasting HUGE amounts of money. We risk “TPS Form” madness:

I have seem incremental improvements in this area but by and large public education still has its feet stuck in the mud. I strongly believe that the best way to improve planning is to craft REAL and ACTIONABLE mission, vision and value statements. Mission statements are the “me” statements. They are about what the school or the system stand for while the vision is about “them”. Vision is about what we will do to support our stakeholders. Mission and vision must be supported by strong values. Once these have been established, we can get busy creating a culture and designing the necessary functions for success.

Design incorporates context, relevancy and authenticity. Planning alone is pure accountability for accountability’s sake. Design and strategy will lead to success. Planning alone will leave us wandering in the desert looking for the promised land.

Managing Data Overload!

I was on Mashable the other day and I found this crazy infographic from DOMO:

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Source

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Technology is on a supercharged feedback loop where quicker tech begets even quicker tech. Imagine what this means for our students. They are bombarded with benign, malignant and data that lies somewhere in between on a daily basis. The entry age for kids is lowering rapidly as well with children under 8 familiar with the workings of the online world. This is akin to dropping a 16 year old off at bar with good fake I.D and $500. Sounds fun for the kid but the ramifications are potentially catastrophic.

Digital literacy skills MUST begin the primary grades. We have to work with our kids and teach them how to interpret the information that is at their fingertips. I have dealt with some teachers who feel that the answer is to go digital cold turkey with them. To extend my metaphor a touch further, this is now like dropping off a 16 year old Mennonite at the club. Money, excitement, wide eyes but no experience at all…..trouble awaits our young friend! Critical thinking skills must be a core focus in the digital literacy development of our students. Teaching our students how to think and how to discern the useless from the valuable and more importantly the safe from the dangerous.

Taking kids to the computer lab to play literacy or numeracy games has limited value but sadly a disproportionately large part of the primary digital experience. The kids already know HOW to work the equipment, they need to be taught to THINK about what they are accessing.

The world is changing fast. As a prisoner of hope, I believe this change is for the better. As educators, we also have to remember that only the adults perceive the change, for the kids the digital world is their present reality. There is no change, this is just the way it is. We just need to make sure that our kids are equipped with the skills to navigate these quick waters. Watch the SHIFT HAPPENS video in the header to get a nice visual on these quick waters.

Let’s support each other in our digital development. We need to help each other before we can help the kids!

Forget the “what” and focus on the “why”.

Education Week posted an article today entitled, “It’s Not What Natives Do, It’s Why They Do It” by Ian Quillen. The article focuses on ISTE speaker David Warlick of the Landmark Project. Warlick suggests that educators should be less concerned with the type of media that digital natives use and focus more on why they use it. The “gamification” (I HATE THAT WORD!) of the classroom is a popular buzz phrase recently in the world of student engagement. Warlick rightly points out that simply including more education based games is not a silver bullet. Instead, researchers should be trying to identify the particular aspects of games that the students really enjoy. Warlick contends,

 “If we could identify some of those elements and integrate those … if we could crack the code … and then use that to hack the activities we’re doing in our classrooms, then maybe we could create more learning activities that are relevant to today’s children,” Warlick said.

 In “Stratosphere”, Fullan makes a similar argument. The technology alone does not improve student learning. Technology must be a tool for engagement and making learning easier. Good pedagogy and strong teaching must be coupled with technology for it to be truly effective. Quite frankly, gaming alone in the classroom is a cop-out. If we crack the code and apply the “hook” to different lesson activities, we have the potential to really affect student outcomes.

If we simply push more games we risk two potential problems. First, we began pandering to our students. Games simply for the sake of engagement pacifies but does not necessarily teach. Secondly, we provide a market for the big ed companies to swoop in with prepackaged platforms that do not involve any form of local feedback or input.

Educational leaders must cognizant of Warlick’s suggestions as they formulate  working plans for 21st Century Learning. The tools alone will not do the job. Tech should engage and make learning easier but it cannot substitute for teachers. Games have many lessons to teach and we should look to apply those ideas to our teaching practices. The focus should not just be on what tools they like to use but why they like to use them.


			

Digital Literacy: Don’t let them learn it on the streets!

The ubiquity of content is both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it has created greater freedom, enhanced transparency and put the focus of education on matters of higher order. It can be a curse because there is just so damn much of it! I often find myself overwhelmed by content, not really sure where to start or how to process.  I came across this great slide from Steve Wheeler that says it all:

If adults are confused when searching for information, how do you think our students feel? 

As tech integration moves full steam ahead in our schools, we have to step back for a moment and prioritize. The access and proliferation of tools are key aspects of building infrastructure but they do not represent 21st century learning alone. The priority in education must be on teaching our students how to handle the deluge of information that they face daily.

Many people of my generation (shout out to the Gen Xers!) learned about the birds and the bees by osmosis. We learned about the mechanics through playground whispers, urban legend, contraband reading material and our older siblings! Only the few progressive schools and parents had “the talk” with their children. I fear that much the same is going on when it comes to digital literacy. Students are being taught about privacy and personal safety on the web but they are being left to fend for themselves when it comes to interpreting and using the vast amounts of information available to them. This is far too big of an undertaking for them to face alone.

Students struggle to determine the credibility of sites and content. How many times have you had an intermediate or high school aged student present you with ironclad proof that 9/11 was an inside job? It happened to me at least a half dozen times. One or two Youtube videos later, the conspiracy minded become experts in covert operations and structural engineering.  Students equate a well-polished site as “the truth”. Sadly, they don’t recognize that a polished turd is still a turd! It is only through a focus on digital literacy leading to digital fluency that they will develop the “crap detection” of which Howard Rheingold speaks.

Take a look at the picture below. What do you think?

I showed this slide to a few of my best and brightest students (a few colleagues as well!). Their immediate reaction was to agree with the quote. I got responses like “Yeah, the internet is full of garbage.” They were so quick to agree with the quote that they did not take a look at the whole slide. They completely ignored the fact that the quotation was attributed to a man who was long dead before the internet was even a dream! Proof positive that digital literacy is still in its infancy. Knowing how to search for information does not equate to knowing how to process or interpret information.

The goal then is to help our students learn how to handle information. We must also recognize the need to support our fellow educators through this process as well. In the slideshow at the bottom of this post, Alex Couros (an outstanding Canadian Ed Tech educator) presents the case for digital fluency. The argument being that we need to go beyond “knowing how” to the deeper stage of understanding “why”. This diagram pulled from his presentation provides a nice overview:

Digital fluency brings students into the realm of “knowledge wisdom”. At this stage, analysis of the information can occur. Students will have a framework to judge information, organize it and categorize it. Steve Wheeler provides us with this excellent summary:

When our kids get to the stage of digital fluency, they become much more self-sufficient. Controlling content allows them to be better at creating, curating, remixing and sharing content. Collaboration becomes more effective and networks that much stronger.

How do we get there? What are your strategies? What works? What doesn’t?

FULL SLIDESHOWS from @timbuckteeth (Steve Wheeler) and @courosa (Alec Couros)

Digital Literacy: Caricatures & Crap Detection

Last week I wrote a post about “the haters who just keep hating”. We all know those teachers and adults who label this generation shallow, stupid and epic wasters of time. One person went so far as to write the regrettably titled book, The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future (Or, Don’t Trust Anyone Under 30)” .  Sadly many educators view our Digital Youth as caricatures:

The new digital divide is not about access, it is about usage. As Christina Cupaiuolo writes in the article, “Connecting the Digital Divide to Digital Literacies”, the new paradigm is one of content creators and content consumers. Our job is not to be dismissive of our students and their online habits, it is to help focus those habits.

Jerry Springer and Maury Povich made careers out of reducing people into neat little stereotypes. There are many teachers doing the same to our students. Anthony Muhammad wrote a great book called “Transforming School Culture”.   Based on his research, he lists four categories of teachers. The most dangerous of these four are “the fundamentalists”. They resist change at all costs. They seize on difficulties to support their opposition and seek to recruit others to the side of “no”.  We all know educators out there who use the “time-wasting” mantra as a shield to slow down tech integration.

Do we call for limits on math education because some students use calculators to take shortcuts? Do we call for limits on teaching English because some students have bad grammar? OF COURSE NOT! Instead, we TEACH them to do better! We must take this same approach to digital literacy. The misuse of online time is a teachable moment, not a reason to slow down. We have to help students use their “cognitive surplus” effectively rather than beating them over the head with our own personal biases.

Howard Rheingold says it best,

If, like many others, you are concerned social media is making people and cultures shallow, I propose we teach more people how to swim and together explore the deeper end of the pool.

The problem with the fundamentalists is that they want to empty the pool! I don’t want to blame the technophobes for everything. We have to develop a culture of support so no one feels isolated or alone. We must shift the focus from the shiny new toys towards a culture of learning. Simply providing access is not enough, we must focus on digital literacy skills. We must  help our students become discerning consumers of content or as Rheingold says, teach them “crap detection”. The video in the header is a brief overview of Rheingold’s five part digital plan.

When it comes to digital literacy @hrheingold and Doug Belshaw @dajbelshaw are the best. They are definitely worth following.

What the heck is Digital Literacy anyways?

One of my TCDSB colleagues tweeted an article from the NY Times this morning about the new digital gap. Rather than it being an issue of access to technology, it has now become an issue of use. Kids from homes on the lower-end of the socio-economic scale are spending more time using technology for games, social networking and video viewing. The implication is that kids on the higher end of the scale receive more supervision from parents when it comes to use of technology. The article mentioned the need for “digital literacy skills” to be taught in order to help combat this problem.

This got me thinking about what “digital literacy” really means. Is digital literacy a universal term? Are their cultural nuances? How is digital literacy best imparted to students? Like any good digital citizen would, I started searching for answers online. I went to Slideshare first because I love the concise nature of slideshows. The work of Doug Belshaw popped out at me immediately. Belshaw is an Englishman and Ph.D. who wrote his doctoral thesis on Digital Literacy. I have included his TEDx Warwickshire talk about digital literacy and the slideshow that accompanied his talk. I have also included another presentation of his about digital literacy that can stand on its own. The TEDx slides only make sense within the context of the talk.

I would be interested in seeing people’s viewpoints and personal definitions of digital literacy and also best practice in regards to teaching to our students.

TEDx SLIDES:

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies Presentation: