Monday, December 31, 2007

Change “Music” to “Schools” and…

Education for DummiesIt’s no secret that the music industry has played hardball with users of filesharing networks. Leaders in the field worked hard to ignore the fact that those who swapped files via BitTorrent were also the greatest purchasers of music. Now it seems that Big Music may be crumbing just like the Berlin Wall. It seems Edgar Bronfman, head of Warner Music has signaled a change of heart:

“We used to fool ourselves,’ he said. “We used to think our content was perfect just exactly as it was. We expected our business would remain blissfully unaffected even as the world of interactivity, constant connection and file sharing was exploding. And of course we were wrong. How were we wrong? By standing still or moving at a glacial pace, we inadvertently went to war with consumers by denying them what they wanted and could otherwise find and as a result of course, consumers won.”

Although I work with many creative and innovative teachers, capital E Education doesn’t seem to get that the last couple years has witnessed a transformation: schools are now islands of resource impoverishment whereas homes, Starbucks and McDonald’s - Education for Dummieswith their broadband WiFi access - can be a better place for the motivated learner to get on with what they love. A great quotation from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi points toward a better response for Education than fighting to maintain a crumbling status quo:

The claim is that if educators invested a fraction of the energy on stimulating the students' enjoyment of learning that they now spend in trying to transmit information we could achieve much better results. Literacy, numeracy, or indeed any other subject matter will be mastered more readily and more thoroughly when the student becomes able to derive intrinsic rewards from learning. At present, however, lamentably few students would recognize the idea that learning can be enjoyable.
Thus, the abiding truth: although not everyone loves school, the joy of learning is universal. Now is a good time to lead with this strength.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Inspired and Engaged by Authentic Learning in 2007

With the countdown towards the end of 2007, comes a time of reflection for many. Some include those reflections in their annual holiday greeting cards; others are more private. Time Magazine reflects on the year in many ways including announcing its Person of the Year. This announcement started me reflecting on the folks that have influenced my life (personal and professional). One remarkable educator came to mind as someone who inspired me and many young minds during 2007—Nilah Cote (a fifth grade teacher at Sheldon Elementary School).

Nilah Cote could easily be counting down the days ‘til retirement… but instead she is counting the days until a new projector comes into her classroom. “I don’t have much time you know”.. she reminds her Tech Director that she is retiring in a few months. Nilah is frantically trying to squeeze in all the teaching and learning she can in her last days as a public school educator. With 38 years in the classroom, Nilah has not grown tired of looking for opportunities to engage kids in authentic learning.

Early this spring, Nilah asked me for help picking out tools she would need to podcast with her students. She had never tried podcasting, but had a vision of students interviewing community members about the impact of the 88 acres of forest that surrounds their school and community and believed that her students could become stewards of their forest.

The unit (Stewards of the Sheldon Community Forest) started with 45 seconds of silence, when long-time journalist, Nat Worman, explained to a group of fifth graders that ‘listening’ was the key to a good interview. Prepared with the tools and skills needed to conduct a good interview, the students traveled to different parts of the forest to learn from their community. “This is like an adventure..” they noticed and dubbed themselves the Woodland Investigators. These fifth grade students are learning that editing an interview also requires lots of listening as they use the free program, Audacity, to prepare their interviews for publication. And when the first student to publish her interview using the free service PodcastPeople shared her first podcast, the quiet resumed. You could have heard a pin drop, when the sound of the interview echoed in the room and pride beamed across her face.

Authentic learning brings joy, excitement, successes, and sometimes frustrating setbacks – as when the shared folder containing all their interviews disappeared from the network. But knowing that a real audience awaits their product, students are busy remixing the audio files (which thankfully still existed on their voice recorders). Ms. Cote has never let mishaps discourage her from being a pioneering educator who desires to truly engage students in real learning. Even though my retirement is a long ways away, I so hope that I will be like Nilah Cote days before my retirement as an educator.

I can’t wait to hear more interviews from her students, and read the forest management plan her students are working on using a class wiki. To hear Nilah tell her story of the Stewards of the Sheldon Community Forest project, listen to this short interview conducted using Gabcast – another free tool that allows you to create podcast from phone interviews.

Why not use the comment section of this post to share (or tribute) someone in your educational network as a powerful influence to students or fellow educators during 2007. The editors of Time are quick to point out that their pick for Person of the Year is not a contest, it is not an endorsement; nor is it necessarily an award –it does, however, identify someone has had a strong influence on the world around them. Surely many educators come to mind. Why not tribute them here.. don’t forget to include links (if appropriate).