School Change

Should Students Be Allowed to Use the Internet During Tests?

There is a great discussion taking place at this link on the ISTE Linkedin discussion board.  On one level, it’s fascinating to see educators and business leaders from around the world having an asynchronous conversation about this topic. On another level, it’s interesting to see the many views on the topic.  Here is my view:  In certain situations the use of the Internet is appropriate during a test.  In an age when the value of memorizing information is being overshadowed by the ability to locate, analyze, and make sense of information, it seems the goal of a test (in some situations) would be to measure a student’s ability in these areas.

Tony Wagner (author of The Global Achievement Gap and Creating Innovators) identifies the following Seven Survival skills for the 21st Century.  Memorization of facts is not one of them.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Collaboration across Networks and Leading by Influence

Accessing and Analyzing Information

Agility and Adaptability

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

Curiosity and Imagination

If you look at NAIS’s Essential Capacities for 21C,  the ISTE Nets for Students, NCTE Framework for 21st Century Curriculum and Assessment and the skills of STEM education, you will find similar listings.  Again, memorization and regurgitation of facts are not on the lists.  I am interested to know what others in the education world think.  Please add your thoughts by commenting on this post.

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Taking Risks

In Michael Fullen’s 2001 book, Leading a Culture of Change, he describes how school principal, Keith McClure, successfully led his school in a three year technology integration project.  Fullen says “Mr. McClure showed leadership by supporting and participating…  He also encouraged collaboration and a little fun along the way, was respectful of what teachers were learning and trying, and was flexible with time and the curriculum… He modeled the behaviors he sought in [his staff] and created a culture of change by encouraging risk taking.”  I cannot overstate the importance of this last part.

The technology tools we are beginning to use in our curriculum are so new we cannot rely on a history of experience to guide our use.  We are pioneers, trying to find effective and productive ways to implement blogs, wikis, and other web tools.  Along with thousands of teachers around the globe, we are handling iPads in the classroom for the first time, sometimes with less experience than our students.  The very nature of our task requires risk-taking.  And it is not just with how we use the tools.  It is also taking a risk with how we use students’ time.

Does this Mama Duck have any feelings of trepidation as she leads her ducklings away from her nest and onto the Lower School playground?

It takes courage to step out of our comfort zones, to try something different from the tried and true methods of the past.  Part of our job as educators is to prepare our students for a productive life in the world in which they will live and work.  The work world of today already requires digital literacy skills.  So as we begin a year of using new tools, let’s support each other on our journey.  It is guaranteed that not every lesson we plan using iPads will go smoothly.  It is a given that we will see student blog posts that make us gasp.  Wiki pages will be erased  and replaced by accident.  We will go in the wrong direction and have to stop, rethink, recalculate, start again.  That is all part of the process and it is up to us to make it a learning process.  Take time to reflect on your steps and missteps with your colleagues… and with the students.  We are on a journey.  If we don’t take the steps to get started, we will be in the same place in June as we are today.  I am confident that, though our path might not be as straight as we might wish, we will get to a better place in the end.




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The Human Side of School Change


I’ve been reading Robert Evans’ book, The Human Side of School Change, and driving everybody crazy quoting what he has to say about trying to implement a change in philosophy and practice in a school setting.  The most important message for me is the not-so-new idea that asking a teachers to change their beliefs or their methods challenges the very core of their identity as a teacher.  Teachers do what they do in their classrooms because they have come to believe, through experience, that it is the right way to do it.  They have seen the effects and the results of their methods first hand.  Yet sometimes change is necessary to provide our students with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in a world that is different from the world as experienced by their teachers.

My grandmother taught me how to make a killer pound cake – literally.  Six eggs, three cups of sugar, three sticks of butter…. this is not a heart-friendly pound cake.  But, oh, it melts in your mouth like no other cake can.  When I make it, I try to do it just as she taught me because I know that’s what works.  But I have to wonder if her grandmother or great-great-grandmother made it the same way.  They certainly didn’t have the KitchenAid mixer or the Samsung oven I have.  Did they beat the batter by hand?  Was their oven heated by wood?  Could I make the same cake that way today?  Would I want to?  Would they watch me do it my way and tell me that my cake is not the same as, not as good as theirs?

Times change.  Needs change.  Some of the skills we taught our students in the past may not be relevant anymore.  Yet that fact does not make it any easier for teachers to embrace change.  I think this will be a topic I will revisit many times, trying to find the best ways to ease in new attitudes, new ideas, and new skills.  Our students are waiting for us.

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Visiting Change

For the last three days I have been traveling with a group of educators, visiting schools which are that for the innovative ways they are educating their students. The range of variables in these schools was wide, with two schools close to 150 years old and one less than two years old. Their enrollment varied from 30 students to over 10,000. The physical spaces we saw ranged from elegant old construction to rented office space to brand new, state of the art facilities. Two schools were operating with high end technology and practically no hard copy books, while one school had a rag tag library of donated books and a makeshift collection computers and tech tools.
Yet, while we talked with the administrators, teachers, and students, we heard some common themes expressed at each school.

The students were highly engaged and happy about participating in the learning process. Their learning was sparked by passionate inquiry. This inquiry was driven by a personal desire to learn more about something. The learning process started with questions. They were using a variety of avenues to find the answers to their questions, including some very hands-on methods. The teacher role was very much that of a mentor or coach who provided guidance, support, and encouragement. Failure to answer a question or solve a problem did not mean the end of the learning process. Intentional reflection about the learning process turned failure into part of the journey to reach the answer. Attentiveness, or focus, played a major role in moving toward an answer or solution. There was not a focus on grades. The focus was on the growth of skills, not on acquired facts. These skills are translatable to the real world, beyond school.

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