Experiential Education


Kiran Sethi, Youth Empowerment Advocate, On Experiential Learning And The ‘I Can’ Teaching Model (VIDEO) Posted: 07/23/2013 Is the answer to engaging and empowering global youth simpler than we think? Last month at the Ideas Festival in Aspen,Design For Change founder Kiran Sethi shared … Continue reading

Why We Must Recreate the Wheel


JULY 23, 2013

Photo credit: iStockPhoto

First of all, I must apologize to the physics people out there who read the title and expected this article to explain a new three-dimensional figure that would redefine transport and how we think about mobility. Sadly, I have not yet come up with this idea. But I assure you, I will write a post about it when I do. This is not that post.

Remembering How It All Began

“Recreating the wheel” is a frequently heard term in schools and is mostly used as a complaint. As educators are pushed into new realms of technology, teaching strategies or classroom settings, they must recreate documents and activities to fit these new educational arenas. But there is more to these complaints than the yearly stress of reworking lessons. In the digital age, it can be as simple as a slip of the finger and all of our precious documents have been deleted.

No more worksheets, handouts, rubrics, tests! We have but two options then: recreate all of our “wheels” or quit teaching and become a used car salesman.

Those who decide we’ve got a few years left in us will take on the daunting task of recreating everything we’ve taught in the past. And as we are tearing throughThe Great Gatsby trying to find a quote about the woman in the yellow dress, a little light flashes on.

We begin to question the assignment itself. “Why do I need to find the woman in the yellow dress? What did this worksheet actually focus on? What skill was I trying to teach?” And we realize that we haven’t asked that question since we originally created the worksheet. Somewhere, years ago, this worksheet was the work of a dreamer, a person who was going to cram symbolism down the throats of every unwilling tenth grader so that they’d never be able to drive past the big yellow arches without wondering, “What are they trying to make mefeel?”

But years and repetition have diluted the aspirations of that worksheet. Over time, we lose focus and forget what it was we were trying to teach with these activities, and we simply try to get through them. If the kids can answer the questions, then they must have learned something. Right?

The Superior Teacher

Over time, all teachers become driven by their handouts, their finely tuned worksheets, their greatly loved activities. We begin to forget why we use these and simply use them because we have a nostalgic connection to that one timewhen the kids loved and learned and we felt accomplished. This sense of accomplishment is something we can achieve often, but only if we change — often. The argument is frequently made that teachers must reflect because students and their needs change, and that argument has great merit. But we must also reflect as we change, as we grow, and most of all as we become comfortable.

Confucius once said, “The superior man thinks always of virtue; the common man thinks of comfort.” Be not the common teacher. Find no comfort in old lectures, old worksheets, old activities. If they once worked, great! Now look to the future and how you can incorporate those ideas into new learning experiences. Fear not recreating what has already been created. If someone hadn’t decided to recreate the wheel, we’d be driving cars on wooden circles.

And so I urge all teachers to stop for a moment and consider the wheel. It has come a long way — and so has teaching — but not because of comfortable people. Be superior. Think of virtue, of quality. Push Delete, and begin recreating your wheel.

Technology and the classroom: Girls face greater challenges balancing digital learning with social lives

Mercury News

By Ana Homayoun

Posted:   05/28/2013 09:13:14 AM PDT

These days, prom season seems to be on steroids.

Each spring, high school girls search for the perfect prom dress. Instead of debuting it on prom night, girls create Facebook “prom dress page” groups to avoid the potential embarrassment of discovering someone else is wearing the same dress on prom night. The dress choices elicit a range of responses from supportive to just plain mean. Body image issues surface. It doesn’t take long for the groups to morph into nuanced, drama-filled competitions filled with exclusionary tactics (“Please don’t add any freshman or sophomores unless you know they are being asked!”) and manipulations that would make politicians squirm.

It might be tolerable if online drama only played out after school. Now, the already complex dynamics of girls’ friendships are even more complicated by increased technology in the classroom.

“I usually update my Tumblr account during my third-period math class,” one high school senior recently told me with an air of adolescent defiance. Her private school had recently given each student an iPad. Although the school tried to block access to sites like Facebook and YouTube, students found ways to outmaneuver the restrictions.

Those who log into Facebook before coming to school, for instance, can maintain access throughout the day by refreshing the page. Under the guise of note-taking, students routinely use online sites as classroom diversions.

As technology becomes an even more integral part of classroom learning, online interactions will more aggressively contribute to the overall school climate.

According to 2010 data from the U.S. Department of Education, public school teachers reported that 69 percent of their students use computers during class most or some of the time. Internet connection was available for 96 percent of computers brought into classrooms.

Research suggests that males tend to focus more of their online efforts on gaming, while females tend to spend more time socializing. Many girls now find their interpersonal relationships are even more intertwined with their academic experiences. Unlike whispers in the hallway or notes passed in the middle of class, rumors online leave digital traces, and the potential to go viral can cause intense panic and rash decision-making.

School social networking puts even greater pressure on girls’ mental health. The statistics are overwhelmingly not in girls’ favor: Girls are twice as likely to be bullied electronically, and perceptions of school climate and culture can directly affect their overall wellness.

Researchers at the University of South Florida found that girls who had negative perceptions of school climate were far more likely also to have greater self-reported mental health issues.

Proponents of classroom online learning highlight the potential for more personalized learning experiences. Even so, social media distractions can be too much for students to self-regulate, and the fear of missing out often creates another layer of social anxiety in the classroom.

If we really want to create a healthier and safer school climate, we need to fully recognize and address the many ways information and conversations flow through school walls, hallways and classroom communities. We need to proactively help students develop positive coping strategies if something goes digitally awry.

Students are fumbling through the ultimate paradox — the same tools needed to complete school assignments also provide them with an outlet for socialization and potential distraction from getting work done. As it stands, increased classroom Internet access can potentially detract from our overall education and wellness hopes for our children, and neglecting the potential consequences could bring devastating implications for our youngest and most impressionable students.

Unlike prom night, the effects are 24/7.

Ana Homayoun, founder of Los Altos-based Green Ivy Educational Consulting, is an expert on the intersection of technology, learning and social media and the author most recently of “The Myth of the Perfect Girl: Helping Our Daughters Find Authentic Success and Happiness in School and Life.” Follow her @anahomayoun. She wrote this for this newspaper.

Resilience for Our Students and Ourselves


By Jill Berkowicz and Ann Myers on June 30, 2013 7:24 AM | No comments

Have you noticed the word resilience popping up in more conversations these days? Perhaps it is because the year was so stressful or perhaps because years of research have begun to seep into our daily consideration. Either way, it is worthy to consider this issue a bit.

The leadership literature about resilience has been growing now for nearly a decade. In 2007, Warren Bennis commented, “I believe adaptive capacity or resilience is the single most important quality in a leader, or in anyone else for that matter, who hopes to lead a healthy, meaningful life.” Two years later, AASA co-published Resilient Leadership For Turbulent Times: a guide to thriving in the face of adversity, in which Patterson, Goens, and Reed say, “Efficacy is important to being a resilient leader. It is the ability to effectively rebound from psychological and or behavioral trouble connected to significant incidents or crises” (p.58). In Albert Bandura’s work about self-efficacy, he writes, “Efficacy beliefs operate as a key factor in a generative system of human competence. Hence, different people with similar skills, or the same person under different circumstances, may perform poorly, adequately, or extraordinarily, depending on fluctuations in their beliefs of personal efficacy” (p.37).

The research in the field of neuroscience is investigating the relationship of stress on the brain and the role of resiliency in counteracting the negative effects associated with these stressors, especially in a child’s early life. Leader survival in these challenging times and unlocking keys to learning for some of our students may be connected through resiliency. It seems imperative that we know more about it. Resiliency, simply put, is the ability to bounce back after some bad experience…failure, violence, family breakups, deaths, or other crises. These experiences throw us off course, cause us to adapt and change. When those bad experiences are continual in the formative years of a child, he or she enters school with a brain that evidences changes as a result of such incessant bad experiences. Stress hormone such as cortisol and adrenaline are causal. If we as school leaders have felt inordinate stress this year, we likely have a lot in common with many of our students. How often have we given that thought attention?

The good news here is resiliency and we are leaning more about it. Our brains are both vulnerable and resilient. Those who have high levels of resiliency can actually come back from a bad experience with greater strength and self-confidence. They can rise above previous performance levels. But, we rarely can do that on our own. Most need someone else walking with them, a person who believes in them and in their capacity to rise above these moments. Doesn’t this resonate with what we already know about children? We all need someone and someplace where we can be safe and loved. For those coming through traumatic bad experiences, understanding how to respond with resilience is essential for all of us, as individuals, and for the systems we lead.

There are now a plethora of organizations designing programs to develop resilient leaders. John McKinley of the Harvard Business Review suggest it is grit, courage and commitment. Others propose resilience has as many as 12 facets: spirituality, support base, perseverance, understanding of reality, personal responsibility, value-driven, courageous decision-making, optimism, efficacy, adaptability, emotional well-being, physical well-being. A tool that helps ascertain where we are with regard to resiliency strengths is available, as are many other resources at Jerry Patterson’s website, The Resilient Leader.

After Hurricane Katrina, the Center for Creative Leadership convened a group to explore leadership in times of crisis. The final report entitled, Stepping into the Void, contained real insight, and perhaps a foretelling, into our work and times. They reported, “What we found is that when crises such as Katrina overwhelm the capacity of formal systems and structures, new leadership systems take shape and emergent leaders step into the void, playing critical and improvised roles in rescue and rebuilding efforts.

We have written often about the extraordinary challenges we are facing. Teacher leaders, school and district leaders, are all in the roughest of waters, facing challenges of regulation, calls for extraordinary levels of transparency and systemic change, families facing complex challenges, while we welcome students with a broader variety of skills, abilities, and more challenges than ever before. The challenge to leadership is the capacity for resilience.

Our educational system is being pushed to its limits, its capacity nearly overwhelmed. If we aspire to be one of those emergent leaders who take education into its next chapter of success, we need to discover resiliency, for our students and ourselves. If we believe that our lives and organizations will always include adversity, disruptions, surprises, systemic shocks, opening up to a further investigation of resiliency might be a purposeful and a survival skill.

Print resources:
Bandura, Albert (1997). Self-Efficacy. New York: W.H. Freeman and Company
Bennis, Warren. American Psychologist. January 2007, p. 5
Patterson, Jerry L., Goens, George A., and Reed, Diane E. (2009). Resilient Leadership For Turbulent Times. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education / Alexandria, Virginia: American Association of School Administrators

Twitter For Writers

The Twitter Story, by George Couros

In less than 140 characters, there is a funny little story that is topical and pointing out some of the funny characteristics of Canadians (very polite and that we are big fans of rapper Jay-Zed).

So why are we so hard on kids that they “overshare” on social networks?  Much of what they do would be considered a short “story” that they are often telling in 140 characters or less to an audience.  Stories have been, and always will be, an important part of our world.

There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories. —Ursula K. LeGuin

The mediums to tell these stories have not changed; they have expanded.

In the recent article, “Twitter is the New Haiku”, the author shares Twitter CEO Dick Costolo’s belief in the artistry that can come from a simple tweet:

“Sometimes I get asked, ‘Don’t you feel that the 140 characters has meant that people don’t think about things deeply anymore?’ The reality is that you don’t look at haiku and say, ‘You know, aren’t you worried that this format is going to prevent people from thinking deeply when you can only use this many words and it has to be set this way?’ I think that people develop language for creatively communicating within whichever constraints you set for people.” Dick Costolo

The author then continues to discuss that with this type of communication, less can often mean more:

“The power of communicating in fewer words is that those words mean more, and in their best forms, those words can inspire thousands more in discussion and speculation.” Emma Green

So are all tweets powerful stories?  Absolutely not.  A lot of what is shared is absolutely terrible, and many would say that Twitter is really harming our use of language.  Yet more people are moving to Twitter to share short stories that often turn into something more:

More recently, Twitter, too, has been coopted as a tool for fiction. Last year, Jennifer Egan wrote a short story in 140-character nuggets, which were posted on Twitter before they were published in The New Yorker as “Black Box.” A few months later, novelist Elliott Holt wrote her own Slate opined. “With its simultaneous narrators and fractured storyline, this is not the kind of tale that could march steadily across a continuous expanse of white space. It’s actually made for the medium.”

The major difference with something like Twitter is that it immediately can give our students an audience.  Looking at the traditional time it takes to publish a book, it can almost take a year from the moment it is finished until it is ready for an audience.  I am not saying that it is not a worthy endeavour to try writing a book, but we live in a world with multiple opportunities to try different mediums.  We do not have to focus on one.

Almost 700 posts into this blog, I first found my voice through Twitter, which expanded into a blog, and may now expand into a book next year.  By learning to use the first medium. it helped build my confidence in expanding to the next.  The ability to share short little messages and stories, has helped me to move to actually expanding my thoughts.  Wouldn’t starting with the 140 character story be a good start for our students?