Social media and peer learning

Here is the archive of the Connected Learning webinar I participated in recently.

Social Media and Peer Learning: From Mediated Pedagogy to Peeragogy
Discover how giving students more responsibility in shaping their own curriculum can lead to more active participation.

This was a really interesting experience. The panel, moderator, and main speaker Howard Rheingold all convened in a Google Hangout. The Google Hangout is very good for groups and it was easy to have a very natural conversation. There was also a livestream and a moderated chat so that questions were coming in from the virtual audience.

You can watch the video, and read the PDF capture of the online chat here.

Even though Howard Rheingold opened the session talking about college-age leaners, I connected with many of his thoughts about how to create open-ended classrooms where the students co-create the learning. In my experience in K-12, it’s very similar as you figure out how to be a learner and/or a teacher in these kinds of situations.

I’ll write more later to expand on some of the points made in this webinar, but for now, I hope you enjoy watching the recorded video!



Why Education Reform Will Work This Time

This is a remarkable piece of video from 1998 unearthed by Gary Stager. In it, Ryan Powell, then a GenYES middle school student, interviews Seymour Papert and John Gage about the model of students learning technology in order to help teachers in their own schools. Both of these heavyweights of educational technology say some really interesting things about the model, including Dr. Papert saying that it’s the best thing the US Department of Education has ever funded! Pretty nice to hear that.

As further background, Dr. Papert is the father of educational technology, a colleague of Jean Piaget, and an internationally renowned educator famous for the theory of constructivism. His advocacy of student laptop programs extends around the world including the XO laptop for developing nations, and he invented the Logo programming language for children. John Gage, one of the founders of Sun Microsystems, started the NetDay movement to wire schools and originated the phrase, “the network is the computer.”

About halfway through this clip, Dr. Papert talks a bit about why he believes that education reform can happen now, even though decades of reform efforts have not had much impact.

He says there are two things that are different now. One is that school was designed to fit the previous “knowledge technology” of chalk, blackboards, paper and pencil. These technologies match quite well with the prevailing pedagogy of the last century, which relied on instruction, teacher as the center of all knowledge, and delivery of content. So criticizing it was a bit idealistic and theoretical. But now we have new technology that directly enables construction, connection, and distributed expertise. These new knowledge technologies tip the balance and as a result, new pedagogy can become reality.

The second factor is what he calls “Kid Power.” The technology amplifies the voices of people who are traditionally without voice or representation in our society.

For more explanation of Papert’s view on why technology will power education reform, check out this speech: Chlld Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century.

In Gary’s post about this video, he also recalls some of the early days of Generation YES, when Dennis Harper had this “crazy idea” of kids being at the center of changing education with technology. Seymour Papert on Generation YES & Kid Power : Stager-to-Go

By the way, Ryan is now a college graduate serving in the Peace Corps in Benin, West Africa with his wife Kimberly.


Constructivism in practice – making lectures work

Posted with permission from The Institute for Learning Centered Education – Don Mesibov

If you must lecture, please don’t do it early in the lesson.
Most teachers begin a lesson with a launcher, anticipatory set, ice breaker, bell ringer or an exploratory activity (which we recommend). Each of these often motivates students to think something good might happen during class; some of the students actually begin to look forward to what might come next.

Unfortunately, just as students are beginning to think they might not mind being in class, the teacher too often launches into a lecture and all momentum is lost. It’s like the dead scene in a play that interrupts the flow of excitement generated earlier.

Why do teachers lecture early in a lesson? It’s because we have new information we want our students to learn and we want to start by telling them what we want them to know. But it isn’t effective. If the content is completely new to students it is hard to follow the words of a speaker. It is like trying to learn the rules and procedures of baseball when you’ve had no previous knowledge that such a game existed. If you want to teach someone baseball, hand them a glove and have a catch. Put a bat in their hands and pitch to them. Then you can start to explain how the game is played – after, not before, you have actively engaged them.

I’ve sat in the back of the room as teachers have tried to explain to students what they want them to learn. I’ve noticed the faces of the disinterested students. They have no hooks to hang their thoughts on – no context for understanding what the teacher is saying. Sometimes what the teacher says early in the lesson would be more effective if said near the end when the students have been engaged with the new information. The lecture might be more effective as a summary. Once you’ve tried hitting a ball with a bat for fifteen minutes, a mini-lecture on how to stand and how to hold the bat has much more meaning.

Here are some examples of how to engage students with new information BEFORE beginning your explanations.

  • BILL OF RIGHTS: Don’t explain or describe them. Distribute a one page summary of the Bill of Rights, pair the students and ask each pair to prioritize them in order of importance. Then ask each pair to justify its prioritization. There is no right or wrong and it doesn’t matter how each pair prioritizes. What is important is that the students have been challenged to think about each article and what it means.
  • TOO, TO, AND TWO: Pair or group students and ask them to design an ad for their favorite TV show or DVD, or food using each of these words correctly at least once.
  • MIXTURES AND SOLUTIONS: Give students different substances to mix and ask them to share conclusions they reach based on the results.
  • PERCENTAGES: Ask students, in pairs or groups, to share their perceptions of what’s good and what’s bad about buying with credit cards. This can lead to a lesson on percentages that students perceive as relevant when you ask them to assess whether the purchase of a sale item, using a credit card, will actually save money when the interest payments are taken into account.

You can probably come up with more and better examples. My only point is that after you grab the students’ attention with a good opening, don’t blow it by losing the momentum with a lecture that the students probably won’t understand anyway.

Please know that your work in the field of education is as meaningful to our society as anything anyone can possibly do. Thank you for caring about the future of our children!!!!

Don Mesibov October 2009

Copyright (c) 2009, Institute for Learning Centered Education. All rights reserved.

The Institute is currently registering teams for the 2010 summer constructivist conference, July 19-23, at St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York. Don’t miss the opportunity for this unique conference that models the constructivist behaviors that teachers are using increasingly in the classroom. More information at The Institute for Learning Centered Education.

Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide

Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide

An oldie (1993) but a goodie from Alfie Kohn. What does it really mean when when students have the power of choice instead of being powerless? Why is it important, and what kinds of things can students really decide?

To be sure, there is nothing new about the idea that students should be able to participate, individually and collectively, in making decisions. This conviction has long played a role in schools designated as progressive, democratic, open, free, experimental, or alternative; in educational philosophies called developmental, constructivist, holistic, or learner-centered; in specific innovations such as whole-language learning, discovery-based science, or authentic assessment; and in the daily practice of teachers whose natural instinct is to treat children with respect.

But if the concept is not exactly novel, neither do we usually take the time to tease this element out of various traditions and examine it in its own right. Why is it so important that children have a chance to make decisions about their learning? How might this opportunity be provided with regard to academic matters as well as other aspects of school life? What limits on students’ right to choose are necessary, and what restrictions compromise the idea too deeply? Finally, what barriers might account for the fact that students so rarely feel a sense of self-determination today? A close inspection of these issues will reveal that the question of choice is both more complex and more compelling than many educators seem to assume.

The rest of the article is well worth reading!