Wednesday, January 28, 2015

5 #FiveMinuteFavor Ideas for Educators

Are you a Giver, a Taker, or a Matcher?

Wait what? That's probably what you are asking yourself right now. I don't blame you.

 Let me explain a bit. I came across the idea of Giver, Taker, or Matcher listening to this podcast featuring Adam Grant. Grant, a Wharton professor and author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success”, believes that in a networked world success depends on how we interact with others. Grant explains three styles of interaction.

  • Givers - People who enjoy helping others with no strings attached.
  • Takers - People who don’t give unless it benefits them directly, or if it allows them to get ahead.
  • Matchers - People in the middle who strike an equal balance, often seeing interactions as tit for tat.  

Grant finds that Givers are the least successful people. Bummer. Why can't the world work for good people? Fortunately, not all hope is lost. There's a flip side. Givers also top the list of most successful people. Takers and Matchers usually slide in the middle.

The worst Givers let the idea of giving overtake their lives. The best Givers strike a balance. They give of themselves while understanding boundaries and getting things done. Personally, I find it agreeable that those who give are rewarded for their behavior. I love the romantic notion that Pay it Forward sparks a virtuous cycle of benefits. It's a grand vision, thinking in terms of helping each other, rather than exploiting each other.

How can we all get better at giving? How can we act in small ways that add substantial value to another person's life? Enter the Five Minute Favor. Some of the biggest, busiest people in Silicon Valley set aside a few minutes each day with the sole intent of benefiting someone else. They make an introduction, offer advice, or follow up on a stranger's email.

What are some ideas for Five Minute Favors for educators? Here are 5, Five Minute Favor ideas especially for educators.

  • 1) Make a positive call or email to a student's parent - We know the benefits. We may even know how great it feels as a parent. Yet, we just don't do. Why not take five minutes and start today?
  • 2) Write a thank you note to a colleague - You know the teacher next door is awesome, but have you ever told her? Did you thank her for the time she covered your recess duty? Did you thank her for helping one of your students? Did you thank her for simply making work a better place to be?
  • 3) Connect two people with a nice, warm email introduction - Perhaps your neighbor is an engineer, and the second grade teacher is doing a unit on simple machines. Why not introduce them? Maybe your principal is looking for snack donations for an event, and your best friend owns a bakery. Why not introduce them?
  • 4) Share on social media - Do you enjoy a small education blogger? Send a thoughtful tweet recommending them and their blog. Did you enjoy a teacher's article? Leave a comment and share it on Pinterest.
  • 5) Take out the garbage, pick up the trash, or vacuum your classroom - You know some of the hardest working people in the building? The custodians and janitors. They do so much for schools and often get so little recognition. Why not show them you care?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Project Based Learning, Some Research (Part 1)

I firmly believe in PBL. Given that you are reading this article, I assume you might share this belief too. I have tons of anecdotal and personal validation to the effectiveness of PBL from my own classroom. I also see the amazing results from other teachers in my Personal Learning Network. While I value this practical insight above all else, I feel it is important to read and understand the research on PBL.

While the ‘ivory tower’ can find ways to skew numbers like the rest of us, understanding research benefits the practice of teachers. We can be better if we have a deep understanding for why we use one pedagogy over another. Rather than rushing to the next shiny new fad in teaching, we can proceed with confidence in our methods and choices.

For this reason I was inspired to start this series on Project Based Learning research. Part One will focus on general findings and themes.

If you want to recommend any research for me to cover in the future, add a note or send me a Tweet. You can also add a submission to the PBL publication on here.

Title: “When is PBL More Effective? A Meta-sythesis on Meta-anlayses Comparing PBL to Conventional Classrooms”

Authors: Johannes Strobel and Angela van Barneveld (2009)

Methodology: As the title states, the authors performed a meta-synthesis of meta-analyses. Yep. In layman’s term, a meta-synthesis seeks to describe and understand key findings from a number of different analyses (Insert meta joke here).

Key Findings: The researchers conclude, “…PBL is significantly more effective than traditional instruction to train competent and skilled practitioners and to promote long-term retention of knowledge and skills acquired during the learning experience or training”(Strobel and van Barneveld 55).

My Take-Aways: The findings show some other interesting data. Although mixed, traditional instruction tended to produce better outcomes on simple, short-term recognition assessments. This may reinforce some educator fears that PBL is not suited for traditional standardized assessments. As we move to the Common Core and deeper analytical thinking, PBL may prove effective for promoting critical thinking and deeper learning. It is also worth mentioning that much of the research in this study comes from medical students.

Authors: Emily J. Summers and Gail Dickinson (2012)

Methodology: As the title suggests, longitudinal. Student achievement was measured before, during, and after introducing PBL in high school Social Studies. Data was measured against a control group of similar population to make a comparison.

Key Findings: The researchers conclude, “PBL provided a rigorous alternative to traditional instruction and increased students’ academic achievement and forward progress toward College and Career Readiness standards” (Summers and Dickerson, 98).

My Take-Aways: Not only was academic achievement higher for students in the PBL class, they also had higher rates of promotion. As achievement was also measured against CCR standards, there are positive indications that PBL promotes the future success of students. Finally, when looking at subpopulations, PBL worked better for traditionally marginalized subgroups.

Imagine is from the Summers and Dickerson study referenced above

Author: Mehmet Gültekin(2005)

Methodology: Pre-Test, Post-Test Control Group (Quantitative) and Experimental Group Interview (Qualitative)

Key Findings: According to the findings, “The project-based learning approach affected the academic success of students in the Social Sciences course in primary education.” (Gültekin, 552). The research also finds improvement in motivation, research skills, and higher-order thinking skills.

My Take-Aways: Beside the improvement in academic success and ‘skills’, qualitative data showed that the learning process was more enjoyable to students. In my opinion, affective variables such as motivation, relevance, comfort, and enjoyment are a critical, and often overlooked, part of a learner’s success.

Author: John Thomas (2000)

Methodology: Research Review: An inclusive review of the last 10 years of PBL research and scholarship.

Key Findings: According to Thomas, “More important, there is some evidence that PBL, in comparison to other instructional methods, has value for enhancing the quality of students’ learning in subject matter areas…” (37). Thomas also writes, “PBL seems to be equivalent or slightly better than other models of instruction for producing gains in general academic achievement and for developing lower-level cognitive skills in traditional subject matter areas.” (37).

My Take-Aways: If you are looking for a place to really dig into PBL research start here. Thomas breaks down PBL research into eight topics and presents a summary of research on each. So pretty simply, if you want to find research about PBL, Thomas’ review will be very beneficial. In addition to the findings I listed above, Thomas mentions some other tantalizing conclusions. These include the challenge for teachers in starting PBL, a need for student support when developing inquiry skills, and the enhanced effectiveness of PBL if the whole school embraces the method.

Friday, January 23, 2015

You're One of Those?

Tonight I went to a talk by Dr. Antonia Darder at Loyola Marymount University for her new book Freire and Education. I plan to write more about her inspiring ideas soon, but I quickly want to post something she said.

I asked her about the mechanism of competition as a way of dividing and separating students, as a way of disconnecting the oppressed. 

She answered the question thoroughly, but the following line is one of the best insights I have heard in a long time. 

"People ever tell you, 'You're one of those folks that thinks everyone should win.'...Just think about that statement for awhile...Hell yes, I am."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Edcamp is All About Community...and We Need More of That

When I was a kid, Saturday mornings were the best. I looked forward to college football, recreational soccer games, and episodes of Recess. On special occasions, my dad would pick up Yum-Yum Donuts and, on really great days, I would get to eat two.

Fast forward a few years, and things are a tad different. I don't watch Saturday morning cartoons. I couldn't even tell you where to find Recess (maybe Netflix?).  I no longer play soccer and, now, I actually look forward to waking up early to read and write.

But I still love Saturday mornings.

I especially love a Saturday morning that begins with an Edcamp.

An Edcamp is an 'unconference' driven by the teachers that show up to the event. There are no preset themes. There is not a keynote speaker. There is not even a schedule until the day of the event. The bulk of the day is crowdsourced by the teachers themselves. The entire success of an Edcamp is built upon ad hoc community participation.

So how does this work?

Go back a few sentences and we see the

Teachers build their own space to connect, share, and learn. It is inherently ours. It is a place for teachers by teachers. This emphasis on community breeds a special type of collaboration. It is a collaboration where all those involved feel empowered and affirmed. There is a belief that we will make ourselves better by working together, by learning from each other. Hadley Ferguson, Executive Director of Edcamp Foundation, writes, "Edcamps became so powerful because they recognize and honor the expertise of teachers."

This past Saturday, I attended EdcampLA. I attended a session on Social Studies games that turned into a deep conversation on critical pedagogy. I learned how to build iPhone apps in minutes. I (accidentally) facilitated a discussion on project based learning.

Best of all I got to connect, learn, and share with some of the best educators in Southern California. I got to contribute to the vibrant community of educators I call colleagues. In my opinion, there are not enough of these opportunities for educators and teachers (something I am really thinking about). How can we continue theses face-to-face conversations and meetups between teachers? We are often confined to the classrooms we teach in. 'Getting out of the building' is a phrase used in testing technology, but I think it is a valuable practice for educators. 

I know when teachers get together, "What happens is magic."

Friday, January 16, 2015

"Partnership" Classrooms?

Although 2014 was so last year, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on one of the most powerful books I read over the past twelve months. Wisdom from the Rainforest, by Stuart Schlegel, is an account of the author's time living with the Teduray people. The Teduray people built a society of 'radical' egalitarianism in the remote rainforest of the Philippines. Teduray life was marked by ubiquitous, unceasing cooperation with emphasis on kindness, respect, and peace toward each other and nature. Men and women were held in equal esteem and so-called "feminine" values, such as expressing one's feelings, were commonplace. Violence and anger disrupted the natural order of life and went against the shared norms of generosity and shared interdependence. Competition, with its emphasis on individual promotion and hierarchy, was a foreign concept.

In his own reflection, Shlegel uses the "partnership" and "dominator" models of society to contextualize and emphasize the values of Teduray society. He writes:

The forest Teduray were a "partnership society," in which men and women were viewed as partners in life. Therefore, family and social structure were egalitarian and social relations unranked and peaceful. Decision making was typically participatory. Softer, stereotypically "feminine" virtues were valued, and community well-being was the principal motivation for work and other activities...The dominant American cultural tradition in which I [Schlegel] came of age stands at the other end of the spectrum. In our "dominator society," hierarchy prevails throughout the social order, with males and the harder "masculine" virtues dominate.  Work is to a large extent motivated by perceived scarcity and insecurity. (Schlegel 244)

As teachers, we have a great opportunity to help establish the values and virtues of our classroom. Do we want to setup a "partnership" classroom where students feel invested in the growth and success of the group? Or do we want to set up "dominator" classrooms where students are ranked and filed by academic achievement? Do we foster interdependence or do we use competition as a way to gain control? What messages do we leave our students? If we set up a "dominant" and competitive classroom we incentivize the failure of some students. How can some "get on top" without others being "held below"?

I can tell you what type of classroom I feel is best...but hopefully it is obvious.

For a more detailed post on the book, see Cindy Cruz-Cabrera.
For more information on "partnership" societies, see Riane Eisler and The Center for Partnership Studies.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


If you are active on the education Twittersphere, there is a good chance you have seen #FutureReady appear in your feed. Arne Duncan and a whole bunch of 'important' officials are doing their best to make it the next buzz word. Based on people's tweets, I figured it centered on EdTech. Not entirely sure, I decided to see what all the fuss was about. 

A quick Google search lead me to the Office of Educational Technology (who knew there was such a thing) and The Future Ready Pledge. From the office itself, The Future Ready Pledge, "recognizes the importance of building human capacity within schools and districts for effectively using increased connectivity and new devices to transform teaching and learning."

The pledge is a good start and a step in the right direction. It acknowledges the potential for technology to emphasize creation over consumption, promote digital citizenship, and enable collaboration among districts. The Future Ready Pledge calls for improved technology infrastructures not only in schools, but also for increased access for families outside traditional school hours. This, at the very least, acknowledges the need to look critically at digital equity in our schools and communities - a positive indication.

As I said, there is a lot to like with The Future Ready Pledge. I also think there are a few opportunities not addressed with The Pledge.

  • Even more emphasis on the community. From establishing tech plans, to learning about digital citizenship, to providing access and learning opportunities, we need to involve communities, not just superintendents. Schools can and should be focal points for community action. Increasing technology relationships between school and community can help curb digital gaps. 

  • Expanding on the last point, The Future Ready Pledge takes a very top down approach. This is especially disheartening as so many teachers have led the fight to get meaningful technology in the hands of students. I think of all the teachers on Twitter, or educators bringing their own devices into the classroom. Instead of celebrating their work, the sense is that superintendents are the ones who can affect real change. 

  • There needs to be a greater emphasis on pedagogy. We can talk about devices, access, and potential all day long. But if we continue to use 20th century tools like rote memorization, teacher lecture, standardized tests, and busy work all the technology in the world will barely make a difference. 

  • Finally, I always worry about tags like Future Ready. Why? There are mentions to preparing students for college, career, and citizenship. There is a mention to returning the United States to the top of the rankings for college completion. This is certainly important, even crucial. Yet are we falling into the 'next year trap'? I explain the next year trap as a continual focus on the future, while neglecting the present. What about now? Future Ready is really Present Ready. We need to prepare students for the present just as much as the future. The present demands 21st century skills like communication, creativity, collaboration, and critical thinking. Technology can certainly help build these skills today. This will undoubtedly help our students for tomorrow as well.  
My hope is The Future Ready Pledge will strengthen the use of meaningful technology in education. My hats go off to the teachers who do this every day.