My Wish List for Education in 2012

By AJ Juliani, 16 comments

I’ve been blessed to be in a school district that has embraced technology, provided our staff with Macbooks and Smartboards, and just approved a Netbook 1-to-1 initiative. I’ve worked with fantastic educators in my school and abroad. My students have been a part of such global projects as ‘The Flat Classroom Project”, “Net Gen Ed”, and “Project: Global Inform”. We’ve used Microsoft’s OneNote product to produce ePortfolios (I love it), Apple’s iMovie to create documentaries, and Google’s collaboration tools for a variety of project-based learning initiatives.

It wasn’t just a good year for education in my classroom, the “EdTech” scene exploded in the past 12 months, with hundreds of new apps for learning and teacher collaboration (check out EdSurge).  Education startups were everywhere, and disruption became a term widely adopted and put into practice. Throughout all of this, something became infinitely apparent to me:

This is the most important time to be in education. It is the most important time to care about education. It is the most important time to impact education.

Now, more than any other time in the past 100 years, education seems on the verge of a paradigm shift. You see, for the past century, most of the educational change has been “doing old things in new ways”. Today, we are beginning to see educators, educational institutions, and educational companies do “new things in new ways”.

My wish list for Education in 2012 is centered around the belief that it is time to try “new things in new ways”. It is time to look for “Next Practices” instead of “Best Practices”. It’s time to put ideas that are unproven into practice, learn from our failures, and celebrate our successes. Here is my wish list:

1. I Wish Global Projects Were the Norm

It’s no longer okay to do every project within the confines of a classroom. Sure project-based learning is great, but if your students are only working with people their age, in their grade, in their school, from their hometown…well just how collaborative is that? They are learning to work with people just like them, and in situations that they are most likely comfortable.

Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay have proven that any teacher can get global with their collection of “Flat Classroom Projects”. Their book, “Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds: Move to Global Collaboration One Step at a Time”, will be the guide for anyone wanting to move in this direction. And you should! I’ve had over 100 students participate in their projects and they have been some of the most enlightening and engaging experiences. Our students will be working with people from all over the world when they get a job in the global workforce, why shouldn’t they start learning how to work cross-culturally while in school?

2. I Wish Game Based Learning Was Used for all Ages

It is so cool to see my daughter (she’s going to be three in March) learning her numbers and letters. I’d like to take all the credit, but that would be a big lie. In fact, most of the “learning” she does happens on the iPad, or at least is a reinforcement of learning. You see, when Dora is telling her how to count (in Spanish too) she listens so attentively, and then is able to practice her counting right then and there. The response is immediate, the feedback almost simultaneous. It’s been fascinating to see how quickly she can pick up concepts with game based learning.

I was on the App store looking for educational games and I noticed something: There were no educational games for anyone over the age of 10. I’m serious. It is extremely hard to find educational games for kids middle school and high school age. Why is this? Aren’t our middle school and high school students playing video games in their free time? I get it that teenagers may not want to play educational games during their free time. But what if it was assigned for homework? What if we played these games in class and then had them finish? What if they had to make their own levels to these games based on the content we are learning in school?

I’m scared for my daughter to go to elementary school, because I’m scared at the way we currently teach our kids. I teach high school students, and I know it is different than elementary teaching, but the basic principles are the same: We want to ENGAGE our children and FOSTER their independent and critical thinking abilities. Games will play a crucial role in this process during the 21st century.

One final thought on this wish: I love learning new things. In the past couple of years my learning has centered around programming, web design, and development. It’s hard for me. I don’t have the best “math mind” (I’m an English teacher) and some of the concepts don’t make sense the first time around. I’ve read lots of books on the subject, watched countless tutorials, and have made a number of websites (especially after I learned how to use WordPress). I still wanted to know more though, and one day I was reading Michael Arrington’s Uncrunched blog and came across “codeacademy.com”.

Codecademy teaches people how to code (program) with a step by step process (assuming you know nothing). As you move forward you receive awards and hints and achievements. I became seriously addicted to this site. There was nothing fancy about the user interface, but it “gamified” learning how to code. I learned more in two weeks with Codecademy than in two years reading books and watching tutorials etc. How can we not apply that type of gaming to school? It’s no longer “ok” to teach our students with old textbooks and methods, because quite frankly it’s not just about engagement, its about the process in which their minds learn best.

3. Please End the High Stakes Madness

Look, I get it. I really do. The US government and general population want to know that our students are performing at higher levels than other countries. After all, we are the US, and believe we should have the best educational system in the world. (I’m all for that!) States (and their legislators) want to receive funding from the federal government for their schools, and want to have stronger student achievement than their neighboring states. School districts want to receive funding from their state and want higher student achievement than their neighboring districts. It can raise home prices (among other things) and provide a real sense of accomplishment for the schools and community. I’m all for students having high expectations and meeting those expectations. Same goes for schools, they should have high expectations. The same goes for districts, states, etc. There is one major issue that I have in all of this though, and that is what about the students?

What is this doing to them? Do they care? Should they care? If education is all about the students (which it is and should be) then where do they fall in all of this? I’d like to believe that most educators treat their students as people. People who learn differently (differentiation), who have different needs (IEPs etc), who learn at different paces in different subjects (I could breeze through English but struggled in Math and Science), and most importantly, as people who are defined by so much more than a test score.

I think most of us all believe these things are true, but sometimes it is easy to get caught up in the madness. My wish is for the educational community to just sit back and think about the students, and how different and unique they all are. For those of us that have children, I know we want the very best for them. But we also know that they need extra help in some areas, and different expectations in other areas. I’m not calling for an end to standardized testing (it is needed on some level), but just some of the madness that surrounds it.

Seriously, if grown adults are cheating for kids on standardized tests then there has got to be something wrong. If it happened just once, I’d probably blame the person. However, if it happens over and over again (which it has) then the circumstances have to be accounted for, and we have to re-evaluate what we are doing with these tests.

4. Let’s “UbD” the Entire Education Process

Understanding by Design, or UbD, is a tool utilized for educational planning focused on “teaching for understanding”.The emphasis of UbD is on “backward design”, the practice of looking at the outcomes in order to design curriculum units, performance assessments, and classroom instruction.The UbD framework was designed by nationally recognized educators Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, and published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development” (straight from Wikipedia, which I love by the way).

UbD is the best way to make an outcome or expectation, and then design curriculum backwards to incrementally work towards the final goal. My department has used UbD in our curriculum and it helps both the teacher and student understand where we are headed, and how we are going to get there. My master’s program was designed using UbD (Drexel University Global and International Education) and it was the best classroom learning experience I’ve ever had. So here is my final wish: Let’s UbD the entire education system/process.

We start with jobs. Real jobs that people have, and jobs that people do not have but will have in the next 5, 10, 15 years. What are the skill needed to successfully complete each job? Then we can come up with specific skill sets for each industry etc.

We then move to the University level. How can we get students to master these skills before graduating? How can we assess this? How can we teach and foster these skills? Also, what skills are needed to be successful in college (undergrad and graduate school)?

We then move to the high school level. How can we get students to master the skills needed in college (which colleges have identified) during high school? How can we assess this? How can we teach, model, and foster these skills? Can we break it down by grade level etc? Also, what skills are needed to be successful in high school?

We move down to middle school, and then elementary, and then Pre-K. If we want to nationalize anything, this should be it. Students, parents, teachers, and school administrators will all know where they are headed and why they need to learn what they are learning. This is not a national curriculum, but instead a national understanding. Students can learn a skill through a variety of ways, and those ways can be dependent on the teacher, school etc. But they’ll be learning the skill they need to continue progressing.

This would be huge undertaking, but I think the Common Core has a major start on it, and people are already moving in this direction. The trick would be to do this without major high stakes tests as the assessments. That would mean States would have to trust districts, districts trust schools, and those schools trust teachers (lots of trust J). A roadmap to student success is important to everyone involved in education, and all stakeholders have a different viewpoint, but we should all have the same final goal.

 

What’s your wish list for 2012?

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