Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Announcing Constructing Modern Knowledge 2008

I'd like to invite you to a very special event this summer. Some of my fondest memories of teaching and learning come from summer camp and much of what I know about effective teacher professional development was gained working with Dan and Molly Watt at their summer Logo Institutes in the 1980s. It has long been a dream to create a 21st learning environment in which educators spend long periods of time immersed in creative computer-rich projects collaborating with world-class practitioners.

My dream continues....
In addition to hands-on activities, leading education thinkers would shape provocative discussions about the nature of learning, creativity and school reform in order to help participants sustain the constructive use of technology back in their schools and districts. Informal learning and conversations will occur during meals, walks and fantastic social events.

These goals led me to create Constructing Modern Knowledge, a minds-on summer institute for educators July 28-31, 2008 at the Radisson Hotel in Manchester, NH. In addition to four days full of computer-rich learning adventures for creative educators, Constructing Modern Knowledge features amazing guest speakers, a BBQ at a minor league baseball game and a night on the town in nearby Boston.

Since knowledge is a consequence of experience, Constructing Modern Knowledge, is designed to create a context for remarkable learning experiences. Instead of spending a conference listening to an endless series of speakers, Constructing Modern Knowledge, enables participants to spend time interacting with educational pioneers and colleagues from around the world.

Please take a few moments to browse the web site and read the bios of our institute faculty. Alfie Kohn is one of education's most provocative speakers and bestselling authors. Bob Tinker and Cynthia Solomon are pioneers who invented some of the educational technology we use every day. Peter Reynolds is a beloved artist, software designer and children's book author. The rest of our team has expertise in creativity, multimedia authoring, student empowerment, programming, robotics and a whole lot more.

Hotel accommodation is affordable and Manchester, NH has one of the most convenient and affordable airports in the United States. Constructing Modern Knowledge is also within a reasonable drive of most cities in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern states.

Don't miss the learning adventure of the year! Space is limited, so register today!

I can't wait to learn with you in Manchester this July 28-31.

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Monday, December 3, 2007

My new DA column is online

My most recent District Administration Magazine column, "Arts for All," is available at The Pulse: Education's Place for Debate.

See you there!

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

That Damn YouTube!

For a decade, new Masters and Doctoral students in educational technology at Pepperdine University have experienced a "learning adventure" I created. Groups of relative strangers with diverse backgrounds, expertise and talents randomly draw a complex robotics challenge out of a hat. They then must design a robot to solve the problem on their sheet, program it in Logo and reflect on the learning experience.

The strength of this "learning adventure" lies in the following elements:
• The improvisational quality of the LEGO materials with which a bug causes you to reflect on your thinking, attempt new strategies and make adjustments while success inspires you to test a larger theory or expand on your invention.

• The activity creates a "level playing field" where despite differences in expertise, few adults are LEGO robotics champions.

• The activity is wildly interdisciplinary.

• The activity requires students to engage in math, science, engineering and computer science in a playful context.

• This is no mere "team building" activity. Collaboration is natural within the context of learning and constructing something of common value.

• Members of the community may learn from one another and achieve great results even when multiple projects are underway. In other words, it is NOT necessary for every student to be engaged in exactly the same task for the capacity of the community to grow.

• Students' eyes are opened to the larger potential of computers as intellectual laboratory and vehicles for self-expression.

For several years, students were required to videotape key moments of the invention process, edit the video and include it, along with a reflective journal of their learning process on the web. In other words, mid-career professionals could learn to engineer a robot, program it, shoot video, edit video, upload it to the web and create a web site complete with a reflective narrative, digital photographs and video clips - all in approximately 10 contact hours WITHOUT BEING TAUGHT.

How could that be? It's taken some schools 25 years to get teachers to check their email.

I'm developing a pedagogical theory to describe my work with children and adults in contexts like the robotics challenge. I call it, "A Good Prompt is Worth 1,000 Words."

That means that with:

1) A good challenge (ideally self-selected but in this case provided at random in the interest of time)

2) Substantial materials (not only bountiful in quantity, but possessing the quality of "objects-to-think-with)

3) Sufficient time (Stay up all night if necessary. Work again tomorrow...)

4) A supportive culture free of coercion, sorting, labeling and judging

It is possible to solve problems and do work of higher caliber or level of sophistication than you might otherwise have thought possible.

Every single person who has ever worked with me in such a context has collaborated to solve the problems in a way they can be proud of. That goes for five year-olds and 50 year-old doctoral students.

That Damn YouTube
I am reluctant to share examples of past student projects with current students for any number of reasons. Some students freak out and are overwhelmed. Some think the task is beneath them. Others might take steps to seek a competitive advantage and worst of all, "finished" projects from the past imply a correct answer or strategy. This limits creativity, divergent thinking and reduces the learning benefits of the activity.

I led a group of new Pepperdine doctoral students through the random robotics challenge today and something new occurred. Student teams had been given their randomly-chosen prompts (challenges) a few days ago so they could start thinking about execution strategies. During that time, a number of students searched YouTube for finished examples of such LEGO robotics projects. Remarkably, such video clips exist. This (mis)led several teams into thinking that they had "the correct answer" and may have dimished the richness of the learning adventure.

I don not consider this cheating. I encourage students to use any resources that help them learn. My world is open-book. They may just be cheating themselves.

Just because one solution is on YouTube hardly means that it's the best solution, but school conditions us to get done quickly and have THE right answer.

The Good News

This class of mid-career professional students solved complex robotics engineering and programming projects in just a few hours with no direct instruction. I didn't use a white board, black board or projector once. I did a 5-minute intro to the materials, answered questions, collaborated in brainstorming sessions on a team-by-team basis and suggested they ask other teams for assistance once those teams learned to solve similar problems.

One team even used YouTube in a personally meaningful way. They published a video of their magnificent invention. I just hope that the next class that comes along doesn't think that their solution is THE right answer!

My collection of LEGO challenges
Useful LEGO robotics reference materials
A small selection of videoclips from past student projects
A paper in which I explain the theory behind "learning adventures" and how I teach online - Towards a Pedagogy of Online Constructionist Learning

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