For the last four years I have been working with a large group of educators on developing the framework and implementation of Challenge Based Learning. The frame work has been used and is in use around the world with great success. We recently completed a project with 19 schools from around the world that represented all levels from elementary through higher education. The results of the project study completed by the New Media Consortium demonstrated the efficacy of the approach for the acquisition of traditional academic skills and the digital age skills needed to lead us into the 21st century.
What I am really excited about is the work I have been doing with groups to use the frame work (big idea, essential question, challenge, guiding questions, guiding activities, guiding resources, solution, implementation and evaluation) as a tool for organizational change or in the best case transformation. All organizations have challenges and the CBL process provides a perfect framework to thoughtfully consider the challenge and do the work necessary to develop a solid solution.
What challenge is your organization facing?
I am constantly amazed on the shiny objects that the world of education (at least the media) chooses to shine a light on and throw money towards. The most recent is Khan academy. A lot has been written both positively and negatively of this approach to education. Personally, on the educational side I am a bit shocked (ok, and envious) of all the attention and money that has been thrown towards this idea. I line up with some of the voices crying out – “if this is what we are defining as educational innovation we are in deep trouble”. We end up defining math, and learning in general, as independent skills and objects – learn the steps, pass the test, next. Kids can do math but they do not know math. Everyone believing the idea that a database of videos is going to produce world-class education or thinkers is a bit disconcerting. It may be a piece of the puzzle, but it is not the solution.
But, with Khan academy I think there is a more powerful story and lesson that should be shared with students.
Khan Academy is a spectacular example of entrepreneurship and we should use the story as an example to demonstrate that anything is still possible. Even in this bleak time where we are questioning the reality of the American Dream for our children. That idea you think is crazy, or too simple, or too obvious, or too hard to implement – think of Khan Academy and go for it. I mean it does not get much simpler than narrated videos of problems being worked out step by step. Next thing you know you are giving a Ted Talk and Bill Gates is your new best friend.
I truly believe that we need to fill our student’s heads with stories of entrepreneurship, examples where someone thought out of the box, or as with Salman Khan, simply saw a problem and came up with a creative solution using the tools readily available to him. We need to tell our students these stories and then provide them with the time and space to identify challenges, examine them and then develop and implement real solutions. Teach them to think like an entrepreneur, like a designer, like an artist, like a producer. See, think, think some more, create, implement, reflect, repeat. Math should be taught in this context. How can I use math to solve a problem that earns me lots of money and then invest that money in a way that I can help solve problems and make the world a better place for myself, family and community. Now there is a reason to know math.
Yes, Mr. Khan’s video collection is valuable – especially to teach math to parents, who despite our success in life can not remember how to solve linear equations. Maybe that is because we learned how to do math, rather than knowing and loving math . . .
I have been giving a lot of thought to all of the effort to improve schools, measure students and measure teachers. Millions and millions are being thrown at data warehouses, assessment engines, and performance pay programs that reward (or penalize) teachers based on the results. Yet, these expensive systems measure a small part of what makes up a student, like taking a 30 second MRI. And based on this tiny bit of evidence huge, and expensive, decisions will be made. But what if our exam is missing what is really getting in the way of learning because we only really looked at 15% of what makes up a kid. What if we are treating only part of the problem, or missing the point totally. Students are a complex mash up of specific contexts.
Historically the educational system has acknowledged some of these contextual differences but still offered a one size fits all approach. Now we are proclaiming a new era of individualized education utilizing the wonders of technology – but the data driving the decisions is only a sliver of what makes up the child. We must acknowledge the incredible importance of context when “assessing” our students. History, culture, community, economic opportunity, access, aspirations (community, family, student), vision, choices, advocates (or lack there of), etc. I argue that the compilation of these factors, or maybe just one of them has a larger impact on whether a student succeeds in learning and a teacher succeeds in teaching him/her than what we are currently measuring. Now this does not get us off the hook – we should all be held accountable for the success or failure of the children. What it means is that the net must be cast much further both in assessment and accountability. We must define, engage, assess and hold accountable everyone and everything within the universe of that student – not just the student, teacher and school. This is even more important in the historically under performing schools. We have incredible technologies used for national security that measure thousand of variables to assess security risks. How about we bring this same level of sophistication to the assessment and instruction of our children. It may be passe or quaint – but maybe it really does take a village to assess, evaluate and assist our students – especially those that are the most vulnerable.
Looking to extend education beyond the walls of the school? Want to make a difference rather than creating another standards based assignment that has no relevance or long term meaning? Tired of setting up contrived projects and being responsible for every moment of learning in your classrooms? Ready to put your students to work to make a change in their community? Go directly to Challenge Based Learning! This bold approach pioneered by a national group of educators, with support from the innovative education team within Apple, is built on the foundation ACOT2 and Project Based Learning creating an education model that can fundamentally change the business of education. Take Action and Make a Difference.
Another semester has been put into the books, and I wonder how much was really learned in schools across the country, and if there was learning was it meaningful and lasting. I am amazed at how much I do not remember about my schooling, and I had a lot of schooling. Every year more and more of the details fade and I am less able to remember all of those facts and figures I worked so hard to memorize. Two years of Latin – gone. Two years of Greek – really gone. How to diagram a sentence – are you kidding. What I do remember are the larger themes and stories. I remember the environmental and self reliance lessons my grandmother taught me while touring the mountains of Colorado. I remember the power of family and the tragedy of policy from the stories I experienced on the rez. I remember the stories of incredible resilience of the students I worked with in a boarding school in the mountains of Southern California. So, how can we bring the power of story to the day to day learning in schools. How much in the standards really needs to be learned – does it really lead to success? Or should we build the curriculum around powerful stories and focus on the larger themes of life rather than memorizing the nits. What do you think?
It is all about the story. If there is only one thing you walk away from this site with, that would be the one. Digital technology is great for enhancing and distributing the story but it can not replace a good story. Jason Ohler uses the analogy of a bad guitar player with an even larger amplifier and speakers. It is still bad, just louder. We see a lot of this with powerpoint presentations,the tool has actually made bad presentations worse. And made bad presentors out of a lot of people.
The good news for educators is that digital storytelling is really about good writing – which is easily defensible in this day and age of standards. The frosting on the cake is that being able to create and distribute movies is exciting to students. So if we are sneaky enough we can actually make writing engaging to many students who are adverse to academic work.
I am slowly moving the content over from the old site and adding content from a digital storytelling course I have taught for several years both online and face to face. All the content should be available by the end of the week. If you are looking for something in particular or have some recommendations for what content you would like to see let me know. This will be the format for the digital storytelling content:
Storytelling • What is a story? • Components • What is a Telling?
Digital Stories • Definitions • Examples
Process • Script • Storyboard • Planning
Production • Tools • Tips
Post Production • Digitize/Organize • Editing
Distribution • Reflection
I will also be adding content from a great project I participated in this past year on Challenge Based Learning.
I love Halloween and my kids think I am crazy. I spend nights and weekends for weeks setting up our front yard and creating a haunted house in the back. I drag them into the work and the fun sometimes kicking and screaming. Why this fixation with Halloween? Because it is all about stories. Stories from my youth, some scary and some happy, flood back each October. The stories are full of sites, sounds and smells. The stories are so rich that I can smell the fall leaves on the ground, and a chill in the air, even though I livein Arizona where the grass is green and the temperature is not very chilly. The stories that flood back have simple but powerful messages – being scared brings out a new appreciation of life, friendship is fertile ground for stories and memories, when in possession of a hefty garbage bag of candy moderation is a good virtue, if a dog is chasing you candy is not very important . . . As I pack away my webs, skeletons and body parts the depression sets in but it is tempered by the rich stories that will be with me forever. Next year will be even better . . .