Archives For innovation

China Beckons

In about a month, I will be travelling to Beijing and Hanghzou China with Jonathan So  to participate in the 3rd Annual China Elementary Education International Conference.

Jonathan and I were invited by Ann Lieberman through our involvement with the Teacher Learning and Leadership Program. We are very grateful to have been selected and we hope to represent Ontario educators well.

Jonathan and I are guests that represent Ontario Education.  I have been wondering, what makes Ontario’s education system so great? Why do other countries want to know what we are up to?

Education in Ontario is Pretty Great

Did you know that our school system here in Ontario is one of the best in the world?

Did you know that our province has seen a 15% increase in graduation rates and 17% increase in achievement of provincial standards in grade 3 and 6 over the last 10 years? Also, we have closed the achievement gaps between English Language Learners and those students for whom English is their first language.

Not bad.  We still have a lot of work to do, but this is good improvement.

And, we are striving to get even better

For ten years, our education system in Ontario has been improving at a steady rate.  What’s next?

Three words: Inspire, innovate, transform.

In April 2014, the Ministry of Education released Achieving Excellence: A Renewed Vision for Education in Ontario.

The overall mission is to see success and well-being for every learner from early child care through to adult. Schools should build “knowledge, skills, characteristics” to help learners become “personally successful, economically productive and actively engaged citizens.”

The province of Ontario has 4 clear goals:

  • achieving excellence
  • ensuring equity
  • promoting well-being
  • enhancing public confidence

There is a big emphasis on technology for actualizing these goals, especially when it comes to the achieving excellence goal. Below you can see the very first point in the action plan for achieving excellence is to invest in technology.

Ontario has a renewed vision for education.  These goals will be measured and yes, EQAO data is part of the picture.  I am cheerful to see from the Achieving Excellence document that there will be a broader focus on gathering data beyond reading, writing and math (through EQAO).  There is a a fresh feeling of change and think I see that the government will be looking at broader indicators of success.

Inspire. Innovate. Transform.  Focus on excellence, equity, wellness and engaging parents and the broader community.

There are some ideas that I just keep coming back to.  Innovation is one of those ideas. I hear it everywhere, and I think people confuse it with improvement.  Andy Hargreaves spoke about the tension between innovation and improvement and asks the question:

What kind of horse are you?

I recommend watching from 29:10-35:02

He presents a similar matrix to the one I have here:

If you are not improving or innovating, you’re a dead horse.

If you are only improving, you are a race horse.

If you are only innovating, you are a unicorn or pegasus. You are a mythical creature that does not exist.

If you are improving and innovating, you are the iron horse. You have horsepower, but are no longer a horse. You are something greater and more impressive than any other horse.

Andy goes on to point fingers at which education systems are which horse:

  • The dead horse:  USA (although things are looking up)
  • The race horse: Ontario
  • The Unicorn and Winged Horse: Superficial use of Technology (that’s us #edtech)
  • The iron horse:  We don’t know yet.  Will it be Ontario?

Do you agree? Where would you put Ontario’s education system on the innovation/improvement horse matrix?

Could the Iron Horse of Education Change be here?

I think educators and leaders in education ought to remember that innovation is a priority, even when things are tough.  Innovation is not dessert, that thing you get to have when you are done improving.  It’s essential to do simultaneously alongside of improvement.

And a note to my #edtech friends –  don’t be the unicorn.  Innovate and improve or else you are a magical creature that doesn’t really exist.

Note: This blog was revised thanks to Dr. Marc Joanisse who gave me some great feedback about the graphic.

Who is innovating?

Don Wettrick (Google+, Twitter, YouTube) is a high school teacher on a mission and has spawned the Innovations class. He is getting kids to hack their education and he’s getting some high profile thinkers to act as mentors. I spoke with Don about his hacker class and this is my distillation of our high energy, fast paced, intense conversation about hacking and hands on learning with teens.

What is the Innovations Class?

Don is reaching out for opportunities and helping his learners find and develop their entrepreneurial spirit. The Innovation course is by application only and spans 9 months of the school year. His current class has 9 enrolled students and 3 auditors. He admits that scheduling has been a challenge and some students have selected to audit the course without academic credit as a work around for joining the class when it really didn’t fit their schedule. I call that hack one! Below is a video created by students demonstrating one project from the class:

The secret ingredients are mentorship and sponsorship.

Hack two is that Don has realized what many are missing in the conversations about hack education: the need for mentors and sponsorship.  I do not mean sponsorship in the NASCAR sense, I mean in the learning sense. We both realize that the social aspects of learning are still paramount to success and he is executing this point. Don is helping his students find mentors and sponsors to deepen understanding, broaden their reach and participate in what David Weinberger calls networked knowledge. Don Wettrick is not a name dropper, so it took a little bit for him to spill the beans on the big wigs he’s brought to his school. Have you heard of Ryan Porter? (No, I hadn’t either, but if you are a screenager, your answer would likely be different). But, I know you have heard about Daniel Pink, right? The YouTube interview can be viewed here. He admits that some mentors provide a “one-and-done” experience, which is fair, Mr. Pink has other things to do.  Don points out that the real value is having kids reach out and build rapport with their own mentors instead of having teachers fanboy and fangirl out on their own thought-leader-superheroes.

Who wins? Who loses?

How are students responding to the elective Innovation class? Okay, quick pause: predict what student profile would do the best in this classroom.  Who might demonstrate the greatest success in the Innovation class? Picture the student in your mind including their grade point average, work ethic, organizational skills and so on.  I will provide Don’s observations in 3 seconds:

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

Answer: Students who are comfortable with freedom, openness and uncertainty did best. Don observes that students chasing high grades are the lowest achieving in his class. They apparently struggle in the absence of a syllabus and assignments.  I wonder if this is because these students are good at school and bad at learning? He also notes that students who are not motivated and who appear apathetic get overwhelmed very quickly.  Having freedom to exercise your own creative spirit is a scary thing and requires some scaffolding. I wonder if the profile of the successful student will change over time as more students develop problem solving, networking, collaboration and HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around and geeking out) skills.

Hands on Learning: What does this look like in the classroom?

There is a structure to his class to support his learners. The innovation cycle begins on Mondays as Don drops the inspirational bait or bomb to get the thinking moving. He tracks trends online via Forbes, You Tube, Twitter, and Stumble Upon. The students latch on to ideas and the class moves forward from there. The Next step is to research and find mentors. Students share their research on the topic followed by a day to themselves to let the ideas congeal. Friday is the day of reflection and blogging and wraps up a week of innovation.

Who else is an educational hacker?

Since speaking with Don Wettrick I have also found others that are offering hacks within their schools. David Preston is hacking the curriculum at his high school too. Howard Rheingold interviews Dr. Preston below and DML has written this blog post.

So what? Now what?

So, somewhere between kindergarten and a post doc, learners are asking their own questions.

Now, how do we hack mainstream and required high school courses? How do we hack elementary school? Passion projects, genius hour, problem based learning, gaming, gamification, hack the classroom? Should we hack the classroom? Why would we want to do such a thing?

Why? Because there should be more than two sweet spots (K and PhD) in education where a learner’s wonderings are taken seriously.