Sunday, May 27, 2012

Transformative Learning: 3 Examples of Students Engaged in Work that Makes a Difference

 a guest post by Mike Lombardo (@mlombardo99), Principal, Magruder Elementary School, originially posted on his blog at

How do you motivate students within the classroom?  As 21st century educators, we are well aware of the necessity to provide our students with rigorous and engaging learning experiences.  In addition, we know that our students expect to use digital tools in order to access the world and enhance their learning. 

After attending a January 2012 talk by Alan November (@globalearner), I began to reflect on my beliefs related to student engagement and the factors that motivate students to learn.  Alan November suggested that students are motivated when their work makes a difference, they have a sense of ownership, and their work transforms the learning of others.  Daniel Pink (@DanielPink) provides additional clarity to the issue of student engagement and motivation by arguing that student work must have a purpose. 

The following examples showcase transformative learning experiences in which the students were highly motivated due to the design of the work.  In each example, the students’ work made a difference, created a sense of ownership, and added information that aided in the learning of others.  In addition to these critical attributes, the use of digital tools in order to share the students' work beyond the classroom is a common characteristic of each learning activity.

Video of Classroom Procedures
Each fall, teachers begin the year by establishing clear classroom procedures with the students.  The procedures are then reviewed and practiced until the students have a strong understanding of the routines and the classroom is functioning like a well-oiled machine.  In Mrs. Caruso's (@CarusoM1) classroom, this process became a transformative learning experience for her students.  The students created videos for each of the established classroom procedures using Movie Maker.  Within each video, the students enacted the procedure, providing powerful demonstrations of the desired routine.  Creating the videos was a tremendous strategy for reinforcing the procedures for her current students.  However, the learning experience became transformative due to the fact that next year's students will view the videos in order to learn the classroom procedures.  They will of course be charged with creating new videos for the students who will be in Mrs. Caruso's class the following year. 
Long Division Claymation
The long division algorithm provides a daunting challenge to teachers in regards to student engagement and understanding.  Rather than simply practicing the steps involved in the process via rote learning, students in this example created Claymation videos.  Prior to developing the Claymation videos, cooperative groups of students created stories to represent their division problems and bolster understanding of the mathematical concept.  Then, using digital cameras and video editing software, the students created the Claymation products by taking photographs of their clay representations of division problems.  Through the Claymation process, they were able to convert the still photographs into a sequential video and gain a greater understanding of the long division algorithm.  Finally, once their Claymation videos were complete, they were uploaded to the school’s network and YouTube.  In doing so, the products added to the body of information and allowed others to learn from their work. 

Scientific Method Music Video
Utilizing the scientific method is a powerful process for students, providing them with a systematic means of exploring their world and drawing conclusions based on their investigations.  For Mrs. Hodges’ (@Hodgesvj) fourth grade students, the motivation for mastering the scientific method was evident from the moment she proclaimed that the class would be responsible for creating a music video regarding the topic.  The students were immediately able to take ownership of the work as they began planning the video.  Through the production of their music video, the students were able to emphasize critical components of the scientific method such as; making observations, predicting, identifying variables, and drawing conclusions based on data.  In this transformative learning experience, the students realized the profound purpose of the work since the product would be posted on YouTube so that others could learn from their scientific method music video. 

In the aforementioned examples, Alan November and Daniel Pink’s concept of motivation and transformative learning was clearly evident.  In each case, the students were motivated due to the work having purpose beyond a grade or assigned requirement.  The students took great pride in their work, knowing that it would be accessed by others far beyond the classroom.  In addition, the learning activities were transformative by design.  The students' work made a difference, created a sense of ownership, and added information that aided in the learning of others.  In our unwavering efforts to provide students with a world-class education, it is vital to create transformative learning experiences in which our students are motivated, engaged, and able to see the value of their work.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Success Mentality in Difficult Budget Times

Some organizations have adopted a survivor mentality in the face of budget challenges. Their employees, even their leadership, adopt an attitude of just trying to endure, of trying to minimize the damage of declining resources. Think Eeyore of Winnie the Pooh fame.
As leaders, we need to encourage a success mentality instead of a survivor mentality. With a success mentality, we ask ourselves how we can not only maintain but build on our successes, even as resources decline.
To encourage a success mentality, we should celebrate exemplars of this perspective within our organization. In selecting the recipient of our annual Superintendent’s Award last Thursday, I choose Susan Gregory, a Specialist in Transportation Operations, because of her success mentality. Susan’s efforts have played a key role in the work of the Transportation team in improving services even as measures were implemented to save more than $100,000.
Although Susan Gregory has a low-key personality, her success mentality makes her much more of a Tigger than an Eeyore.
Thanks to Jane Galluci, past president of the National School Boards Association, for introducing me to the concept of success and survivor mentalities.
Here is the text of my remarks in announcing the award.
Superintendent’s Award, 2012
During the last several years, staff members in our division have worked to not just sustain excellence, but to build on the excellence of our school division. And they have done so at a time when resources have declined dramatically.
The recipient of this year’s Superintendent’s Award exemplifies the attitude in our division of doing even more with declining resources. Sometimes, in other organizations, when staff members face declining resources they adopt a survivor mentality-an attitude of just trying to endure-of trying to minimize the damage of declining resources. This year’s honoree avoids a survivor mentality and instead displays a success mentality. She asks herself “How can we do an even better job, even as resources decline?
Our honoree skillfully analyzes data to identify the potential for cost savings. Her analysis over the last several years created the foundation for our successful implementation of changes that led to savings of more than $100,000. Were it not for these savings in the area of Operations, we would have had to consider further reductions in other areas, including instruction.
This individual is often called upon to conduct detailed analysis in a short period of time and she responds with a service-oriented attitude. She conducts the analysis of data while juggling her daily job responsibilities. And believe me, she works in a very busy office.
For her insight and initiative in helping us achieve substantial savings in the area of transportation through her analysis of bus routes, and in recognition of her success mentality in the face of fiscal challenges, we honor Susan Gregory as this year’s recipient of the Superintendent’s Award.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Forget Reform-Focus on Transformation

Transform-“a change in nature, character, shape and form”
Reform-“improvement of what is broken or unsatisfactory”
Futurist David Houle praised Virginia Superintendents for their Blueprint for the Future of Public Education, but he encouraged them to replace references to reform with references to transformation. “We need to wreck the social structure of education today-creative destruction,” he emphasized.  The education system, said Houle, is a system out of sync because the pace of change in the education system has not kept up with the rest of society.
We have moved from the Agriculture Age, through the Industrial Age, Information Age, and now into the Shift Age, he observed. The Shift Age involves three forces:
·         Flow to global;
·         Flow to individual (personalization, choice); and
·         Accelerated electronic connectiveness.

Time, distance, and place do not limit communication, observed Houle. The implications of this are significant. While it is reasonable to promote consistent accountability and equity as Virginia moves forward with virtual learning, are we as Superintendents taking enough initiative to destroy the barriers of time, distance, and place in our education system? What can we do to take better advantage of the opportunities for blended and virtual learning within a context of a strong system for public education?

Regardless of the reference to reform, rather than transformation, the Blueprint for Education Reform in Virginia, created by the Superintendents of Virginia sets forth a vision that respects aspects the three forces of the Shift Age.

Related Posts:
ShiftEd Calls for K-12 Transformation (tweets regarding Houle's book)

Side Effects of Standardized Testing

Yong Zhao told Superintendents that the theme of their conference-“Bringing Reason to Reform”-was wishful thinking. Reform is driven by emotion, observed Zhao, as he kicked off the annual conference of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (#VASSConf12).
“Why didn’t China celebrate PISA results?” asked Zhao. Given the success of Chinese students, given China’s obsession with its ranking globally, why was there no celebration? China didn’t celebrate because it is afraid that it will not produce the next Steve Jobs, the next innovative, creative entrepreneur, observed Zhao.
Zhao’s concern regarding the focus on standardized testing is clear. Showing his cheekiness, Zhao quipped that on AYP testing day he keeps his daughter home just to “mess them up”.  He also noted we often ignore the side effects-the unintended consequences-of education reform. You can implement a canned reading program that raises standardized test scores, but, asked Zhao, if it kills a students’ love of reading, what have you achieved? As Zhao put it, “If the Common Core is the cure for college readiness, what are the side effects?”
Some people ask why test scores have declined, states Zhao, but US test scores have been horrible for fifty years. He asks more questions. How is the United States still around? How has its economy been so strong historically, even with the challenges of recent years?
Zhao believes that American education has accidentally produced creativity and entrepreneurship among its students. He credits this to the broad definition of talent and a history of local control and professional autonomy. For details, see his recent blog post.
In the follow-up Q & A session, Zhao advocates a vision for teaching and learning with an emphasis on "product-oriented learning," in which students complete meaningful projects and create work that matters. He believes that a decentralized system is more likely to serve as an environment that features instructional innovation, personalization, and product-oriented learning.
If you agree with Zhao regarding the unintended consequence of an excessive focus on standardized tests, how can you help politicians understand? Returning to Zhao’s comments that education reform is driven by emotion, we have to articulate our vision in ways that appeal to the hopes and dreams of politicians and community members. Personalization. Creativity. Entrepreneurship. Results-oriented. These are themes that can and should be incorporated into a shared vision of how to produce the next Steve Jobs.