Thursday, December 16, 2010
The book speaks of a "groundswell" among politicians and policy makers for universal prekindergarten as a means to boost chances of children who would otherwise be unprepared for school. It mentions three areas to target: the creating an intellectual capacity, cultivating a strong positive self-esteem, and stimulating intellectual curiosity. When 98% of our educational dollars are spent after the all-important early years when basic intellectual capacities have been determined, it seems we could allocate at least some funds to this segment of our population. In the long run I think it would benefit us as teachers because if students do well early in school, they are more likely to do well when they get to us.
We have always had "Head Start" and similar programs, but maybe we need to direct even more dollars at this "problem." As more and more parents go to work earlier and earlier in their child's developmental years and therefore have less and less to do w/their kids, how can we not afford this? To me it is just another unfortunate step away from the family as the core of our society, but we need to address this issue. As I'm sure all of you will agree, I see more and more students less prepared to succeed in my classroom. Whatever we can do to stem this pattern would be money well-spent in my opinion!
Thursday, November 18, 2010
Christensen claims that enrollment in online courses in our public schools has increased from 45,000 in 2000 to over a million today. He cites the increase is caused by online offerings in the areas of AP courses, credit recovery, specialized courses, home schooling, and students in rural and urban schools how aren’t offered a wide range of curricular choices. Credit Recovery is certainly front and center in South Dakota after the Activities Association made it a possibility for athletes to become eligible after failing a course.
Christensen states (p. 93) “Computer based learning is a welcome solution when the alternative is to forgo learning the subject altogether.” This is true when declining enrollment or a dwindling budget requires a school to cut electives.
The chapter focuses on a two part proposition in the first part, computer based learning, and growth is dependent by software cost and software’s inability to adapt to a student’s intelligence type and learning style. The second part, student centric technology, is where software is created that creates individualized learning for each student. Software would take into account how a student learns and their level of intelligence. This sounds great but I’m somewhat skeptical that it can take the place of the teacher or personal tutor.
On page 105, Christensen describes the future of the classroom. He takes us to a Chemistry classroom in the future where students complete their lab assignment in a virtual chemlab with 150,000 students seated at computer terminals across the country. Again, he cites that this may not be optimal, but it is better than the alternative of having nothing at all.
The chapter concludes with a discussion on the future of assessment. He compared the assembly lines found at Chrysler and Toyota production plants. The point of this was to show that at Toyota, you were not allowed be trained on step two until you had mastered step one. This was not true of Chrysler. The purpose of this was to show the similarities found in education’s traditional form of assessment which allowed students to move on to the next chapter after failing the current one. Online courses commonly will not allow the student to move on without having mastered what they are currently working on. Again, I believe most teachers would choose to use the kind of assessment but due to class size and required standards it may not be possible.
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Chapter Two starts out with the assertion that schools actually ARE improving, moving up the vertical axis of their industry. However, schools have endure significant disruptive events—the Nation at Risk report and NCLB—that have changed the way they are judged, and has made them look less than stellar.
Then the book starts getting into its main thrust of expertise: disruptive innovation theory. While somewhat complex, here’s a quick summary of the key points:
· Companies are constantly innovating, but most of these changes can be described as sustaining innovations because they sustain performance improvements in established markets (faster computers, more fuel-efficient airplanes, longer lasting batteries, etc.). While there are dramatic breakthroughs, most are routine.
· Disruptive innovations are different because they disrupt the “established plane of competition” by reaching a new market which previously held “non-consumers”.
· Disruptive innovations are actually inferior in quality—at least at first—but it doesn’t matter because they satisfy the need of the new market. One prominent example is the personal computer, which was originally marketed as a toy (remember the early Apples?) to children.
· Eventually, the product or service improves to a point where it eventually replaces the established ones, the way microcomputers displaced mainframe minicomputers.
· Established companies and products are usually unable to stop this because they have too much invested in the way they do things.
They attempt to apply this theory to schools, again reiterating that schools have been improving over the years despite various hardships. Schools have been asked to do the equivalent of rebuilding an aircraft in mid-flight: to adjust to changing metrics, then to improve on each new measure. These essentially became “new” jobs to do, tasks that the public school system in its existing paradigm was never designed to undertake. The authors outlined, as a means of providing historical context, the jobs that schools have been assigned over the years.
· Job 1: Preserve Democracy and Inculcate Democratic Values—from the inception of our country to the mid-late 1800s
· Job 2: Provide Something Different for Every Student—disruptive events such as industrialization, promotion of high school, the cold war and the space race—through 1960’s
· Job 3: Keeping America Competitive—a shift began, underscored by the belief (for the first time) that our schools weren’t doing well enough.
· Job 4: Eliminate Poverty—NCLB and ensuring that every child in every demographic improves his or her scores.
Clearly the job of education has become harder to do. But based on this history, the authors assert that schools have been consistently improving and are motivated to improve their outcomes.
Chapter three outlines the reasons why our attempts at employing technology in education have largely met with little improvement in achievement. The authors utilized examples from several different private industries to show that “unless top managers actively manage this (innovative) process, their organization will shape every disruptive innovation into a sustaining innovation—one that fits the processes, values, and economic model of the existing business…” In other words, we shape change to our existing purposes because we naturally choose to not disrupt ourselves.
Schools invested heavily in computers because they saw industry do it. We crammed our classrooms with them. Many students, however, report using them infrequently. Even when they are used a lot, are used as a tool, rather than as a primary instructional mechanism that helps them learn in ways that are customized to their type of intelligence. (Ref. Gardner, ch1) Traditional practices have not evolved despite the presence of computers.
At the end of the chapter, the authors make a strong case that successful disruptive innovation can only take place when it competes against “non-consumption.” Take, for example, if the earliest recorded music (victrola, phonograph records) had competed against actual live music. It never would have thrived or developed. In the same way, simply “cramming” computers into classrooms to be utilized in the same way as traditional instruction doesn’t fly.
If deployed “disruptively”, computers could “bit by bit change the way learning takes place in schools” and can transform the classroom into places where “all students can learn in the ways their individual minds are wired to learn.”
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
Monday, October 25, 2010
In the introduction, the book lays out 4 aspirations of education:
1) Maximize human potential
2) Facilitate a vibrant, participative democracy
3) Hone the skills, capabilities, and attitudes that will help our economy
4) Nurture a philosophy that differences merit respect (not persecution)
The author then goes on to discuss various popular theories on why our schools are struggling (among them: lack of funding, not enough computers, poor student/parent support, etc.) but also serves up some examples and/or statistics that offer proof that counters each excuse. There are always exceptions to the rule, therefore each excuse is only part of the problem. In the end, the author summarizes that to improve education in America, we must look for the fundamental root causes of the struggles in our educational system. To do so, they choose to stand outside and look within to foster innovative change.
The book then discusses the two forms of motivation - extrinsic and intrinsic. Christensen talks about the lack of much extrinsic motivation in modern US society. He compares this to the pattern observed in Japan. After World War II, Japan was "in the ashes". Students studied math and engineering as a means to escape the poverty all around them (extrinsic motivation). As Japan passed the US in manufacturing they settled into good paying jobs and families became comfortable. Their children studied more "noble" causes (intrinsic motivation) and now the Chinese are moving past as they strive to climb their economic ladders. The point he illustrates here is that schools should be an intrinsically motivating experience and it is currently NOT this way. The stated purpose of his book is to look at resolving this problem.
In the Chapter 1 preview, Christensen poses the theory that each student learns best in different ways. Therefore, we must customize education to match the way each child learns. He states that we must use a modular, student-centric approach using software as an important delivery method of education. To accomplish this, schools must move away from the monolithic methods of today.
Just prior to Chapter 1, Christensen develops a few characters that will flow in and out of the remainder of the book. The setting is "Randall Circle High School" and the main character is Robert "Rob" James. He is a soccer star that doesn't want to go to chemistry class. Mr. Alvera, his chemistry teacher is what we would call "old school" - has taught it this way for 25 years and it works. Mrs. Alston is the newly hired principle charged with "fixing" the school. Maria Solomon is the Academics Bowl champ and Rob's neighbor and sometimes tutor.
Chapter 1 begins with Rob's struggles in chemistry. Despite pouring over it the night before, he still struggles with the formula for thermodynamic gases. Mr. Alvera has begun the process to report Rob for his academic struggles - something Rob fears - but rationalizes it anyway. Rob has come in for help but just doesn't get it. From Rob's perspective the help is the same as in class - except slower and louder. This vignette ends with Rob's dad arriving home as Rob sits alone and frustrated at the table with his chemistry book. Dad looks at the book, sends Rob to the store for some helium balloons, and demonstrates the formula in action. Rob begins to understand about gases. The father customized the lesson to fit Rob's learning style.
Christensen then introduces us to Howard Gardner's work on multiple intelligences. He begins by comparing the old IQ method to Gardner's view of intelligence. Gardner breaks intelligence into three areas:
1) the ability to solve problems one finds in real life
2) the ability to generate new problems to solve
3) the ability to make something or offer a service values in one's own culture
Gardner defines eight intelligences (with an example of someone who exemplifies each):
Linguist - uses language/words to express complex meaning (Walt Whitman)
Logical-mathematical - calculate, quantify, solve complex math operations (Albert Einstein)
Spatial - 3D thinking, imagery, navigate in space, produce/decode geography information (Frank Lloyd Wright)
Bodily - kinesthetic, manipulate objects and fine-tune physical skills (Michael Jordan)
Musical - distinguish/create using pitch, melody, rhythm, tune (Mozart)
Interpersonal - understand and interact effectively w/other (Mother Teresa)
Intrapersonal - construct accurate self-perception and use this in planning and directing one's life (Sigmund Freud)
Naturalist - observe patterns in nature, ID and classify objects, understand natural and human systems (Rachel Carlson)
Gardner points out that when the educational approach is aligned with one's stronger intelligences, learning becomes intrinsically motivated. For example, Rob and the helium balloon.
The section on Gardner's multiple intelligences ends with the caveat that although we learn best in our preferred areas of strength, there are also other factors that come into play. First, we all have learning preferences that may vary in our 2-3 main intelligence strong areas. Second, we all learn at a different pace. Despite these challenges, the book still points out our current system - we all sit in class for the duration - whether we understand right away or never get it.
Christensen then goes on to discuss interdependence and modularity. This section in very mush rooted in the business world with the intent of applying it to our schools. He begins by stating that all products and services have an architecture or design. This includes what the parts are and how the parts interact. All products or services have an "interface" where the parts or people must fit together. There are two possible designs: interdependent and modular. The author gives the Model-T Ford factory as an example of an interdependent design. The steel that Henry Ford received varied and cause problems with the production of the car. He could not control the steel he bought, so he build his own steel plant so that the quality of the steel would work in his factory. This was an expensive fix. A modular design would be a lamp. Within this product a module is the light bulb. Although the bulb fits into a standard socket size, the light bulb itself can be improved upon and still work within the system.
In an example that better related to education, Christensen looks at the early Apple and Dell computers. Apple computers was a proprietary company that had all interdependent parts. This was an expensive choice because you had to buy the whole ball of wax, so to speak, and the computer did not have many options. On the other hand, Dell simply used components that it bought from various manufacturers and installed them in whatever configuration the customer wanted - all at a cheaper price!
Chapter 1 concludes with applying the lessons of multiple intelligence and interdependent versus modular systems to the world of education. In the section "Standardized Teaching versus Customized Learning" he points out that our school are highly interdependent systems. In our schools teacher training, curriculum design, student grouping, and building lay-out are all interdependent variables. Customization within this system in EXPENSIVE. For example, special education laws have dictated customization (IEP's) and this is costly. To educate a special education student, a Rhode Island school district averaged $22,893 per special education student. Regular educations students averaged $9,269 to educate for one year. Christensen argues that as these customized areas eat up disproportionate pieces of budgets, schools are forced to standardize even more to best educate everyone else.
Christensen looks to the past to offer a ray of hope. He reminds us that in the early 1800's our one-room schools were highly customized places of learning. The teacher would offer individualized instruction plans that were modified to meet the students needs throughout the year. However, in the late 1800's we began educating larger numbers of students and we standardized to meet this rapid growth. Christensen puts forth that today education has evolved into "educational cliques" where curriculum developers pair with teachers that favor that book's intelligence strength and they attract students that learn best in that intelligence mode. All to the exclusion of others that learn better in another area of intelligence.
The chapter ends on a point of hope. At one end of the spectrum is our current monolithic batch system and on the other end is the student-centric model. Christensen again brings up computer-based learning as a disruptive force and promising opportunity to customize the education we offer in our schools. With this tool, we can better match intelligence types in the places and paces students prefer by using technology to combine content in customizable sequences. Christensen concludes by pointing out that schools have met the public's demands in the past and that we must take the right steps forward to meet this new demand to reform education.
Saturday, October 23, 2010
Section One--Due October 28, John Britt
Section Two--Due November 4, Bryon Christian
Section Three--Due November 11, Todd Satter
Section Four--Due November 18, TBA
Section Five--Due December 2, Shawn Krush
Section Six--Due December 9, TBA