Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Book Cover Image

I chose this picture because some of those that actually do disrupt class end up in the same situation as the young man in this picture.

Everyone Loves Jello! book cover image

The brick and mortar school, as represented by the stapler, is in a state of flux. It is The Basics, the select sum of everything we've learned and have been doing. Of late it finds itself in upheaval, a nebulous cloud of tangentially related "improvement" efforts having arrived on the scene. Lots of people like Jello--it tastes good, it changes the way the stapler works, and it's different. Others don't; well-meaning but tradition-bound teachers find it suffocating. The Jello is not interested in fixing the stapler; it only mandates that the stapler define a new agenda.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Super Summary - Section 1

The book begins with a statement that the US is trying to accomplish something no other nation has attempted - to educate EVERY child. The book touts itself as a study of why, in spite of talent and energy brought by many admins and teachers, that our school improve begrudgingly at best.

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.

New Book Cover

I chose this image because it reminds me of how the book initially portrays our schools - old and archaic - like a dinosaur. The book talks about how our schools are rutted in this old-fashioned cookie-cutter way of educating students. But I also see our schools as powerful - like the T-Rex - capable of exerting much influence and power.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Welcome to Literature Circle Twenty-five!

Your Super Summarizer schedule is as follows:

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