Back in the day, before the dawn of the Internet, we looked to our teachers for the answers. We learned via a repeating cycle of lecturing, note-taking, and testing.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
With the Internet, however, everyone has the potential to become a content expert--to access the knowledge that was previously "kept" by our teachers.
With that said, it's time to shift our instructional delivery from "I give, you get" to "I ask, you explore, discover, try, fail, try again, and succeed. Inquiry-Based Learning helps us educators reach learners in the Digital Age.
Next time you feel like telling, try asking instead.
Want to learn more about Inquiry-Based Learning? Start here.
The following is a true story.
As I drove him from school yesterday, my 16 year-old sheepishly announced, "I got a 40% on my test in _______." [Course name deleted to protect the innocent.]
After I corrected my almost-swerve into oncoming traffic, I regained my composure and inquired in a calm voice that masked my inner panic, "How did that happen?"
He responded, "Don't be mad. I got the highest grade in the class!"
I corrected yet another swerve.
He volunteered, "The class average right now is a D."
I gritted my teeth: "There's nothing average about an entire class of students underachieving."
He attempted to assuage me: "Mom, it's okay. No one ever gets an A. Or a B."
I explained, "Maybe it's just me, kiddo, but I don't think that's okay. How is is okay for an entire class of students to be failing? How does the teacher know you're all learning? Because the test would indicate that very few of you can show what you know."
He sighed, "Mom, please don't start with the teacher talk."
So I stopped. And not only because my sons get bored with all my educational reform proselytizing. It's because I think it's totally uncool for me to call out my kids' teachers in front of them. I don't like being all Judge Judy on other educators.
While my son put in his earbuds and tuned me out, I couldn't tune out my brain.
I'm not calling out my son's teacher here; he's not the only one.
I was that teacher. I was renowned for being the toughest grader in the high school English department, and I wore it like a badge of honor. An A was earned in my class--not granted. I believed I was preparing my students for the rigor of college by putting these obstacles in their way.
Doesn't that almost sound like I was setting them up to fail? Wasn't I establishing almost insurmountable odds? How was I doing my job? What were they learning?
We have to meet our learners where they are.
What would happen if a doctor prescribed all of his patients the exact same drug for completely different illnesses? Maybe a minority of the patients will improve--but the majority of them will never, ever recover. Their sickness will continue. And the doctor would be guilty of medical malpractice.
We have to meet our learners where they are. We really have to. And that means making sure we're doing our very, very best to reach the needs of each learner. We can do this when we give daily ungraded formatives (exit tickets in Google Forms, reflections in Flipgrid, or 3-2-1 checks in Edpuzzle). We can do this when we differentiate assignments in Google Classroom based on student needs. We can do this when we offer choice menus. Like good doctors, we should diagnose what each of our patients need--instead of writing them all the same prescription.
Teaching does not equal learning. Let's not be guilty of educational malpractice.
My friend posted the following to Facebook a few months back:
I didn't comment, as I have a semi-serious case of notification-itis. (I get itchy and inflamed from seeing my notification count exceed single digits.) But that didn't stop me from being totally amused waiting on the comment thread. As you can imagine, comments ran the gamut from disgust with "these kids today," to the "give him a break" pleas that could only originate from a mom.
Had I commented, I would have asked,
In my work, I get a fair amount of complaints from Boomers and Gen Xers about Millennials and Generation Z--who are unfairly characterized as screen-obsessed zombies with zero discernible life skills. But I love GenZ, and how bravely they navigate the digital universe. And frankly, how much longer is snail mail going to be a thing, anyway?
image courtesy of Picture Quotes
I've been using QR codes in the classroom for years. They make learning visible and three-dimensional. More importantly, when used properly, they provide a voice for students--something we really need more of in digital learning.
Did you know that with Flipgrid, you can add QR codes to student videos?
I don't have a clue how I acquired this image.
But it's powerful, isn't it? It's reminiscent of Bloom's Taxonomy--but unlike Bloom's--this visual allows us to focus on learning from a student perspective as opposed to focusing on instruction from a teacher's perspective.
And what also astounds me is how clearly this image delineates how traditional forms of instruction don't do a whole lot in terms of being effective for our students. I wonder, are they even effective for us any longer?
In any case, John Hattie's research on feedback is more convincing than anything I could write here. But if you're looking to up your feedback game, I fully recommend you start here.
What are your thoughts on this graphic?
I'm a visual learner. I need to see information to learn it.
It makes sense, then, given that we live in a digital age, that our students are primarily visual learners as well. With that in mind, you and your students should check out this site--What's Going On In This Graph? --from the Learning Network of the New York Times.
It would be fun as a class to postulate on the story of the displayed data. There's always a good story behind the data. (Critical thinking--yay!) To help students begin their exploration, the NYT provides guided questions to get students interacting with the numbers. They even take it a step further with a "live moderated conversation" complete with experts in the field and making the convo global. (Communication--yay!)
For example, today's data set explores student loan balances over time. It's not a static data set, either. Students are encouraged to interact with the data and to explore what their potential student loans might look like.
Oh, and by the way, interpreting data and defining visual information is also a skill-set expected of students courtesy of the Common Core:
Stories aren't just found in books. Give data a try.
(Thanks to Rod Stewart for the inspiring title to this post. )
I've been lately embedded with a 4th grade math class, observing and looking for opportunities to integrate technology into daily instruction as this school makes plans to be 1:1 next year.
Today, a true teachable moment presented itself. As students collaborated in the number corner, discussing the concept of time, one kiddo piped up, "What does a.m. & p.m. mean?"
Pausing, the teacher asked, "What do you think it means? Does anyone have a guess?"
"Does it mean 'after midnight' and 'pre-midnight?" another student offered. (Not a bad guess, right?)
At that point the teacher encouraged the kids to look it up when they got home and to share the answer with the class the following day for a bonus buck. There was content to cover, after all, and only so much time to cover it.
I kept my mouth shut. It wasn't my place to jump in and say, "Let's figure it out now!" I was a guest, after all. Still, I knew we were missing a valuable opportunity to model learning in the moment--instead of putting it off until later. I'd bet a paycheck that none of those kids were going to go home and search for the answer. The moment was gone.
Or was it?
I know what a.m. and p.m. mean, and so does my high school senior--who's in his fourth year of Latin. (By choice. I swear.) I didn't want to lose the moment, so I immediately texted my son:
This isn't the first time I've dragged my kids into teaching others. When he was in sixth grade, I coerced Tyler to create an instructional ShowMe to demonstrate to teachers how the app works. My younger son, Robbie, and some of his buddies were "gently guided" into making a collaborative learning website in 7th grade so that I could share with teachers that students could create their own learning materials. And just last month, Tyler co-presented with me at a local edtech conference--and not only wound up leading the session, but stealing the show, too.
I don't bring kids into teaching because I can't teach. I bring them into teaching to prove a point: in the digital age, learners are teachers and teachers are learners. Knowledge acquisition is fluid.
So, knowing that a question left unanswered and unexplored is a lost learning opportunity, and hindered by the fact that Tyler's AP Physics class was more important than my need for him to Facetime the 4th graders, that afternoon we devised an alternative solution and created a short video to share with the kiddos the next day.
And here it is:
Not necessarily professional, and not necessarily polished...but definitely real. And, as it turns out, our audience of fourth-graders enjoyed the heck out of it...and I'll bet a paycheck they'll remember the meanings behind ante meridian and post meridian for a long time to come.
This generation of learners craves digital interaction: they're Facetiming, Snapchatting, Instagramming, Tweeting, and devouring YouTube videos. Why? Not because they're passive recipients, but because they seek to connect in exciting, engaging, and authentic ways.
Let's try to recognize and take advantage of more opportunities for learning to happen in real-time--outside of both our carefully-arranged lesson plans and the four walls of our classrooms.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak with a group of middle school and high school teachers as they address what 1:1 will look like for their district. The driving question of this particular roundtable/workshop was “Why Do We Have to Change the Way We Do Things?” It’s often how I like to start when trying to change hearts and minds--by getting to the reasons that initiate the change in the first place. For me, that starts with trying to understand Generation Z.
I posted the following question to those assembled: “In one word, how would you describe #GenZ?” Here are some of those responses:
As these results appeared on the screen in front of us, lots of laughs and a few smirks followed. I asked my audience why these answers may (or may not) have amused them:
They’re always staring at screens. I used to go out all day and play until it was dark.
They’re always taking selfies and posting them; they’re so self-obsessed.
They think they’re so tech-savvy, but they really don’t know how to use technology.
Totally soft. They wouldn’t be able to change a tire if they got stuck on the side of the road.
Pretty negative, right? I had hoped that the person who labeled GenZ as “teachable” would have spoken up, but (s)he didn't, so I’ll take on that task.
Personally, I’m a huge fan of GenZ. Like an oversized-foam-finger-fan of them.
I love their boldness, their creativity, their intuitive ability to interface with devices placed in front of them, their willingness to connect and interact, their total lack of reluctant self-consciousness. This is a generation who creates their own YouTube channels, who uploads their original music to SoundCloud, who publishes their own ebooks to Amazon Kindle.
They are fearless in their belief that the world is accessible to them. And I admire it.
I think that’s why we as educators are so reluctant (or so resistant) to embrace Generation Z’s “different-ness.” I think we’re the ones with the fear; maybe we’re a teeny bit afraid of them. Perhaps they represent to us what was once a distant future but what is now clearly a very present, well...present. Generation Z doesn't necessarily need us to teach them anymore--at least not in the traditional way. They can find answers without us. They can learn things without us. They can create things without us.
Do we fear our irrelevance? Or do we fear our loss of total control?
If we fear the former, don’t panic. We just need to modify our role. If we fear the latter, well, Buttercup, we’re gonna have to get over that in a major way.
If we’re ready to modify our role, then let’s create teacher-bordered classrooms where the kiddos are allowed to discover learning instead of having it handed to them. If we’re gonna get over it, we’re going to have to get uncomfortable with not completely understanding technology and learning it together with our students.
If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.
Generation Z is historically unlike other. In a word, that’s amazeballs. But are they really so different? My generation (Generation X) triggered our parents with MTV and Walkmans. (Wasn’t that in itself a form of self-involvement and distraction?)
My advice? Embrace the revolution. Let the selfie generation see themselves in their learning.
Have you seen the new Google Pixel 2 commercial? Before you read any further, take a look:
What’s your first impression? Mine is That’s brilliant. But it’s not just the commercial that’s brilliant (although the advertising executive who dreamt it up sure deserves a bonus)--it’s the message:
A question mark changes everything.
As the Google design team makes abundantly clear in this ad, statements are limiting, and placing a period at the end of a sentence indicates finality. No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
But what if?
As we Google fans know (and as the company itself affirms), Google is a company “built on questions.” And as more schools go Google (70+ million G Suite for Education global users), we need to change our mark of punctuation:
We are learning.
We are learning?
Think about our CCSS “I Can” statements--the ones prominently displayed in every classroom to indicate content learned by students. Here’s one for high school biology:
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms. (LS1-4)
How do we know they can?
Well, traditionally, a teacher will prepare slides about mitosis, give lecture notes about mitosis, copy study guides and worksheets about mitosis, assign homework and reading about mitosis, and then finally administer a unit test about mitosis.
No more ideas. No more moving forward. The end. Game over. ‘Nuff said.
(By the way, notice the verbs I used above to describe the traditional learning process: prepare, give, copy, assign, administer. While these aren’t passive verbs--and this former high school English teacher should know!--they certainly designate passivity when it comes to learning. And notice that all the “work” is being done by the teacher. The students will watch the slides, copy the notes, complete the study guides and worksheets, do the homework and reading, and take the test. Check out the verbs I used in that last sentence. See a pattern? Those verbs make a point, and the point is this: If whoever is doing the talking is doing the learning, then we’re doing it wrong.)
A question mark changes everything.
What if we changed that period at the end of a traditional "I Can" statement into a question mark?
I can use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms?
Imagine projecting that question to a class and simply saying, Can you? Imagine allowing them to pursue their own learning, to show, to demonstrate, to create. What if we said, “Figure out a way to show how you can master that standard, whether it’s a screencast, a song, an infographic, a story, an animated Google Slides deck, a carefully-curated assemblage, a playlist...a whatever you can imagine! I’ll be here to guide you, to coach you, to encourage you, to direct you, but I will not do the work for you.” Imagine stepping to the side and allowing them to be active participants and owners of their learning.
I can learn.
I can learn?
Statements finalize possibilities. Questions open them up.
Still not convinced? Think about this for a minute: Google didn’t create the latest in innovative smart phone technology by making statements. Google did it by asking questions.
So why aren’t we?
A question mark changes everything.
Note: To learn more about asking questions to inspire learning, check out inquiry-based learning.
I’m giving you fair warning, buttercup: this is not going to be a warm and fuzzy post. So if you’re a sensitive soul, now’s the time to turn back.
I’ve been sitting on a draft of this post for six months now, hesitating to go public for fear of offending anyone. The content that follows--to borrow from the latest in adolescent vernacular--may ”trigger” you. Or it may inspire you. Maybe it will provoke you to stop following me. Or maybe (hopefully!) it will encourage you to think. Here goes...
Last week, I was working with a teacher during her planning period, brainstorming ways to integrate a specific instructional technology tool into her curriculum. As we collaborated, her veteran partner walked in, took one look at us, and responded, “Oh, no. No more technology for me! Absolutely not.” She promptly turned on her heel and exited.
Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon reaction to my presence in a classroom or a school. While I’m often welcomed with open arms, I’m equally as often treated like Frankenstein’s monster in the village.
I’ve tried to not take it personally. In my best Stuart Smalley voice, I’ve self-talked and mentally declared my worthiness to myself when I sense a reluctant adopter’s discomfort with my presence and with what I represent to her--which is change.
However, like Frankenstein’s monster, I believe I am (or at least my role is) frequently misunderstood. So please allow me this opportunity to clarify: Teachers, I was not put on this earth (or in this job) to torture you, but to instead make learning more engaging and productive for your students.
And promise you: This is not about you. And it’s not about me, either. It’s really, really about the kiddos. My misson is to act as a translator and tour guide into the digital domain--a world in which our students already exist. And a world in which they’d be really, really thrilled to have us join.
So when you get angry at me, or snub me, or tell me things like the following, I tend to take it, well, personally:
I take it personally on behalf of our students. I'm not working against you. I hope to work with you. We’re on the same team. Just like you, I strive to challenge students, to push them, and to inspire them.
Imagine how you might react if students said the following to you:
Listen, I get it. Change is scary. But it’s inevitable. Everything evolves. It’s that simple: every industry, every profession, every thing changes.
When an educator summarily rejects the notion that technology is a necessary part of educating our students, when an educator absolutely refuses to improve his or her own understanding of it, and when educators treat as the enemy the people whose job it is to assist them in making the shift, I have to say--and it pains me to do so--then you’re making it about you.
Again, I’m so very sorry if this post makes anyone uncomfortable. But maybe discomfort isn’t such a bad thing, because it’s only when we step outside our comfort zone that true change occurs. As author and speaker Brene Brown so sagely advises us, “You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.” Of course it’s comfortable to stick with what we know and to do things the way we’ve always done them; however, it’s also incredibly courageous to venture into the unknown.
Yet, in spite of it all, I’m very grateful I get to do the work I do. Because even on my bad days, even when the villagers have chased me into the depths of the forest, I have to remind myself:
It’s not about me. It’s not about you. It’s about them.
Dewey quote from Twitter
Educational consultant + #pedtech coach in Cleveland, Ohio sharing innovative technology ideas for educators.