Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Keep Moving Forward...

... from the movie CastAway, taken in the rLab, 2011.
Sometimes in order to think about moving forward... you have to look back.

In January (2013), just before exams, and right before I was about to leave on the semester-long sabbatical I was awarded by peers, I learned the work in the entire department, including the rLab, was going to shift to a heavily (web) scripted course curriculum format and workflow. "Scripted learning" it was called.

... a January 9th introduction at the department meeting, with a January 11th deadline for new course descriptions. No debate. No discussion. Done deal.

Course topics would be taught in a 'Blended Learning' environment, four subjects in the same room - which we'd always done in the Lab, and would be focused on a more traditional introduction to 'Design Thinking,' and then choice solely within four topics: Robotics, Animation, Interior and Architectural Design, and eDesign. 'Solely' was the hard part to digest. No more student choice to explore their own passions.

The new script went further. Each student would be required to input their work into a standardized school issued e-portfolio (template) to document their learning. Each exploration thread would be self-paced and may potentially lead someday to some individual projects, but just as an extension of those defined threads.

Topic choice beyond those defined areas would no longer be possible. Major project threads like our class inquiries into the impact of technology on the news, healthcare, and education would no longer be possible. 

Standardized portfolios... would replace real web publishing that involved student choice and design, web scripted chronology instead of 'messy learning,' limited topics instead of student choice and making community connections… it wasn't settling well.

For a variety of reasons I was unsettled when I heard the late news and I pondered it heavily through my sabbatical travels in the Spring semester. It was a peculiar and painful way, just before leaving to find all this out. No discussion. Done deal. Mainly, inviting student inquiry into the 'educational process' was always a goal. Under the new structure in place... it no longer would be possible.

I always felt delving into these three project threads and then student choice led to much deeper explorations of 'digital citizenship,' and promoted students taking ownership of their education. Creating chances for students to experiment with their goals... is important. Otherwise, I've always felt, we're asking them to mispredict their futures. The explorations were often challenging to traditional school structures, and it was a shame to see these explorative threads and the flexibility disappear.

So, over the last six months I felt the need to step back and look at how the rLab had evolved. I talked to many students, alumni, parents, project community consultants, and just over 40 folks from other schools who visited us in the Lab over the years about our work here in the rLab. It's been great to hear that the work we've done has had a wide scope of influence over the last eight years.

Here's a view below under the rLab (aka Tech Research) hood. 

Work in the Lab over these eight + years was individualized toward the needs of each student on how they approach learning at this time in their lives, and how that vision can evolve into the future. We used technology itself as a lens to explore the world, their place in it, and the goals of learning how to learn, or as I often said to students on the Lab, to "find out what makes you tick."

We explored three large topics to introduce 'project based education': How technology has impacted the news, healthcare, and education. There's some soul searching involved in those topics, and potential for great philosophical and ethical debates - all relevant to the world now and into the future. Students were actively encouraged and prompted to debate these topics with their families and in class with each other. Along the way, we built up folks research and collaboration skills, proficiencies in the tools we used, and presentation and public speaking skills. 

We had a series of smaller projects: impromptu research and presentation projects: pick a subject out of a box, have three minutes to research, and then conjure a presentation! Students added topics to the suggestion box... and it was always entertaining. We mixed it up... presenting to the full class and to small groups.

Students were then asked to choose their own projects to explore. That's where things got interesting.

Topic choice is a healthy practice and I've always thought it's one too rarely explored, especially in high schools. Students are often conditioned in traditional models in education to be great at being told what to do and how to do it. The rLab courses were placed philosophically and very intentionally far on the other side of that more traditional educational spectrum.

Students did over 1000 projects here in eight years, covering an incredibly diverse array of topics. Focusing efforts on topic choice led to 55% female enrollment in 'tech classes' here in the Lab. We archived all the projects and the growth, struggles, and contacts within them. If students chose a topic of study that had been done before they could use the work of their peers to move further. Seeing and hearing about the struggles other peers had in learning can pretty powerful. 

As these tools constantly increase our ability to communicate, then we must work on increasing collaboration and communication skills. Students were also asked to connect via social media in the field of study and with with community consultants as part of their projects, professionals outside the school, who could help drive all this learning forward. Over 1000 professionals outside the school became mentors.

This was all the basis of inquiries into cognitive psychology (the 'isms') for students to discover what type of learner they are, and then how you use these tools at hand and resources available to carve a path into the future.

We explored and debated Gardner- Multiple Intelligences; Bruner- Spiral Curriculum; Reggio Emilia Children early childhood education - art focus, hands-on, and inquiry based; Science Leadership Academy - Assessment and PBL; High Tech High - PBL; Bolman and Deal - Project Management; (and) MIT OpenCourseWare - Archiving and shared knowledge philosophies were all huge influences explored in this the rLab discourse.

Assessing so many individual projects and students individualized growth curves within them was a chore... but I got pretty good at it. Each student was challenged individually to make strides in their self-motiviation, how they learned and approached their work. 

For many students it was the first time they pursued something they were interested in. It was the first time many had not been told specifically 'what to do.' For some, learning how to learn and why they felt the way they do about education was the most important mission and ultimately the most rewarding. There's a phrase that floats out there I've always liked... "good learning is messy." I agree. Inquiry based learning is most often the focus outside of school, and it takes practice.

Often as part of our inquiry into how technology is impacting education, discussions led to proposals which led to some great educational growth here at this school and many others. The Lab work also played an important part on the philosophical growth at the school to be much more student centric. That work we posted has helped many other schools along that have visited.

Inviting student inquiry (like this Student for a Day class project (which was viewed, as of this posting, over 10,000 times and featured in many other blogs and journals like Dangerously Irrelevant, and MindShift) into the educational process can be a challenge to traditional school structures... and also to perceptions on how they impact student learning. I've always felt that debate essential to avoid stagnation or the train ride of 'business as usual.'

The BG Light
We hosted 49 visitors in the Lab from other schools. It was great to hear that many visitors have built upon our assignments, proposals, and spirit of inquiry to make shifts at their own schools. Making the work enduring and having an impact on other schools in this fashion is something I'm proud students here were a part of.

When my sabbatical trip came to a close in mid-August, I did settle in for a bit to build curriculum in the scripted formats the subject tracks that had been chosen. Basically nothing had been done while I was away over the Spring and Summer. I'd mentored so many student projects in those subjects over the last eight years and made incredible community connections therein... so it'd be pretty easy to script out five tracks. 

But, it all wasn't sitting right for me. I felt the need to continue lobbying for student topic choice in their education, promoting flexibility with the school schedule (and getting students involved in that discussion), and the multidisciplinary work that can spin with it. I wanted to pursue even more discussions on shifts schools can make to open up individual and community learning opportunities.

So when a late offer came up to do just that, and after some soul searching, I decided it was officially time I moved on. I took a position at Burlington High School and District in Vermont in Technology Integration and to participate in the Partnership for Change Initiative.

Hey, I have to do something with all that sabbatical research, right? ; )

We'll see where it all leads.

My sincere thanks to the incredible students I've worked with here, so many peers, the project consultants - the experts called on by the students in their project work, visitors to the Lab, the incredibly supportive communities, and to the school here at Burr and Burton itself. I'm truly privileged to carry so many lasting friendships into the future.

It likely wraps up over 20 years as a head coach in High School Baseball as well, the last six years here at Burr and Burton. Assembling the help of many, we helped rebuild the youth programs in the town, repaired the relationship between the school and the town toward upkeep of the shared facility, built new training infrastructure, grinded out he most wins in school history over a six year period - so I'm told, and evolved into making the State finals three times in the last six years. Build, baby, build ; ) I had a lot of fun doing it.

(coaching update added here in 2014)

rLab (II) 8/2005 - 8/2013

I like this picture of the rLab above... a little rough around the edges, minimalist, student designed diverse work spaces... truly a self-organizing system that constantly evolved based on student feedback and design (as it's always said on the top of the blog here since we started). 

We made the whole process transparent day-to-day here on this blog over eight years and readily gave the assignments, rubrics, and scaffolding away to many. I'll continue to do so as people request materials. It's been amazing to see how many people and schools have visited this lab over these eight years and then adopted personalized learning plans, and setup programs based on these ideas. I've lost track of how many schools have told us our class proposals have helped them in their journeys as well. Students publishing real work to a live audience… we win. 

It's tough to close up shop sometimes... but it's also exciting. 

If I always preached "keep moving forward," to students, I guess I had to heed the same advice.

So keep learning, achieve new levels of collaboration, and please do keep in touch. I'm easy to find on the web ; ) 

I always did love the iconic sign-off from the late CBS News Anchor Walter Cronkite. I always felt it was a fitting way to end the day that now moves into history...

"And that's the way it is," the close of my role in the rLab at BBA, Friday August, 23rd, 2013...

Thanks for tuning in.

Adam (hereafter at creativeStir.blogspot.com)


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