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Parent Choice and School Reform: The Case of the Science Leadership Academy

Parents and Students
Originally uploaded by PGoGS

Meaningful parent involvement requires more than just programming. Some would argue it begs for major school reform.

Mark Holmes, Honourary Patron of the Society for Quality Education and Professor Emeritus at Ontario Institute for Studies in Education lays bare his personal bias on his views of the aims of education while advocating for choice for all parents in his book The Reformation of Canada’s Schools: Breaking the Barriers to Parental Choice. Holmes’ book describes a reformation of Canadian education that would combine area public schools directed by elected parent councils and distributed programs of choice accessible (at least nominally if not geographically possible) by all. School districts would become managers of support infrastructure systems (buildings, human resources, transportation, administrative operations) rather than directors of a particular educational philosopy. Provincial authorities would provide central policies and standards respecting outcomes, student evaluation, funding to schools (not just districts), collective agreements for staff especially teachers, and collection of data to support decision-making by parents and schools.

The Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia PA is a such school of choice that is lauded for its educational and physical design. Parent involvement is key. SLA provides programs for parents that truly engage them. The school’s mission and vision page includes the following: “At the SLA, learning will not be just something that happens from 8:30am to 3:00pm, but a continuous process that expands beyond the four walls of the classroom into every facet of our lives.”

I had the opportunity to dialogue with Chris Lehmann, the principal, in Alec Couros’ graduate class (listen to the recording). Chris doesn’t understand why some schools don’t honour the parents by sharing the rich life of high schools with them. Why not take announcements and email them home? He suggests it is such a simple way to start. At his school, they run social networking sessions just for parents, so that they can participate in the same technologies that their children are using. And they broadcast frequently using ustream.tv (but he does beliee there is a limit to transparency – kids need to have a place to make mistakes. So their Moodle environment has both a walled garden and a public place.) Chris believes that parents have a right to know what is giong on in their children’s lives.

How much is the Science Leadership Academy an example of Holmes’ view on educational reform? Not only is SLA a school of choice, but it also operates under a particular philosophy of education (which despite its self-described progressive curriculum, I would suggest Technocratic-Traditionalist) as evidenced through the three questions in its mission statement: “How do we learn?” “What can we create?” “What does it mean to lead?” Leadership is distributed among parents, teachers and students.

Perhaps there is more to learn from the Science Leadership Academy than just an instructional methodology.

Holmes, M. (1998). The Reformation of Canada’s Schools: Breaking the Barriers to Parental Choice. Montreal & Kingston, McGill-Queen’s University Press.


Storehouses of Stuff

Originally uploaded by mariacecita

I sent a tweet the other day asking for advice on how to capture and track all the great links that come flying across my Twitter Timeline.

@edtechworkshop admonished “I’m sure I will be blasted for this….but I say don’t even try! It’s a sure way to drive yourself nuts.If u need it u can retweet”. And from @kolson29, “i agree w/ @edtechworkshop – don’t try, it’s just too much. take what you can when you can.”

It’s like a mindstorm. As we examine our networks we find they are filled with information, some loosely connected and some literally stranded. So it is nice to come across nodes that are trying to be Storehouses of Stuff, at least where emerging technologies in education are concerned.

A couple that I’m more familiar with I’ll highlight here.

In a current graduate class, EC&I831 with Dr. Alec Couros we have started a wiki Technology for Teaching and Learning where we have been contributing information about tools, ideas, and case studies that we have learned about during our course. The suggested layout for each page is:

  • What is it?
  • How can it be used in teaching and learning?
  • What are some good examples?
  • What are some resources on the topic?

Our hope is that this resource will continue to be worked on by future classes and others.

Another example comes from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). ISTE is a “nonprofit membership organization, ISTE provides leadership and service to improve teaching, learning, and school leadership by advancing the effective use of technology in PK–12 and teacher education” (from the website).

In addition to hosting seminars and meetings at its Second Life location, ISTE undertakes several initiatives. This project on emerging technologies is a grass-roots initiative intended to build a database of information about emerging technologies, their use and application in K-12, costs and support strategies. An article in the society’s mag, Leading and Learning, describes the project in more detail. Unfortunately you need to be an ISTE member to view the article, but you don’t need to be a member to contribute to and search the database.

The team created a wiki that was initially populated by working groups at NECC in June 2007. An overview page describes the four main components: Organizational Capacity, Process Management, and Operational Capacity, which also includes Infrastructure Management . Contributors are asked to post the candidate technology to as many categories as it applies.

Kathy Schrock, co-chair along with Ferdi Serim of the project, has produced a You-Tube video describing how to enter information into the database.

As George Siemens reminds us, knowing how to find the nuggets is as critical as knowing them to begin with.

Parents, pedagogy and context

I spent the better part of the day yesterday pondering a great book by Kevin Marjoribanks called Family and School Capital: Towards a Context Theory of Students’ School Outcomes. The essence of the theory (without meaning to trivialize the complexity of the analysis) is that parents bring social and cultural capital togehter with family background and structure to the learning context, while schools similarly bring social and cultural capital through individual teachers and the school community, a school community history and structures for learning activities. Additionally, these elements interplay and the whole creates a context that can predict student success.

I also read George Siemens’ post yesterday, Pedagogy First? Whatever. in which he also talks about context in learning. I wanted to explore this use of context. Was it the same? Siemens was talking about the conditions for choosing the appropriate educational technology for a learning situation. He contends it is not pedagogy first, but rather context that drives the decision. So can this description of context add to the theory?

In his post, Siemens says: “Resources, expertise, technology, needs (of learners, educators, society), and funds impact what we choose to do.” This is the context for the selection of technology.

Marjoribanks states “effective teachers flourish in schools that minimize organizational and curriculum controls” (p. 137), in other words, effective teachers create effective learning strategies based on the context with which they are presented.

The context theory proposed by Marjoribanks explores several dimensions of family and school capital that create context for school success. Marjoribanks definition of school capital mirrors that of family educational capital: it is framed on the social and cultural context of the school. Siemens adds resources, expertise, available technology and funds to the dimensions of the theory.

Siemens description of context extends the meaning ascribed by Marjoribanks, but goes to the same point. It’s not pedagogy first that determines students’ school outcomes, it’s context.

Marjoribanks, K. (2002). Family and School Capital: Towards a Context Theory of Students’ School Outcomes. Dordrecht, The Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Re-defining Technical Support

@achurches wrote an insightful post titled “One Size Fits All”. He writes about the barriers to teacher creativity due in part to lack of flexibility from school and district administration and a locking down of technology by technical support staff.

I agree.

But teachers need help in working with tech staff. Allanah commented on “One Size Fits All” that we need to walk in each other’s shoes. Basically, let’s figure out how to communicate with each other.

I am on a mission to do three things:

  1. Help teachers/administrators talk to their tech staff. I am putting together this how-to that I will post here in the near future.
  2. Promote the right kind of professional development for technical staff. What are the issues in allowing access to wireless networks? How do you configure a device to allow for creative use? I am starting with a discussion about social learning tools with some very knowledgeable technical staff to identify the specific security issues that each presents (or not).
  3. Evangelize the construction of technical architectures that drive the right balance for learning and availability. In the absence of understanding the difference between administrative systems (that need to be secure and reliable) and teaching and learning systems (that need to be responsive and flexible), districts will choose a one-size-fits-all approach. Networks can and should be designed to support these two uses in different ways.

Wish me luck!

Collaborative Model Building

Part of planning for success in a 21st Century Learning organization is understanding and prioritizing the investments in technology. Success is about aligning the work in K-12 schools with the deployment of infrastructure, services, and supporting administrative operations. As we attempt to prioritize our work, such models can direct the planning and delivery of key actions to support personalized learning.

This draft describes the attributes and key change drivers of a 21st century learning organization from a technology perspective (the lens). I would greatly appreciate your comments and feedback. I am interested in collaboratively building and sharing a model that reflects the thoughts of many.

If 21st Century Learning is described as personalized, anytime, anywhere learning, what are its attributes?

*Flexible Learning Platform
Technology empowers the learner by shifting the locus of control. The teacher’s role in choosing appropriate resources and activities, creating resources and framing the environment is supported by the delivery of the learning platform and access to resources. The learning platform can be a loosely coupled collection of tools or a tightly woven software application.

21st Century Learning means that knowledge is neither hoarded nor stranded. 21st Century skills include the ability to search, retrieve, critique and expand upon existing knowledge. This can only be achieved in a connected learning environment.

Data is necessary to inform the changing practice and focus on individual student achievement. This continuous improvement (or adjustment) cycle requires access to data, capacity in the analysis of data, and the ability to interpret and apply the results of the analysis.

*Effective and Efficient Operations
A 21st Century organization leverages technology to deliver wold-class services. Targeted application systems provide secure and reliable data and transaction processing, and support the information management strategies of providing the right information to the right people at the right time.

*Safe and Secure
The reliability of the technology environment is enhanced when it is secured from unauthorized and malicious access. Reliability is a key predictor of availability. Security also applies to the steps taken to provide an age-appropriate, safe online environment for students.

What are the key drivers of change today in the technology supporting 21st Century Learning?

*Professional Learning and Support
Staff learning is a complex topic. Just-in-time and job-embedded development strategies deliver a change in practice that is both more immediate and more sustained. A support for staff personal learning creates a sustainable model for professional learning approaches.

*Student Access and Connectivity
Students need 1:1 access to the learning platform so that they can participate effectively in 21st Century Learning. This can be achieved through a combination of robust networks, district-supplied computers and connectivity that allows student-owned devices into schools.

*Technology Choices
The size of the technology footprint in a school district is driven by the range of technology choices that the district chooses to support. The technology footprint if not managed has the potential to lead to escalating costs.

*Tools of Web 2.0
A question remains as to whether the flexibility of the learning platform requires flexibility relative to the collection of tools or simply flexibility in the use of the tools. This very discussion is driving change.

*Focus on Green
Elearning, ecommerce, and all the other e’s have reduced energy hogs such as air travel. But on the flip side, data centres and personal computers devour energy. As we teach our students the importance of global citizenship, we need to send the right message about the impact of technology on the environment.

Thank you for participating. I will continue to post iterations of this work.

Can Pre-Built = Personal?

Personal Learning Environments are

a single user’s e-learning system that provides access to a variety of learning resources, and that may provide access to learners and teachers who use other PLEs.

In a recent discussion with fellow grad students and Stephen Downes, Dan made what I thought was a brilliant comparison about two kinds of technology-enabled learning environments. He said that Linux is outrageously customizable while Mac and Windows is outrageously simple to use.

We had just observed Stephen Downes’ highly customized, highly personal learning environment. Stephen had built that environment himself, from scratch.

And I wonder – can teachers create their own highly personalized environments with pre-built tools? Is that an oxymoron?

Not Detached?

It was an article that made me sit up and take notice. The Faculty is Remote, but Not Detached was recently published in the New York Times. In fact, some of the faculty referenced in the article appear to have either taken a detached stand-and-deliver style to the Internet, or won’t move to the Internet at all because they don’t believe it will work (in this case, I don’t either).

Stephen Ruth, professor of public policy and technology management at George Mason University, said that while online classes could be very effective, they were “not on par, in my opinion, with traditional classes at top-tier universities.” One reason is that “the general ambience of the class provides a better experience,” he said.

The writer herself may not understand the power of the enabling technologies of Web 2.0, as evidenced by this statement:

And technology like Web streaming has made online learning more like a real classroom experience.

These are outdated paradigms of what could and should be happening in our classrooms (and beyond). First, there is more than enough evidence that online learning is on par with classroom learning. But more important, engaged learners who are so engaged by virtue of Web 2.0 tools (including streaming) have the potential to do better than in a stand-and-deliver environment.

I invite Ms. Tahmincioglu to visit with some of the teachers she mentioned in her article – Robert Vernon and Terry Baron – and to interview other students and professors who are both highly engaged and interactive in their online space. I might even venture so far as to suggest that there can be more engagement in an online environment that is not bound by time and space.

I for one am taking two online graduate courses this semester. I have never met either professor nor most of my classmates face to face, but through various communications technologies I have had a wonderfully enriching experience and built connections that will outlive the end of the courses.