Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Inno-cation: The Intersection of Innovation in Education

Two years ago a series of letters written Richard Cullatta and Sandy Speicher, Innovation Letters, sparked a international conversation regarding innovation in education.  If you have been following this blog you would know that this is something I have focused on throughout my career.  The title of the blog alone, Pioneer in Education, leads to this end.  I believe we are Pioneers of a new education system.  One that is not only designed differently, but more importantly, thought of differently.

The age old design question, does function drive form or does form drive function?, has never been more palatable in education than now.  Currently, I believe that function drives form.  The why of this thought process is for another blog.  Germaine to this blog is the fundamental belief that the function of education is a direct product of how "education is thought of."

Education is still viewed or "thought of" by the consumers (unfortunately, parents and stakeholders and not students) as a system of informational delivery to students that parents believe are essential and important.  To change the function of education we need to change how education is thought of.  What is the purpose of education?  What are we preparing students for?  What are the essential skills that seven year olds will need to be successful fifteen years down the road?  What does business and industry expect students to be able to do?  What are the passions that our students want to pursue?  What are the pressing questions of today and potentially tomorrow that our students need to solve?

This thought/view of education is radically different from the current view/thought.  This thought/view of education requires a different function of schools and will eventually necessitate a different form to education.  To get there however, we need leaders to look at school differently.  We need leaders who are willing to step off the ledge and bring innovation to the forefront of education in their individual school houses.

This brings me back to the Innovation Letters.  How do we create schools of innovation?  How do we create innovation leaders?  How to we communicate with parents and other pertinent stake holders the importance of innovation?  How do we create partnerships of innovation (because schools can't do it alone)?  How do we teach innovation?

To answer this call to action, I believe the first step is to harness the knowledge of YOU.  Take a moment to read the Innovation Letters and respond to this post and the essential question: Why innovate and where do we start innovating?

Friday, July 8, 2016

The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances

The Author of "The #1 Reason for Poor Student Performances", Derek Beres, makes a compelling argument as he rails against the long held belief that economics is the number one determinate of educational success (read my blog, "A Bridge Too Far""). His article, "The #1 Reason", suggests that stress is the most critical determinate of educational success. 

This was a powerful reminder of the influence our brain has on education.  How ironic is it that as educators we forget (or don't truly understand) the role the brain plays in regards to using our brain!  I am somewhat of a nerd and I have passionately read and maintained an understanding of neuroscience and the influence it can have on education.  That being said, I agree with the author that stress does play a critical role on educational attainment.  I am not certain that it is the most powerful predictor, however, it plays a significant role and needs to be examined more.

An age old theory of brain development is the Triune Brain Theory (founded by neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean).  This theory states that the brain has three different and separate components that have evolved over time: Reptilian, Mammalian and the Neo-Cortex.  Germane to this writing is the Reptilian brain.  The author correctly identifies this part of the brain as the Lizard brain.  This is because it corresponds with the anatomy of a lizard brain.  This part of the brain is in charge of the three major F's: food (survival), flight (survival), and fornication (species survival).  The ultimate goal for the reptilian brain is survival. 

Stressful situations are what drive the reptilian brain into action.  It is also important to know that when enacted the reptilian brain has the ability to over ride or shut down the Neo-Cortex (which is the portion of the brain that is used for reasoning, among many others).  When enacted the reptilian brain will go into fight or flight (defend of run).  Couple this what we know about students in a state of prolonged and chronic stress.  Students who experience prolonged and chronic stress have a reptilian brain that is always on high alert.  These students tend to quickly and frequently respond to stimuli with fight of flight (defend or run).

What stressors cause the reptilian brain to engage and overthrow the Neo-Cortex?  Experiences or stimuli that the student is uncomfortable, unfamiliar or challenged with (among others).  Therefore, students who are chronically stressed will not respond well to intimidation, screaming or any form of fear.  These students will either fight back in an irrational way or shut down. 

Students who are confronted with a new, complex, unfamiliar and uncomfortable challenges can be moved into fight or flight.  Think of all the potential scenarios that this could be associated with.  Many of the experiences that a student in school would encounter could engage and enact the reptilian brain (high stakes testing, a new curriculum, a challenging class, the dynamics of small group work, etc...). These experiences are stressors and do indeed impact student achievement and educational attainment.

What are the best practices we can use to marginalize the impact of stress?  Outside of creating and fostering an environment that allows all student to learn and a non-confrontation school environment, to date, I am not familiar with any quality best practices.  As I said earlier, this challenge in education needs to be scrutinized and researched more. 

A good place to start is to read the above linked article and the accompanying research within the article.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Factory Model vs. the 21st Century Model

The past decade has seen a number of disruptions in education.  Google and Apple have been leaders in this disruption process.  The purpose of the planned disruption is to force a revolution within the education system.  To fix some of the “ills that plaque the current system.”  While many of us can debate the merits of the "ills that plague the current system", it is difficult to debate the need for continuous improvement and change. 

The factory design model, in 2015, still permeates the educational environment.  To be sure, the factory design was a valid design and did wonders for all institutions – in the1800’s!!!  Frederick Taylor, father of Scientific Management and the eventual factory system, wanted to solve practical problems that plagued factories all over the country.  He developed the four principles of scientific management.  As you read note examples of these principles in our schools:

  1. Replace working by "rule of thumb," or simple habit and common sense, and instead use the scientific method to study work and determine the most efficient way to perform specific tasks.
  2. Rather than simply assign workers to just any job, match workers to their jobs based on capability and motivation, and train them to work at maximum efficiency.
  3. Monitor worker performance, and provide instructions and supervision to ensure that they're using the most efficient ways of working.
  4. Allocate the work between managers and workers so that the managers spend their time planning and training, allowing the workers to perform their tasks efficiently.  
While I debate that all schools are truly ineffective and plagued with ills, I do admit that schools can and should continue to improve. I believe, a stumbling block to the institutional improvement and future of education, is the continued adherence to this outdated and ineffective managerial system. Like many others I believe we need a new model to follow. A model that welcomes the nature of the 21st Century student, the tools of the 21st Century as well as the needs of the 21st Century economy. In that vein I offer for debate the following principles of the 21st Century managerial model. If I could rewrite Frederick Taylor’s Scientific Management principles for the 21st Century school house they would look like:

  1. Replace measuring work/success by rote "standardization" and instead use modern social science methods to determine the most efficient way to measure specific tasks.
  2. Rather than simply teach all students the same, match student’s strengths and interests to individual capability and motivation, and teach all of them differently.
  3. Assess individual academic and skill performance, provide instruction and coaching to ensure that all students are using the most efficient ways of learning to reach self-regulation.
  4. Share the work/responsibilities between administration and teachers; teachers and students; remove the functional silo design of education, so that the TEAM can spend their time planning, learning and growing, allowing for greater performance and efficiency from all participants involved.  

Hopefully, the reader has noticed that nowhere in these principles is there any mention of digital tools.  That is because, tools (computers, laptops, tablets or any digital device) are not the needed change.  The needed change is in the design of schools.  The change is in the managerial model.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Stop the Madness: There is a Difference Between 21st Century Tools and 21st Century Skills

In the past year I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools and attend a number of conferences. In the process I have witnessed and met many incredible, talented and committed teachers.  However, in the same vein, early on I witnessed what appeared to be a seemingly simple and innocent mistake.  Unfortunately, within this same year I witnessed this same mistake too many times to be considered completely innocent.

Many times I would observe a classroom, complete a walk through or sit in a session at a conference.  Each of these events had one thing in common.  Each of these teachers, whether in the classroom or presenting at a conference were all promoting "21st Century Skills."  Please understand, I think that we not only need to promote these skills but students need to be immersed in them.  So, what is this seemingly simple and innocent mistake?  Let me provide a list of the "21st Century Skills" I witnessed:

1) QR Codes
2) Doceri
3) Reflector
4) Socrative
5) Prezi
6) Animoto
7) Poster Maker
8) Glogster
10) Voki
11) GAFE (Google Apps for Education)

Does this look like a list of skills?  More accurately, this is a list of web based tools.  Granite, these are some really unique and powerful web based tools, but they are not skills.  Far too many times I have witnessed  well intentioned and good teachers refer to using these as 21st Century skills.  Let me makes this point very clear; these are tools to engage the 21st century student, these are not 21st Century Skills!

What we need are teachers who can utilize these 21st Century tools in a way that will challenge and grow our students in their use of 21st Century Skills.  Before moving forward it may be best to first list what the 21st Century Skills, as recognized by P21. (non profit group tasked with creating the list):

Life and career skills, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, information, media and technology skills as well as the core subjects of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Looking back at the tools that were being used to ENGAGE the 21st Century Learner, how can we use them to incorporate these skills?

I would suggest that communication, collaboration, creativity as well as information, media, and technology skills can be natural fits for many of these 21st Century tools.  Let's look at how GAFE (Google Apps for Education) can be the catapult for students and teachers alike to use and master these skills:

Collaboration - Google tools are designed for collaboration.  Google Doc's and Presentation allow students to collaborate with one another while working on an assignment.  This collaboration can all be done online both asynchronously and synchronously.  Students have the ability to work in two different locations, view the exact same document, manipulate the document in real time and "Chat" with one another during the process.  Google Hangout's will allow up to fifteen people to participate in a video call at the same.  Each participant will have the ability see each other and speak to one another.  Also, it is possible to open Google Drive, open a Google Document and have every participant manipulate the document in real time.

Communication - Google tools also provide multiple opportunities to communicate with all stakeholders in the organization.  For example, a student, class or school can create a Google Site (webpage).  The student, class or school can post all relevant material they wish the public and all stakeholders to know on the website.  Google Mail will allow users to email any individual with a G-mail account for easier communication.  Google Calendar has the ability to create an event, invite individuals to the event as well as share the calendar with anyone who has a Google account.  For example, school X has created a Google Calendar for all of the events occurring at the school this coming year.  If I am a parent and if I have a Google account, I can actually connect my calendar with the schools calendar.  When that occurs every school event will show up in my calendar.  To make it even easier, the school events will show up in a different color then my events helping me to quickly identify the school events.  Also, a teacher can create a class calender.  The teacher can post that on Friday, August 15th the class will have a test.  To enhance the experience even more, Google Calendar allows users to attach a document to the event.  So, a teacher could attach a study guide to the August 15th event.  Parents who have access to the calendar would know their child has a test on Friday August 15th and would also  have access to the study guide!

Creativity - Schools can use Google Sites to help promote creativity.  Students can create their own site and develop their own content.  They can be as creative as they like in the process.  Picassa is a Google tool that allows users to find, edit and share photos. Teachers could take pictures of student work, presentations, or field trips throughout the year and quickly turn them into a slideshow that you can play at Open House or during parent conferences. Students can create a historical photo album by taking pictures of themselves in historical costumes and settings. Then apply sepia tones or black & white effects to make them look like old photos and print them out.  Journalism students can keep all photos for each edition of their newspaper or magazine in one location on their classroom PC, adding descriptions and captions that make them easy to find, re-use, and share.  Students could use Google Sketchp to design 3D drawings (houses, building, bridges, etc...) and then print out the blue prints.  If possible, students then could send the rendering to a 3D printer and actually print out a 3D scaled version of the drawing.  Other ideas for Sketchup include: Visualize geometry and other mathematical concepts, create model buildings and learn about architecture, design full-scale 3D environments, recreate historical settings and illustrate theoretical concepts.

Information, Media and Technology Skills - Feedly and Google Books are wonderful ways for students to find and consume information.  Google Search Engine will allow students to search effectively and efficiently.  The Google Add-On Easy Bib will allow students to determine the credibility of the sources they are viewing.  You Tube (yes, it is a Google owned media) allows schools, teachers and students to create their own You Tube channel.  The user then has the ability to make videos and share them to a private or public audience.  Google Doc's has a research portion of the menu bar making it much more efficient for Google Doc users to research, organize and evaluate information.  Many of the tools already discussed will allow students to communicate the information they have learned.  Google Plus will allow users the opportunities to communicate and network with a wide audience beyond their classrooms and schools.

This is of course a very short list of all the potential uses of this 21st Century tool.  That being said, the 21st Century Skill that has not been covered is Critical Thinking.  This is a little trickier.  These tools can certainly be used but it requires more thought.  To do this properly, I believe, educators need to incorporate both the Revised Bloom's Taxonomy and Webb's Depth of Knowledge.

This will be the subject for the next blog!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand - Completed!!

As of this writing, the prosthetic hand for Riley has been completed.  It is a functioning hand that will provide Riley more usability than the older prosthetic.  Since it has been completed we have received a good deal of publicity.  Below are links to Fox News coverage as well as some local articles:

Pioneer Crestline satellite students lend helping hand to Shelby student

Fox News Video                                Richland Source Article                        Mansfield News Journal

What is most exciting about this project is that we changed lives.  Riley's life was changed, his mothers life was changed and our students lives were changed.  As I stated in an earlier post:

Education = changing lives one child at a time.

The other exciting piece of this project is the list of curriculum and skills the students attained.  They learned: 1) how to use design software, 2) how to operate a 3D printer, 3) team work, 4) how to collaborate, 5) how to speak professionally with professionals in the industry, 6) how to use critical thinking skills to identify problems, 7) how to creatively think through and solve problems, and a host of others.  The students had a chance to learn all of that while completing a community service project that changed lives!

Monday, February 17, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand II

In a span of two weeks Mr. Sticklers class had a model completely printed out and pieced together.

This is a STL file of the hand the students created and printed out on a 3D printer.

Pictured below are a number of Mr. Strickler's students who are infiltrating the parts.  In other words making the pieces of the hand hard.

Below are pictures of Mr. Strickler at Riley's school with a model of the hand.  He went their to make sure that the hand will be the correct size.  After spending time their he and his students realized that more tweaking needed to be done.  That being said, when Riley saw the hand, he began to run in place.  Let me restate that, he began to run in place!  


As you can see, Riley's wrist is very small.  It has not been used as much and has not developed.  This has added a layer of difficulty.  The STL files will not work as they are.  The students need to measure Riley's wrist and reverse engineer the parts of the hand that will fit around the wrist.   Recently, we came into contact with a company that has a 3D scanner.  We have been invited to visit this company.  Once there, we will have the machine scan around Riley's wrist.  The machine then will send the image/file to computer as a STL file.  Then we can really have a much more accurate measurement of Riley's wrist.  This will help immensely.  It is unbelievable the people and companies that are excited to work with us on this project!

As a side note, Mr. Strickler discovered a way to turn an X-Box 360 Kinnect motion bar into a 3D scanner!

Friday, January 24, 2014

Let's Give Him a Hand (Literally)

Two weeks ago a You Tube video made its way to a mother in Shelby, Ohio.  It was a three minute segment.  It was a very powerful three minute segment.  The video was an older CBS Nightly News segment.  It was a news story covering a father with a son who had one hand.  The father was able to get access to a 3D printer.  He then designed and printed out a hand for his son.  A almost fully functioning hand:

Enter Riley.  An elementary student in Shelby, Ohio.  Riley's mother (Kelly) had viewed this video and wondered if something similar could be done for her son.  She is a teacher at Shelby Middle School.  Another teacher at Shelby High School is married to one of the most innovative teachers I have ever know.  He is a Pioneer Career and Technology Center employee.  He happens to have a 3D printer...

Enter Keith Strickler.  As I stated earlier, he is undoubtedly, one of the most innovative teachers I have ever known.  Riley's mother asked Keith if this was possible.  Keith, being Keith, said it was.  That evening Keith emailed and text me his idea.

After hours of searching online, an open source software coupled with design plans for a similar prosthetic, was discovered.  Keith immediately jumped into action.  The mother and I were contacted.  To be honest, at first I was nervous.  I don't mind when my teachers and students try something new and fail.  Failure is a part of life that must be embraced and learned from.  That being said, I was not going to tell Riley that we could make him a functioning hand, get him excited just to find out that we can't.  That was a failure I was not willing to accept.  Keith assured me it was possible and that he and his students would get this done.  Keith has never let me down.

A picture of Robo Hand.  This is similar to what we will create.
Only ours will look like Iron Man's hand (per Riley).

Within two days of being contacted Mr. Stickler's class had designed and printed out, on a 3D printer, a piece of the prosthetic hand.

Here are the students working with Mr. Strickler on the 3D printer.

This is the first piece printed that will
eventually be assembled into a
 prosthetic hand.

Next, an occupational therapist was recruited.  It is imperative we understand the functionality of Riley's wrist.  The design we have in mind will allow Riley to open and close his prosthetic hand by moving his wrist up or down.  Therefore, we need to know the flexibility and movement capabilities of his wrist.

After talking with Riley it was learned that after a whole life of not having a hand, Riley, wanted a hand that other kids would be jealous of.  Enter Kurtzman's Creature Corps. Rob Kurtzman owns one of two colleges in the nation that specializes in make-up and costume design as well as special effects for Hollywood movies.  Rob Kurtzman is a star in the industry.  His wife, happens to be one of my teachers.  His work can be seen here:

Creature Corps

The goal, is to have our students design, using Sketch Up Pro, the pieces of the prosthetic hand, print them out on the 3D printer, assemble the pieces using piano wire and stainless steel bolts.  This will be our prototype of the hand.  If this design is functional we will then send the design to Pioneer's main campus and print another prosthetic hand on a much more robust 3D printer.  The end product of this printer will be much more durable and will last longer.  When this is complete, have our students work with Alan (vice president) from Creature Corp to make the prosthetic look like the Iron Man hand.

Left, Alan from Creature Corp working with
our students, Riley and Kelly (right).

Enter Yanke Bionics.  As I thought about this project more I realized there is more learning opportunities for our students.  Yanke Bionics is a national chain that create prosthetic's.  They are most known for their participation on America's Extreme Home Make Over.  On the show they made a prosthetic, free of charge, for a veteran of the Iraq War.  They are no stranger to community service.  I made contact within three days of this project.  I am not looking for them to design and print the pieces of the hand for us.  I want my students to do that.  I want them to serve in a mentorship role.  If we get stuck on a design issue I want my students to turn to professionals.  I want my 17 year old students communicating with highly intelligent and successful professionals in this field.  I also want my students to know what they are doing is also a potentially lucrative career.

Not only do we want to make him a prosthetic hand that will be functional and one that will make other kids jealous, we also want to make a hand that is more normal looking.  This way Riley will be able to choose what hand he wants to wear each day.

The goal is set and achievable.  The plan is in action.  The player are in place: Pioneer Career and Technology Center, Keith Strickler, Riley and his mother, Crestline HS students, Alan (Creature Corps) and Yanke Bionics.  It truly is amazing what a three minute YouTube video, a text message and a 3D printer can produce!  Of course, you need to have people who care and are motivated to serve!

What an amazing learning opportunity that represents what 21st Century learning should look like!  What an opportunity for our students to both learn and serve at the same time.  What an opportunity for local businesses to work with and alongside competent high school students and change lives.  What an opportunity for a wonderful, innocent, loving and truly appreciative young man and his mother!!

EDUCATION = Changing lives one child at a time...

Please, stay posted as this amazing lesson, story and life changing event continues.