07 January 2012

The Three P's

Last year I wrote a post on the Six C’s of 21st century learning, an idea that I was going to apply to my classes in designing lessons, units, and my overall curricula. I find putting a framework over the learning process and involving students in shaping and understanding that process to work very well to increase student engagement and proficiency. I have continued to experiment with considerable success and moving forward I have identified another set of themes that I would like to use in addition (and imposed on top of) the Six C’s.

I am terming this set the 3 P’s – Personalization, Project-Based Learning, and Portfolio Assessment. Personalization is key to reaching every student in the 21st century classroom. Personalization takes the ideas of individualization and differentiation to the next level with new techniques and new technologies. A recent article in THE Journal addresses the primary themes of personalization and is worth a close reading. It is only through the true personalization of learning that we can hope to reach every student, tap into their natural abilities and life experiences, and challenge them to grow beyond what they are and reach their fullest potential.

Project-based learning is the strongest methodology to achieve the personalization for each learner and impart the 21st century skills that students need. Let me clarify that I mean "project-based" in the broadest sense of the term. In my own classes, I employ a variety of techniques that could be classified as project, problem, inquiry, or challenge-based. Each builds upon constructivist and connectivist ideas that I've discussed before on this blog. Each makes the student the center of learning and requires of them the types of skills needed for dynamic and changing world.

I include portfolio assessment as one of the 3 P's since it is becoming the essential tool for authentic and innovative assessment. Portfolios allow students to see their work develop over time, to reflect on what they have done, to see how they can improve their work, and to connect their work across classes and content areas. Portfolios when digital years ago and are now going mobile with various formats available for smartphones, tablets and laptops.

I'm making a concerted effort in all of my classes to increasing incorporate aspects of the 3 P's. I've increased my use of project-based learning over the past several years until it makes up the basis of the pedagogy I use in my classes, this year I have begun experimenting with students developing their own digital portfolios for deeper assessment and self-reflection, and I continue to strive to tap into my students passions, interests, experiences and needs to personalize their learning opportunities.

Please let me know your thoughts about the 3 P's. Comments welcomed.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad 2

03 January 2012

Going to the Extremes

I've recently been reevaluating and examing the way I teach content in my class as well as across the curriculum in my department and at my school. I've come to the conclusion that in many classes (including my own), teachers are guilty of presenting muddled and uninsteresting content due to the problem of breadth versus depth. Teachers have long faced the problem of the amount of content that they have to teach along with how in depth they can go into that content. This problem is especially true in Social Studies classes where the problem of how much history to teach (or how much of the timeline to cover) and how do you then go into more in the deeper and stimulating events, people, and stories that make history interesting. To try to deal with this, most teachers try for some kind of "middle path" combining beadth and depth. Unfortunately, in trying to do this, most teachers don't do a very good job over covering the overall material OR getting deeper into the content.

As an alternative, I suggest that instead of going for the middle and thus teaching in a muddled way, we "go the extremes" and do both well. In planning the content to be learned throughout the course of the school year, teachers should look for ways to break down their lessons, projects, activiities, and units to breadth activities and depth activities and do each well and separately (as opposed to muddled together and poorly as most of us do now). In a history class, this would involve a unit that would have a lesson or series of lessons that would give the broad overview of the major themes of a time period, followed by various activities such as primary source analysis, discussion groups, and historical investigation projects that would get in-depth with the material in select ways determined by either the teacher or student choice to support the broader themes. I've have been experimenting with this in my classes this year and I will discuss more details of it's successes and failure in future posts.

I have also come to the conclusion that this type of thinking can inform us with other issues as well. In paticular, I am brought back to my current thoughts on technology integration into the classroom. For years, middle-of-the-road desktop computers in classrooms and labs were the norms for schools. They were better than nothing, but they suffered from the same type of "middle path" problem as in content that the computers offered often more than was needed for student computering on a daily basis, but often didn't offer what was needed for more high-end functions like video editiing and graphic design. A rethink of device type and deployment is needed, one that ideally "goes to the extremes." For everyday student and teacher use, I am convinced that devices like the iPad far better than middle-of-the-road desktop computers in their personalization, battery life, portability, especially if they are deployed in a 1:1 program. iPads also continue to prove that along with being great media content consumption devices, they are also becoming powerful content creation devices for everyday document, presentation, video, and audio production. This frees up both funding and space for schools to invest in a small number of high end desktops or laptops on a cart for doing advanced video editing, graphic work or programing. This is "moving to the extremes" of educational technology could have considerable advantages, particularly when paired with the same strategy in pedagogy discussed above.

In pedagogy and technology, despite the instinct to think otherwise, going to the extremes could prove very powerful.  Please let me know your thoughts.