Friday, December 28, 2007

Process Re-Design, Part II

Among the other things that my Uncle Bill and I talked about was the need for everyone involved in changing processes within their organization to have a "territory," or in our case, some idea that you own that is yours undeniably. He spoke about looking at a situation from a process redesign perspective and saying: this is mine, and you may not enter it unless it is on my terms. Sounded intimidating as I listened, but I let it marinate for a few days.

Education, unlike the corporate world, has no financial interest in changing or upgrading, but rather our interest comes from that age-old desire to give our students the best opportunity to learn. It is the job of the corporate change agent to see the change, initiate it, and weed out the barriers to it, whether they be people or logistical, or both. Cold.

I've spent the better part of the last few days thinking about the translation to education. Can you take that approach? I think it has to be modified to reflect that belief that change has no extrinsic reward. The change agent in education will spend as much time building community as he or she will introducing ideas. Education exists as both an art and a science, something we all learned in our induction programs, I am sure. Being so dichotomous, both aspects must be represented in your plan for change. So you can have your ideas, but those entrenched in the positions who will practice what you prescribe, teachers, must be able to identify with what you are attempting to change and contribute to it. Warmer?

This has my attention. Bring your ideas to the table, own them and flesh them out, but be aware of how they are interpreted; don't let them be modified in practice to the point that they are unrecognizable.
Reading over the last few days, I came across Bob Sprankle's post at TechLearning in which he spoke about NetDay Survey's that he conducted in his district, which were aimed at assessing student attitudes about technology and learning. Towards the end of his post, he wrote the following:

At the Christa McAuliffe Conference, Dr. Tim Tyson talked about the idea of "childhood" being a relatively new concept; that children used to have very little time for "play" due to demands of helping the family survive. In the past, children were first and foremost expected to make a contribution and Tyson wonders if some of the problems that ail our children these days are due to the absence of attending to this contribution need. He asks the question: how old does someone need to be before they can make a contribution? Tyson calls for allowing students to make significant contributions now rather than later in life.
He goes on later to make it more formulaic
Safety + Inclusion + Meaningful Contribution + Play = Success for Our Students.
This is a plan for change, I thought immediately. This simple formula could be integrated into any curriculum or classroom implementation plan. This is the beginning of my "territory."

Barry Bachenheimer, whose name is appearing more and more in the edublog world, also said something that has triggered thought in this direction:
I can think of a few teachers (Maybe 4 out of the 30 or so that I had) who inspired me, made me think, and instilled a love of what they loved. It had nothing to do with technology, but their passion for what they taught, authentic learning, and most importantly, pushing me to do something that I wouldn;t necessarily done on my own at that age.

I see that as one of the purposes of school that can;t be accomplished online or by yourself: doing things that at age 15 that I would never do on my own, but had some benefit as an adult. Examples: reading Chaucer, learning about mitochondria, perfecting a golf swing, working with special needs kids, studying Melville, or analyzing art.
Pulling this all together, here's the next shift I'd like to see in my practice: design curriculum that pushes students to solve actual problems through creation and play and offer meaningful results for their efforts. The idea that we ask students to do things they normally wouldn't do is not new, as Barry shows through his comment, so I would like to try to design a curriculum or tweak an existing one to reflect all requisite standards, but also enable teachers and students to design meaningful solutions to problems, or create useful and necessary materials. Do you use anticipatory sets? Why not assign students to create them in advance? Do you create study guides for big exams? Let the students create their own on a wiki that you can co-edit. In addition to reading Chaucer and studying mitochondria (the powerhouse of the cell, by the way), we could have them produce content, either digitally or traditionally, that demonstrates to a larger audience that they have understood the concepts involved, and that they have transferred that learning to a medium that all can interpret and enjoy. Give them, as Sprankle said via Tim Tyson's meaning, a responsibility that is tangible.

It's going to be a great year....

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NJTechTeacher said...

I've had my math class working on small pieces of the relative sizes of countries and population density (related to sorting decimals and decimal division) on their blog. They're really stumped on the idea of population density.

I've been toying with the idea of having them create a video to explain it (during computer class). They will need to create a script, come up with example images, and put it into a movie. This should help them solidify their knowledge.

A little of what you're talking about here is a combination of ownership and fun to drive learning. My intent is to help them explain a concept that makes very little sense at this point. I'm hoping this kind of "play" with scripting and video will help the students understand the data they have collected.

The big shift for me continues to be getting to meaningful, collaborative projects. Let us know what develops on your end.

Patrick Higgins said...


I love what you've been doing for this blog lately: providing real learnings situations through your comments. My posts tend to dabble in the "what should be," and you have been giving us the "what is actually going on." Thank you for that.

It sounds like you are truly "tricking" them into learning a difficult concept, one that is actually stumping them. I hope what you find is that in their zeal for making the video, they learn the content by doing and fleshing it out so that it not only makes sense to them, but also to the audience they are reaching.

Again, thanks for your clarifications. Happy New Year!

Clay Burell said...

Hear, hear!

I loved Tyson's similar remarks in his NECC keynote (?) last summer.

It's all about de-naturalizing the very recent historical invention of the notion of "childhood." A search for "infanti" on my blog will turn up at least ten posts where I rail against it. But this one references the book by an Ivy League psychologist who recently published a book about it, called "The Case Against Adolescence." There's a link to a Psychology Today interview with some sobering statistics about all the prohibitions to contribution we place on our young. Well worth the read.

Happy new year, Patrick. You've been quite an inspiration to me on many occasions over the past year, and here's to your continued happiness and health for the next one! :)

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Patrick Higgins said...


I have to say that when you originally posted about this topic of infantilization of the adolescent, I didn't follow along too well with it. This has come full circle for me now. We talk about accountability quite often, but we really should be looking at it from this lens. Practical responsibility, is what one might call it.

Thanks for your support and kind words. You have been an enormous source of learning for me throughout the year. Looking forward to another year, the possibilities of which are unbelievable.

Carolyn Foote said...

Patrick, I just finished reading Out of Our Minds by Sir Ken Robinson, and his last few chapters(which I blogged about) are devoted to the idea of change in terms of institutional change.

One thing he mentioned in terms of encouraging creativity--is to not only foster creativity "organizationally" but also look within each specialty(subject area). He posits that specialists are rarely challenged to the limits of their creative abilities in their regular jobs.

That was an interesting idea to me--thinking about the idea that one way to challenge/engage teachers who aren't engaged (whether it's about chalk or technology) is by pushing at the limits of their creativity somehow, and asking them for something.

I'm not quite sure how this would look in practice yet.

But I think it may be a way to think about working with teachers who are not typically engaged especially on the technology piece.

How deep do we ever ask teachers to dig? How often do we ask them to explore their own creativity in their own content area? Might light some sparks....

Thanks for sharing your Uncle Bill's ideas!

Patrick Higgins said...


I must apologize for not getting to your posts; as you can see by my updates lately, writing has become squeezed between lots of new concerns. But, as always, I appreciate your viewpoint.

It must be a strange twist of fate, or the circles we run in, but Out of Our Minds just arrived via Amazon yesterday morning. I plan on getting to it within the week. Your comment about asking our specialists for something, something that pushes their creative limits is what interests me most here. While not having read a Robinson's book yet, I can see from a human understanding point of view where asking a teacher to go above and beyond their daily routine to perform something, to create something, would go a long way towards helping to establish change. If you check out Ryan Bretag's latest TechLearning post, he talks about using that strategy to help foster growth and change among staff.

Look forward to meeting up at EduCon.