Tag Archives: disruptive education

Re-Design, Don’t Reopen

Are we going to be the same but different post-Covid?

I read a post recently that said re-opening is going to be like playing three dimensional chess in a hurricane on one leg.

Ok, maybe in New York public schools.

Besides that, it’s really not that dramatic.

Use common sense. Social distance. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. It’s not rocket science.

We didn’t have IB exams this year. Did the world stop spinning? Maybe for schools that overpredicted, yes. Otherwise, did we learn that maybe summative exams don’t determine the course of our lives?

This is a real opportunity for school leaders to make a difference and to stop making excuses 21 years, yes 21 years into 21st century learning. What is truly amazing about this pandemic is that it has literally created classrooms without walls. Now let’s step into the void and create something special.

If you are opening full virtual, then you have a huge opportunity (sorry primary) to get students out into the field to do things they’ve never done before, to have an impact on their communites and environment, to interact with nature and their surroundings rather than the four walls of a classroom and to do something. (With masks, social distancing and handwashing of course).

If you’re opening hybrid then you can do similar things now that the learning spectrum has expanded, bringing back their experiences, redesigning timetables to accomodate this work, and developing interdisciplinary teams across subjects to

Tom Kelley, CEO of IDEO said, “Creative confidence is the ability to come up with great ideas and the courage to try them out.” Pundits have called Covid-19 ‘the great accelerator.’ In other words, innovations that would have taken 10 years in normal times, such as in healthcare, online shopping, food service, travel, and yes, education, are happening now.

Re-opening cannot simply mean putting all of our energy into temperature checks and cafeteria grids. It has to mean so much more. The line ‘never let a crisis go to waste’ has been bouncing around and it’s incumbent upon leaders to understand what this means for schools beyond returning to status quo.

Yes, it’s unsettling to introduce new things when everyone just wants to revert back to September 2019. Yes, it’s tempting just to make everyone feel stable again by lining children up in 2 meter separate rows. But, what does this disruption tell us about the fundamental role of schools? Why do we gather in a space to learn? Do we really care anymore about the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand for crying out loud?

I have too often enabled the comfortable boundaries of investigating uncertainty through the academic lens. All of that important stuff, whether it be socioeconomic injustice, environmental collapse, racial divide all through the relative ease of a formative assessment.

But now we cannot even go to school because of something that has called everything into question.

What an opportunity.

It is our responsibility to realign the WHY of what we do (thanks Simon Sinek) and connect it to the HOW. It’s no longer good enough to proclaim exceptional IB scores on LinkedIn or brag about university admittance. If we value things like learners having the “mental agility to solve problems we’ve never seen before,” or to “see the big picture, zero in on minute details, and move things around to make a difference,” (Vivien Luu, HR Vision, 2016) then we have to do a much better job of connecting the world to our schooling than a CAS project that hardly scratches the surface.

We continue to train kids to do school. Now that this has blown up, it has exposed a lot of shortcomings (well beyond access to WiFi). We act like we are teaching resiliency and adaptability, but this crisis has really shone a spotlight on the fact that we can do a LOT better (this goes for teachers and admin too). We act like we are building capacity for problem solvers and creative thinkers, but we panic when a student falls short on a conditional offer in HL Math. I don’t get it.

Don’t waste this crisis when you go back. Take care of the hand sanitizing and the temperature checks and the socio-emotional learning, but most of all, resist the temptation to restore order. This is your crisis to move forward on the type of learners we are going to need to save the planet.

Don’t waste it.

Will Covid-19 Kill Homework?

After our first full virtual learning day, I looked to my daughter finishing her dinner and said, smiling, “So, do you have any homework?”

We both broke out laughing hysterically (as one can do in these dystopian times) and then fell quiet.

“No, actually, I don’t,” she said with confidence. “And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Will Covid-19 kill homework?

When learning becomes seamless, it really shines a spotlight on our arcane routines. What is it about virtual learning that seems to disintegrate homework? Is it the lack of physical movement from one place to another, school to home? Is it just something that is supposed to happen after dinner?

I cannot envision us going back to ‘work at home’ and ‘work at school’ once this horrible crisis is over. If homework is to survive, it can no longer just be an extension of the stuff we did all day at school, or busy work as a thin guise to convince parents that we have ‘rigor.’ Now that those lines have disappeared, we are going to have to really introspect why learning in a ‘social setting’ is important and why being home is important in a different way. (It’s the same reason we have to re-think meetings, but that’s another blog).

The data coming out of this crisis is going to be absolutely stunning. From human behavior under stress, to the rise of the introvert and independent learner, to the relationship of caretakers and children, communications platforms, online assessments, asynchronous and synchronous learning, creativity in traditional subjects, balance, and all the things we have talked about as the future of education but were just too busy to do…until a pandemic forced us to do it. I am really curious to see if homework in its current form is going to survive, and if it should.

I had the last laugh with my daughter, however. “Well, since you don’t have homework,” I said with confidence. “You can take the dog out AND do the dishes AND clean up your smelly soccer jersey on the floor AND…

Homework? You just might have met your match.

Chaos Theory

“A mathematic theory that deals with complex systems whose behavior is highly sensitive to slight changes in conditions, so that small alterations can give rise to strikingly great consequences.”

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This is also called the ‘butterfly effect’ where if you can imagine a puff of air from a butterfly’s wings causing a hurricane on the other side of the world.

What I love about this theory is that is starts off as a small, almost unnoticeable shift and ends up being astronomical. It’s not throwing everything up in the air and starting from scratch. But it gets there, eventually.

Innovation doesn’t work in schools because as a rule they are extremely risk averse and break out in hives when you even mention the word chaos. Not with my kids you don’t! Take the cafeteria, for instance. (I know, I’m on duty every day). It’s the one place where things are allowed (sort of) to be chaotic. And the adults cannot handle it. They cringe at the noise, the kids cutting line, the ones who don’t clean up after themselves, and the hats. The hats, the hats the hats.

It’s chaos. I have a theory.

I have a theory that a child has an idea in the chaos of the cafeteria. He puts his sandwich down and stares into space, reaching underneath the table to text a friend (because cell phones are not allowed) to meet him in the library.

The friend meets him in the library, wondering what’s going on. There’s still some time for lunch but it’s going to spill into the next period. “I gotta go,” the friend says, wondering what it’s all about. “I’ve got math.”
“Not yet,” the boy says. “Math can wait.”

“You remember that thing we were reading about Singapore having to import most of its water? I have an idea about what to do.”
“Really?” the friend asked. “Is that really what you called me up here for?”
“Sort of. I was at the design expo at Nanyang School of Art this weekend and they were talking about sustainability. I thought it was really cool and it gave me some ideas about the water thing.”

“Right,” the friend says. “Well, I gotta go before I’m late.”
The boy watches his friend walk away.

A teacher (on his prep period) comes by and observes the boy in the library, by himself. Rather than ask where he should be, he looks over his shoulder, noticing several tabs open on water sustainability projects, environment, and three universities.

“What are you working on?” the teacher asked. “Oh, sorry,” the boy says, shutting his laptop case. “No, it’s okay,” the teacher answers. “I’m not going to get you in trouble. You’re a sixth grader, right? My diploma class is doing some things on the environment and maybe you could join the conversation. We’re supposed to Skype with this scientist from Alaska who’s working on some water sustainability theories. You might find it interesting.”

The boy goes to the class and misses math, then English, then Spanish. He makes his way to art at the end of the day because it’s the one place where he liked to rejuvinate his brain when it got overloaded. Something about working with pottery.

Even though the time zones didn’t line up exactly, he managed to find a few water projects in Kuwait and Texas that shared his ideas about what to do in Singapore, and he found a way to connect with them. He also texts his older sister in the 10th grade to see if any of her classes are talking about anything to do with water and the environment. “Dunno,” she replies. “Leave me alone, I’m in the middle of a test.”

At the end of the day, he finds himself back in the science teacher’s class. “Oh, there you are,” the teacher says. “Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell anyone, but the office has been looking for you all afternoon. I think you’re in trouble. Do you want me to write them a note? Did you miss classes the rest of the day?”

“Yeah, I’m sorry, the boy says. But can I show you what I was doing?” When the boy is finished, the teacher looks at his watch and takes out his cell phone.

“What are you doing?” the boy asks. “I’m calling Alaska,” the teacher says. “They need to talk to you.”

Chaos. But it’s just a theory.