I believe in 1:1 learning. I also acknowledge the difficulty inherent in differentiating instruction for multiple classes of 30+ students a day. I envision a school system in which students learn to take ownership of their work and acquire essential skills and understandings through self-directed curricula. I think we need to scale up models like the New Country School and Murray High School, as well as develop elementary and middle school counterparts – or, better yet, mixed-aged schools – to suffuse inquiry, independence, and democracy into classrooms of every age in public education. We should also partner with – or emulate – service programs and experiential learning programs like Expeditionary Learning and Edible Schoolyard so students see that their learning reflects and impacts their physical surroundings and communities in positive ways.
That’s a tall order for underfunded schools facing an extension of federal policies that mandate educational obsolescence. Regardless, it’s the vision of school I want for my students, children, colleagues, and me.
That being said, even looking into the future I want, I still dwell on obsolesence.
First, I need to let go of the idea that differentiating school for students means designing and implementing 100+ curricula a day, or controlling 100+ students.
I need to think of differentiation as a systems problem. How do I, as a teacher, enable and give feedback on the self-directed workflow of 100+ colleagues a day – as a kind of information officer rather than a manager?
I’m addicted to reinventing the wheel. I don’t enjoy or feel successful teaching with other people’s lessons. I love bringing new media and tools into the classroom, but I just don’t feel like I’m doing what I want to do unless I’m delivering novel instruction around them.
I may need to get over this quickly. To accomplish what I want to accomplish I will need to accept a lot of help teaching thing I can’t teach. I need to become that colleague and stop trying to manage. I need to think about systems that will let me contribute connections, metaphors, and feedback to students and colleagues. I need to network my work and classroom much more than I do now, and find the room in my system to do it in a transparent way that contributes to our shared work.
So, I know what I want, even if I don’t know how to do it. Back to obsolesence: what I want, I think, is a new kind of PLC that functions like a project-based unit and includes students, teachers, and either non-teaching programmers or hybrid teacher-programmers.
I think of school as an app store for learning. I think of students shopping for apps that inspire them to learn. I think of teachers as co-learners and customers at the same store, shopping for apps that network their classrooms to their communities and the world through service, project-based learning, and social media. I think of app-developers as reciprocal customers at the same store learning about students, teachers, and their experiences. Information and its manipulation are the store’s currency. I think of a school division as a brand name and of its schools as the brand’s flagship stores.
To create, market, and distribute a useful product you need a trusted brand, a space – F2F or virtual – to house its products. You need students, teachers, and programmers in the same space, and you need to think of them learning dynamically like sliders on spectra of content, learning, programming, and user experience. There needs to be shared ownership of learning and an easy interchange of roles and positions on those spectra so students and teachers make sound decisions about product purchases, and programmers make sound products.
School divisions should bring app development in house. In fact, divisions should make it the focus of classroom work shared in new PLCs made up of students, teachers, and programmers. Get the kids involved in self-assessment of their work with the apps. Get teachers thinking about how to deliver students’ learning and work to the world, rather than about how to deliver content to students. Get programers embedded in their audiences.
How can this work?
Are programmers much more expensive than teachers? Can schools reconcile the different ways programmers and teachers move up the pay scale and get promotions? How much would need to be spent to develop a cadre of hybrid teacher-programmers, clearing-houses of customizable apps (or do we have them already?), networks of divisions sharing resources, and budgetary and instructional structures to enable students to self-assemble drag-and-drop curricula? How many teacher-programmer pairs or hybrids do you need per how many students? Can you restructure school to group students by self-identified interests? Can you do this for part of a school day with part of a school? Can you charter this? Can your charter an app development high school that creates the apps for an elementary school?
Can ed schools train teachers to develop apps? Can ed schools be convinced that programming is a noble part of teaching?
Could you better retain Gen Y teacher-programmers than teachers due to the project-based nature of app development?
Can school systems pay hybrid teacher-programmers a hybrid salary? Can communities be convinced to support programmers as a necessary part of quality schooling? Can communities be convinced to pay teachers programmers’ salaries?
Can communities be convinced that sharing responsibility for curriculum and learning with students isn’t lazy teaching or a waste of money?
Can schools find new roles and partners for students and teachers?