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Entries Tagged as 'Education'

Reflections on Pearson Canada’s Social Media Summit

April 28, 2013 by acampbell99 · 30 Comments · Education, Teaching

“There are unknown unknowns – things we do not know we don’t know.” Donald Rumsfeld, 2002

I recently listened to an interview with author Matt Taibbi who writes for Rolling Stone and Men’s Journal. Taibbi has written several important articles about US financial scandals and does a great job of understanding and explaining complex financial issues to readers. The interviewer asked Taibbi how he was able to learn about the complex workings of finance when he had no background in the area and Taibbi responded by saying he called people up and said “’Tell me something about something.’ I didn’t know enough to be able to ask questions”.

That’s the position Pearson Canada discovered they were in. They are transitioning from being an educational publisher to…something else. They know that social media is an increasingly important part of how educators are connecting with each other and helping students learn, but don’t know what social media is, how it works or how educators are using it.

Therefore, Pearson Canada hired a group of educators to come to their offices for a day and talk about social media in education so that they could start to learn about it. Pearson Canada staff facilitated the discussion, set the focus questions and listened and learned. They wanted to know what they don’t know.

At least that was the plan. The assembled group contained several notorious “shift disturbers” (ahem) and it was a mere 20 minutes before the first presenter was unceremoniously interrupted. For the rest of the day the organic and chaotic nature of free discourse, facilitated by social media, was the process, as the ‘summit’ lurched from one topic to another and connections were made and explored.

Somewhere in that ‘mess’ the real purpose of the gathering became obscured to those observing through social media and some in the #OntEd  twitter-verse became confused about what was actually happening. Was this a conference? A workshop? Why didn’t they know about it? Why weren’t all welcome? Why did this small group feel qualified to ‘speak’ for all Ontario educators about social media? Where was the diversity of voices? (parents? students?)

At the end of a long day I’m pondering a few questions and answers:

Was the Social Media Summit exclusionary? No, no more than any other job is exclusionary. The message that this wasn’t a conference or a workshop, but a focus group, wasn’t well communicated outside the event. The intention of the summit was simply to give Pearson Canada insight into current social media practice in Ontario and what some of the issues are with social media use in classrooms. I assume this is part of a process for Pearson Canada, the first step along the path, and that there are many other steps to come, many other voices and viewpoints to consider.

Why Did I Go? The same reason I go to attend other professional meetings, for the people. I respect those who invited me and knew there’d be other knowledgeable, passionate educators I’d learn a lot from. If Pearson Canada can glean something out of those interactions, provided they don’t alter the process, I’m fine with it. I tried to make sure I didn’t change what I said or shared because of the context. I think I was successful, but I need more time to fully reflect on it.

Engagement is a great way to understand something and to affect change. Education corporations have a role in Ontario education, and I’d rather they were engaged in dialogue with educators, in some form, than not. Pearson Canada asked educators for input. That’s a step in the right direction that I want to support and encourage.

What About Pearson Canada? I’m not sure where they go and what they do about social media. It will be difficult for them to engage in social media until they change their corporate culture. Using social media successfully requires transparency and a willingness to engage in messy dialogue. People and organizations have to be comfortable with that. An active and engaging social media presence could go a long way to improve the image of Pearson Canada and their relationship with educators, but they need to change in order for that to work.

Overall, I’m glad I participated. Learning from those who attended was a privilege. I wondered why it took Pearson Canada to get educators together, face to face, to talk about social media in Ontario education. I hope it’s a conversation that is just beginning and will continue in other venues.

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Why does school need to change? Because students have changed,

August 26, 2012 by acampbell99 · 2 Comments · Education, Society, Teaching

I always enjoy The Mindset List put out by Beloit College. It’s an annual list that comes out at this time every year that itemizes all the things that have changed in the world since this this years cohort of students entering university were born.  I think my favourite from this year’s list is that students entering university or college this year have never lived in a world without hand held Nintendo gaming devices :)

I think I enjoy it because it reminds me that our students are not us. They don’t see the world as we do and so we need to always be thinking about that and trying to find new ways to help them learn and understand the world.

I skipped ahead a few years  and pulled out an abbreviated list of things that are true about this year’s grade 9 class. I hope it provokes educators to think about all the fundamental ways their students see the world differently from them.

Things that are true about students entering grade 9 this year:

  • They’ve never seen a physical airline ticket
  • They can’t picture people actually carrying luggage through airports rather than rolling it.
  • There has always been football in Jacksonville but never in Los Angeles.
  • A significant percentage of them will enter college with some hearing loss.
  • Women have always piloted war planes and space shuttles.
  • There have always been blue M&Ms, but no tan ones.
  • Simba has always had trouble waiting to be King.
  • The most shot at man on television is Mr. Burns not J.R.Ewing
  • They have always enjoyed school with a digital yearbook.
  • Herr Schindler has always had a List; Mr. Spielberg has always had an Oscar.
  • History has always had its own channel.
  • If you say “The Twilight Zone” to them, they’ll probably think of vampires, not Rod Serling
  • Two-thirds of the independent bookstores have closed for good during their lifetimes.
  • Lou Gehrig’s record for most consecutive baseball games played has never stood in their lifetimes.
  • Genomes of living things have always been sequenced.

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The How and Why of Saving Local Schools

May 12, 2012 by acampbell99 · No Comments · Education

When considering school closings in Ontario there is little doubt that we need to reorganize our school system, but the current process for doing it is profoundly broken.

Enrolment in Ontario schools has dropped by 120,000 pupils over the past decade. There is significant excess capacity in the education system and the austerity minded McGuinty government is coaxing schools boards into closing schools, especially underused, small urban schools.

The province has created the Accomodation Review Committe Process to handle school closings. The ARC Process is the procedure that school boards must follow if they think a school needs to be closed. The ARC Process mandates the factors to consider, the timelines to follow and the public consultation that must happen.

This seems good and proper ‘on paper’, but in reality it gets quite messy. What hasn’t been accounted for, and what has been missing in the government’s funding formula for years, is that schools are not merely places where children are educated. Schools have many other functions and meanings.

Schools are a social hub in many neighbourhoods, like the arena or the grocery store. They are one of several “community anchors” where neighbours meet and connect. Sometimes people are there for school events like a play or ‘Open House’, and other times it’s for a yoga class in the gym, a soccer game on the back field, chatting as the kids work off steam on the playground equipment or just saying ‘Hi’ as they pick up the kids at the end of the day. These activities can and do happen in other locations, but it’s unlikely that they’re as organized around the local community as when they happen at the local school.

More significant than the social function of the local school is it’s symbolic meaning. The local school provides a link to the past for some people. They find it comforting that the school they attended is still there, serving their community. Many parents like the continuity of siblings attending the same school.

Schools are also a symbol of a vibrant, healthy community and a hope for the future. When real estate agents try to sell buyers on a house, one of the features they highlight is proximity to good, local schools. Schools are on the list of things that make a neighbourhood desirable, and so losing a school is seen as a step backwards that may result in lower property values.

Urban communities trying to revitalize and grow will find it difficult to attract young families without a local school. Young parents aren’t thrilled with putting 4,5 & 6 years olds on a school bus in the morning. They like the comfort of having their little ones taking their first steps out into the world close to home.

Consequently, people don’t give up their schools willingly. No matter how rational and sensible the arguments are, no matter how much the figures add up, people want to keep their local schools. So they fight to keep them open, through the ARC Process. The collateral damage of this fight is divided communities as neighbouring schools are pitted against each other, trying to prove that they, not the star bellied sneetches, should get to keep their school.

The ARC Process is ponderous and almost cruel in the way it lets communities believe they have a chance to save their school. Some schools have to close. There have to be losers and nobody, not the school board or the Provincial Government, wants to be the ones to tell committed, angry citizens that they’ve lost.

We need two things to solve this problem:

  1. Create an independent, arms length body to quickly and efficiently review board applications to close schools. Give them power to say ‘yes, or ‘no’ so the school board can get on with the business of reorganizing. This shouldn’t take more than 60 days. Treat it like taking off a band-aid. It’s got to be done, so do it quickly so the healing can start.
  2. Adjust the funding formula to recognize that schools are not just learning factories, but at the heart of communities. If we want strong neighbourhoods lets put our money where our mouth is and financially support the things that create connections. All of this pays off in better, healthier citizens, lower crime rates, improved economic growth, etc.
Resources:
People for Education: “Declining Enrolment/School Closings

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What is the ‘D’ in BYOD? Discrimination? Divide?…

April 24, 2012 by acampbell99 · 6 Comments · Education

Is this an iPad or just an empty bag?

 

BYOD or Bring Your Own Device is the workplace practice where employees bring their own personal devices to work and use them at work for work.

This is an increasingly popular workplace practice for three main reasons:

  1. It saves companies money, as the cost of the devices and for connectivity is shifted to the employee.
  2. Employees are using devices they are more comfortable and familiar with, and so are more productive.
  3. Devices and software that users bring are usually more cutting edge and up to date, again boosting productivity.
It wasn’t long after companies started implementing BYOD policies that  cash strapped schools began discussing using BYOD in educational settings. Schools, like many organizations, are facing huge expenses as the public, educators and students are insisting that technology be an essential tool in education.
Unfortunately many advocates of BYOD in education have forgetten that schools are not workplaces, and the wholesale adoption of BYOD in the classroom may leads to some very nasty consequences.
Shifting the cost of devices and connectivity onto users in a classroom means families and students have to pay. This is an equity issue. Public schools are not selective. Unlike companies they accept any and all students, and some of those families and students don’t have the resources to provide their own devices. Unless we provide technology for those students to have access to devices they’ll be left behind.
BYOD in educational settings also creates further inequity within the classroom and between schools. Some students will use the latest, up to date devices, others will have older, less functional technology, and others will be left with even older, board provided devices or none at all. We already have a huge Digital Divide in society.  BYOD policies bring that divide into the classroom and allow it to further affect student learning.
We need to decide what matters and put our education dollars where our mouths are. If we value equity in education, and believe students need to learn with and use devices, we must provide them for all students in the classroom. Allowing students to bring in their devices may be a way to enhance or add to a student’s learning in special situations, but it can never be allowed to become the norm.
A full-scale implementation of BYOD in classrooms would  significantly  disadvantage large groups of low income students and create a significant gap between schools and between students. A system with have and have not schools and classrooms with have and have not pupils isn’t good for any of us.

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“The Power of Ontario’s Provincial Testing Program”: My Initial Response

April 17, 2012 by acampbell99 · 1 Comment · Education

We're not writing EQAO this year!!! Hooray!!!

The culture and attitude towards standardized testing is shifting, in society in general and in education and parenting circles especially. The US movement for parents to ‘opt out’ of standardized testing for their children is one example.
Other Examples:
The good folks down at EQAO poked their nose into the wind, sniffed and decided they needed to get the word out that testing is good and great and have produced “The Power of Ontario’s Provincial Testing Program” a glossy 22 page book designed to inform the public how EQAO tests “…contribute to public accountability and to the continuous improvement on the part of every student in Ontario’s publicly funded education system”.
I had a chance to look through it today and here are my first reactions:
  • The case is repeatedly made that many educators use EQAO data in planning, so therefore it’s useful and necessary. The point that’s not mentioned is that we use the data because we are required to. Every year we are mandated to sit down and review last year’s data and discuss what we can do to move scores higher. It’s isn’t a choice. If you ask simply “do you use the data” the answer will be ‘yes’. Try asking a few deeper questions such as “do you want to use the data? do you think it’s reliable?” You may get a less biased view.
  • This also doesn’t account for the fact that educators try to protect their students from the impact of EQAO tests. Teachers are working hard  to make sure students come out of this year’s EQAO tests with their self-esteem in tact. That’s another reason educators use EQAO testing in our planning, in an effort to protect students. If students HAVE to write the tests we’ll do our best to prepare them because we are professionals, but that doesn’t mean we think it’s a good thing.
  • Apparently a 2009 Auditor General’s report found that EQAO tests “…are consistent in difficulty from year to year”. Maybe the AG doesn’t remember, but when grade 3&6 testing started it took FIVE FULL DAYS but is now just three part days. That doesn’t sound consistent to me. Anecdotally, teachers think the test changes annually and that standards are lowered to make the numbers look good.
  • “results are valid, consistent and reliable indicators of students achievement’- Don’t agree. Every year some the student results I see are not consistent with the student achievement in the classroom. Some students do much better and others much worse than what they show in class. Some students are good at pencil and paper tests and others aren’t. That’s why we use a variety of methods to evaluate learning, unlike EQAO. What’s more reliable, a year of in class observation and assessment or a three day snapshot?
  • Sixteen pictures of happy smiling children are scattered throughout the report. We have kids looking at globes, writing on blackboards, sharing jokes with teachers, etc. Only two of the pictures show kids that might be writing EQAO. Even the art director knew that writing a test isn’t fun.
  • EQAO touts the fact that it only costs $17/student/year to conduct the test. That’s the equivalent of about $500 for each and every class or an iPad per class if you want. I think an iPad in every classroom every day, all year will improve student learning more than three days of testing for those few students in the testing grades.
  • The report says “Unfortunately, the availability of the data they yield has led some groups to place distorted value on the results or to use them to rank school performance and make judgments about overall school quality. ” I think that’s firmly aimed in the direction of The Fraser Institute and their annual rankings of schools. I’m glad the EQAO doesn’t approve of this but the statement rings hollow. As my grandfather used to say, “If you sleep with the dogs, you’ll wake up with fleas”.

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Let’s Scrap EQAO

March 23, 2012 by acampbell99 · 2 Comments · Education

In early February of 2012 a dramatic shift occurred in a corner of the education world. Almost two months later the aftershocks are still reverberating. There’s no telling where this might lead.

In 1987 The Cosby Show was the #1 show on TV, “Walk Like An Egyptian”  was the #1 song and standardized testing of students was under way in Texas.  The Bangles broke up, The Cosby Show is a cliché but students in Texas still write standardized tests.

They write a lot of tests. Students in Texas write the The Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) developed by a division of textbook publishing giant Pearson. They write the tests every year from grade 3 to grade 10 and before exit. Over 25 years the program has grown in size and The State of Texas now pays over $100 million dollars per year to Pearson Educational Measurement for developing and scoring the test.

Ontario was behind the curve when it came to standardized testing. We didn’t

get started until 10 years later when an ‘arms length’ Crown Agency was formed called “The Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO)” delivered the first tests to Ontario schools. Since then, Ontario students have been tested by EQAO in grade 3, 6, 9 & 10. EQAO tests and results are a major consideration for Ontario public schools. The current budget for EQAO is “…approximately $33 million CDN”.

So what happened in February? Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott called the current testing system in Texas a “…a perversion of what is intended…”  and got into a war of words over testing. Now other educators are openly supporting Scott’s position including “superintendents of several high-performing North Texas school districts” and “State Board of Education member George Clayton”.  Texas educators feel that they’ve had enough of the continued emphasis on standardized testing and want to start moving away from it.

So what can we take from this? Texas educators have seen where emphasizing  testing takes us and the feedback isn’t positive. Let’s learn from them. Let’s get ahead of the curve and scrap EQAO now.

Dumping EQAO would allow Ontario educators to focus on using effective long term strategies to better prepare students for the 21st century. We won’t be spending time discussing what strategies we should use to raise our scores, or which students we can ‘bump’ from level 2 to the magic level 3.

The money saved could put a new iPad into every classroom in Ontario every year or pay for every students to have an enriching, off-site trip. Combine this with a renewed focus on learning over testing and we’ll have the makings of a real learning revolution.

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What’s Your Best Before Date?

March 17, 2012 by acampbell99 · 1 Comment · Education, Teaching

It’s amazing how quickly things go out of date. One day you have the latest, coolest tablet and the next, you’re lining up to buy a new model :)

Teachers go out of date professionally, just like tech. They go though the motions, doing the same stuff they’ve been doing for years. Staying current in tech requires an ongoing commitment to upgrade hardware. Remaining “cutting edge” as a professional simply requires an open mind and a willingness to admit you don’t know and are willing to learn.

I’m not an early adopter of devices. I don’t stand in line to get the latest updated gadget and my kids complain that we have outdated stuff. It’s not worth it to pay the huge mark up needed just to get a device first, especially when I know I can get the very same thing next year at a fraction of the cost. A year ago folks were lining up to buy the shiny new iPad 2. You can have the very same, brand new iPad 2, with all the same great features, for $100 cheaper today.

Once you commit to owning cutting edge tech you have to continually upgrade to stay in front. The downside of being an early adopter is that technology is continually becoming passé. Canada’s telecommunications industry is a good example of this, as explained by Jesse Brown at Macleans.

Canada used to be a leader in telecommunications technology, but lags behind 2nd and 3rd world countries today, and is badly in need of recovery and reinvestment. We were early adopters and invested heavily in the latest hardware to knit this spacious country together. Unfortunately, that was all pre-wireless and we haven’t reinvested. When Brazil and Korea were in line to get the latest phones, Rogers and Bell were at home trying to sell the back stock of rotary dial handsets.

Rather than devices I prefer to stay ‘cutting edge’ in ideas. I like to know what’s new, what the latest thinking is, and I enjoy reading about the newest, brightest ideas. It’s cheaper than getting the hottest devices and I don’t have to sleep outside the Apple store to do it.

Not everyone feels the same way. I was recently listening to sports talk radio (ok, so it isn’t all deep thoughts!!) when a broadcaster (in television) began ranting about hashtags. He reminded me of Dana Carvey’s ‘Grumpy Old Man ‘ going one about this “new-fangled” Twitter. The kicker came when he justified his ignorance by explaining he was too old to know about Twitter and then revealed his age. He was the same age as me (ack!!).

In marked contrast to this attitude is my former colleague at NYBE Peter Skillen (@peterskillen). Peter’s been helping teachers understand how to be better at teaching for a long time, and he inspired me to think critically about teaching and education when I first started. In all the time I’ve known him, he’s been well ahead of the curve when it comes to thinking about teaching and learning, and he still is.

I’m not sure how he does this. Maybe he was so far in front at the start that he’s just stayed there, and is waiting for the rest of us to catch up? I suspect it’s because he’s incredibly open to new ideas and completely committed to finding the best methods. He seems to be free of ego, willing to share and learn, and doesn’t act like he has all the answers.

I want to remain open to what’s new and exciting and fresh. I want to remember that I don’t know everything and that I still have lots to learn. I want to be able to put aside my ego and embrace the possibilities of the future. I want to stave off professional and personal obsolescence for as long as I can. I want to keep learning.

I have no idea what’s around the corner but I can’t wait to see. Bring it on!

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How Soccer Will Save the World

March 4, 2012 by acampbell99 · No Comments · Education, Teaching

“Even as a footballer, I was always being creative.” Eric Cantona

I love how a meaningful piece of writing, something that resonates with you, changes the way you see everything.

Seth Godin’s ‘Stop Stealing Dreams‘ doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it restates, reframes and recaptures a lot of ideas about teaching, learning and education. As I was reading, I’d often find myself nodding and thinking ‘yes, that’s what I think too’ (here are my first thoughts on ‘Stop Stealing Dreams’).

Bringing those ideas into focus has changed the way I see other things as well. I find myself categorizing ideas and methods barely mentioned in Godin’s book into industrial or non-industrial thinking (some writers use ‘post-industrial’ here, but I think this way of thinking pre-dates the industrial revolution. We are merely returning to it).

For example it’s now obvious that standardized testing is an intrusion of scientific management techniques (industrial thinking) into teaching and learning, an artistic and non-industrial activity. That’s why things like EQAO are problematic for so many teachers and students. Round peg into square hole.

Such categorizations are imperfect but sometimes it’s a useful lens to view things through . It was through this very lens that I was viewing another of my favourite topics, soccer, and reflecting on it’s place in the world and how it relates to modern education.

Modern soccer is a non-industrial activity. It pre-dates industrial thinking by centuries, having been played from the 3rd century BCE. Soccer is an inherently interdependent activity, just like learning. No single player dominates a match, and great players rise to the top only with the help of teamates.

Playing soccer is a complex problem solving activity, where each time you have the ball you must choose the best of twelve possible options in a few seconds. One of the highest compliments a player can receive is to be called ‘creative’, which happens when mental and physical skills work together to solve the problems faced in the game in unexpected and unusual ways.

Soccer is also a very dynamic and unpredictable activity. Conditions are always changing and strategies have to be re-evaluated and modified on an ongoing basis. The best players and teams are those that can do this and effectively communicate with each other. Sounds like modern learning doesn’t it?

Another key way that soccer is obviously non-industrial is the way it resists quantification. Individual statistics are rarely referred to and not very helpful in assessing a player’s performance. Compare that to the statistical analysis of baseball players highlighted in ‘Moneyball‘ or in other sports discussed at the recent Sloan Sports Analytics Conference at MIT. At the Sloan Conference papers were presented analysing aspects of Football, Baseball, Basketball and Hockey, but not Soccer, the world’s most popular sport.

In the culture of soccer non-industrial thinking goes even further. Players and fans often devalue the most important statistic of the game, the score. Teams aspire to the play the game ‘the right way’ and teams that play in an efficient but uncreative way are disparaged. Most players and fans would rather lose trying to play ‘good football’, than win playing an efficient ‘kick and run’ style.  True fans celebrate soccer as ‘the beautiful game’ where the end definitely does not justify the means.

Many North American sports fans, weaned on ‘win at all costs’ approaches, struggle to understand this aspect of soccer, and it highlights a fundamental difference in industrial and non-industrial thinking.

What does this mean for teaching and learning? It highlights that there are activities in a variety of areas (arts, problem solving, sports, etc.) which encourage and support the development of non-industrial thinking that students need to be successful in the future as described by Godin. We need to be aware of these activities and use them in education to develop these qualities in our students.

The dominance of industrial thinking in so many aspects of our culture (evaluating sports by statistics, movies by box office receipts, authors by books sold, people by numbers of FB friends) indicates how deeply ingrained it is. As we try and develop creativity and collaboration in our students and our schools we must realize that, at least in the short term, we are very much swimming against a cultural tide.

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“Stop Stealing Dreams”-Part 1

March 1, 2012 by acampbell99 · 3 Comments · Education, Teaching

It took me a couple of days but I made read through Seth Godin‘s ’30,000 word manifesto’, “Stop Stealing Dreams“. It’s a complicated text with a lots of stuff in it and it will take me a while to fully digest it.

Here are my initial thoughts:

  • I agree with Godin’s large premise, that public schools are outdated, industrial era institutions that need to change because we need citizens with different skills than we did one hundred years ago. So many of the things schools do have nothing to do with learning. I never understand the big deal schools make about being late. I understand about time missed, but some kids need less time or don’t wake up until later. What about that?
  • The history of public schooling is interesting, but feels familiar. I think it was covered more completely by reformers like  John Taylor Gatto and John Holt
  • The list of top 10 employers and the loss of secure ‘middle jobs’ is fascinating. It’s something I’ve been reading about for a while, but it seems it is finally here. What’s interesting is how resistant our culture is to changing the values. People still hang on to the notion that kids need to do what they and their parents did to get ahead in life. It seems like it won;t be until there is widespread failure that we realize the ‘gig’ is up. Are we sharing stories about people who’ve played by the old rules but can’t make ends meet?
  • The lack of a shift in culture is a problem as educators try to implement reforms. Parents want their kids to be obedient, do their work and respect authority and they want that to be rewarded. If it isn’t, or if parents are told that students are struggling because they lack creativity, they have idea what that means or how to help. It seems like we are straddling two paradigms and need to find a way to serve both.
  • I like the notion that we need to change our role as teachers and what we do. We need to become facilitators and coaches who help and support students as they take risks, fail and try again. We need to be less of a gatekeeper and more of a doorman. Teachers need to be in the business of helping students find their passion and fanning those flames. We need to shift from creating workers to creating artists and dreamers.
  • This of course runs completely counter to the various efforts out there to make schools accountable and measure progress. This will be a long and hard fought battle. And it will be fought in legislatures, in school board offices, in staff rooms and in classrooms. The old order will not go quietly.
  • Connection is the new crucial. The more connected we are, to knowledge, resources and to others the smarter we are. Smart is no longer about knowledge it’s about connection. Our students need to understand this today.

These are the building blocks of Godin’s manifesto and the rest of his writing is about how to implement this vision and rehashing why we should. The last section was about the coming change to post-secondary education which seemed very American and not as relevant to k-12 education, so I scanned most of that.

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Negroponte on Education

February 20, 2012 by acampbell99 · No Comments · Education, Quotes

““Whatever big problem you can imagine, from world peace to the environment to hunger to poverty, the solution always includes education, … We need to depend more on peer-to-peer and self-driven learning. The laptop is one important means of doing that.”

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