Friday, May 8, 2009

A Vision for Schools of the Future

You might not agree with all of Marion Brady's suggestions, if any of them, but I hope it is a starting point for thinking about what is important for schooling in the future. Check the article out below, and if you wish, comment on what you would like to see. What will make better schools and communities . . . short of more money? ~ Jim

*Originally published in the Orlando Sentinel. Published here by permission of the author.

Cheaper by the dozen
12 ways to save money at high schools

By Marion Brady
May 7, 2005

"Everybody wants the schools to be better; but almost nobody wants them to be different." ~ Joe Graba

Cheap! Maybe that's the key that'll open the door to educational change!

The appeal of lower taxes almost always trumps the appeal of higher-quality education, so the trick is to figure out how to educate better with less money -- a whole lot less money -- so much less money that state legislators won't be able to resist removing enough bureaucratic barriers to allow experimentation. High-school reform is on the front burner right now, so let me suggest some ways to save money at that level. Those who think quality lies in doing better what we're already doing will be appalled by the suggestions, but I agree with Joe Graba, former Minnesota deputy commissioner of education: "We can't get the schools we need by improving the schools we have."

So, starting with a clean slate, and thinking cheap, here are a dozen proposals:

No. 1: Take the phrase "neighborhood school" seriously and design around it. Choose local adult-student steering committees to locate, rent or lease centrally located community centers, churches, houses or other facilities.

No. 2: Set maximum school size at 30 to 40 students for morning classes, another 30 to 40 for afternoon or evening classes.

No. 3: Hire a three- or four-person teacher team, based on interviews and the team's written program proposal.

No. 4: Right up front, spend whatever is necessary to test and fix sight and hearing problems. It's a waste of money to try to educate kids who're functioning at less than peak potential because they don't hear or see well.

No. 5: Find out who each kid really is. It mystifies me how, with straight faces, we can simultaneously sing the praises of "American individualism" while forcing all kids through the same narrow program. For a fraction of the cost of present standardized subject-matter tests, every kid's distinctive strengths and weaknesses can be explored using inexpensive, proven inventories of interests, abilities, personalities and learning styles.

No. 6: Eliminate grade levels. Start with where kids are, help them go as far as they're able, and give them a diploma describing what they've done and can do.

No. 7: Eliminate textbooks. They're relics of a bygone era, cost a lot of money, the day they're printed they're out of date, and they're the main support of simplistic ideas about what it means to teach and learn.

No. 8: Stop chopping knowledge up into "subjects." Knowledge is seamless, and the brain processes it most efficiently when it's integrated.

No. 9: Push responsibility for teaching specific skills and knowledge on to users of those skills and knowledge -- employers. Specialized, occupation-related instruction such as that now being offered in magnet schools will never be able to keep up with either the variety or the rate of change. Employers will resist, so sweeten the pot with subsidies as necessary. (A bonus: Apprenticeship and intern arrangements will go a long way toward smoothing the transition into responsible adulthood.)

No. 10: Eliminate school buses, food services, athletic departments, athletic fields, cops on campus, non-teaching administrators, attendance officers, extracurricular activities. (And add into the tax savings much of the $50,000-plus it costs each year to keep poorly educated kids locked up in prisons.)

No. 11: Strip away all the non-academic roles and responsibilities state legislators piled on schools during the 20th century. Create independent municipal support systems for neighborhood-level, multi-age programs for art, dance, drama, sports and anything else "extracurricular" for which a local need or interest is apparent.

No. 12: Drastically shrink central administrations. Have them coordinate the forming of teacher teams, and relieve those teams of paper shuffling, resource acquisition and other non-instructional tasks.

School doesn't need to take all day every day. Suggestions 5 through 9 will make it possible to accomplish more in three hours than is now being accomplished in six. The special-interest, personal-learning project, which every student should always have under way can be done on her and his own time.

Not incidentally, I'm concerned with matters in addition to functional schools -- the creation of a sense of neighborhood and community, the expansion of community-service activities, and vastly increased contact between generations. Cutting out all the non-academic responsibilities will open up time for all kinds of fascinating, new, growth-producing activity.

Don't like my proposal? Dream up your own. But keep another Joe Graba insight in mind: "Everybody wants the schools to be better; but almost nobody wants them to be different."

What do you think? Have a dream of your own?

Earlier Post on Marion Brady's Views

Thursday, May 7, 2009


Okay - I'll admit it - I had my doubts. It was to be an online conference in real time for Maine educators and just about anyone who wanted to drop in. The vehicle: Adobe Connect Pro. That was the proposal, and all I could think of was what might go wrong.

Let me tell you this: This naysayer has been converted to an ardent believer! I have been awed by the organization and execution of the conference by David Patterson and his crew, and I have been inspired by the presenters as well as the participants. Well done!

I will even go so far as to say that this online experience has been even richer than a face-to-face conference might have been. The opportunity for interaction - at least in text, audio, and visuals - has been superior to being in the same physical space . . . and certainly a vast improvement over the ATM video system. Now don't get me wrong, physical connections need to be part of the mix in ongoing learning, connections right in the classroom and school, but gosh, this digital platform was superb. And to beat it all, I could enjoy it in my own home with a cold beverage close at hand.

Besides that, the conference will live on with recordings of each session. Here's a list in case you missed the real time experience:

Keynote – Angus King

Second Life – Rez your Teaching

iTeam Project-based Service to the Ambassador Actors

Enablemath 360 – a terrific web-based program that is to numeracy what Read 180 is to literacy

Vital Signs – Developing Student Understanding and Application of Inquiry using GIS technology to Monitor Invasive Species

When Essays Move – Bringing Content-Area Writing to Life through Multimedia

Mathematics in Design - An Investigation using GeoGebra

Low cost interactive whiteboard and EcoBeaker Maine Explorer (EBME)

Literacy and Technology across the Curriculum with a Graphic Novel

Visualizing Numbers

Rethinking Presentations – Prezi and Dynamic Narrative

Maine is My World GIS!

Blogging it Up!

PowerPoint Based Portfolios – Sharing a format that can be used in any content area for students and instructors to build portfolios

Applications of Calculus – A Resource Wiki

BackChannel Chats as Classroom Tools

Rural Voices Radio

Art Meets GIS!

Let Your Laptop Do The Talking

Creating a tessellation screen saver

A Wider World: Google Earth for Research, Writing and Sharing

American History – Family Narrative

Exploring Cultural Differences

GeoGebra – Redefining Math Instruction and Learning

Why Wait For the Science Test?

Using podcasts in the classroom to engage students and improve student comprehension

Google Earth, Ancient Rome, and the 21st Century

Promoting Literacy with Cartoons, Comics and Graphic Novels

The conference was a winner!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

21st Century Learners and Professional Development

by Ed Latham

If you missed it, people from all over Maine have been participating in the first MLTI Spring Technology Institute that is completely online. If you click on the workshop link you will not only see the resources each presenter had, but a recording of the session is there for your learning pleasure.

Online professional development typically consists of a presenter with a presentation that allows for some chatting in a chat box and a few Q&A sessions sprinkled in. This type of presentation has many merits and is firmly established as a norm for synchronous distance learning at many educational levels.

I had the wonderful pleasure of working with Olga LaPlante on the creation and presentation of an experiment in online distance learning. We worked many hours to create a hands-on activity that has participants taking active rolls and sharing their results and experiences. The materials and activity we prepared for this one hour session were very well done and required participant participation. Looking over the recording of the session, there is much room for us to process improvements in the delivery of sessions that require participants to DO, POST, REFLECT.

While participants had work time, it was impossible for presenters to see what people were doing, where they were at, and to hear from each individual to check in with each person as a teacher might do in a face to face classroom. The presentation tool has the capability to allow for some of this, but I suggest everyone would benefit from training on how to teach and learn online. I know there were participants that were stuck or had problems. A few were confident enough to be able to ask questions either in the chat or by voice. There were some that just felt like watching which may have bored them to tears because half the time was designed to have people working individually.

Distance learning is going to take a much bigger role in professional development if this MLTI Spring Institute is any measure. Many are very satisfied with the sessions they have seen and I am sure those that have attended many sessions can attest, for a first run, this has been a very big success so far. Potentially, we will have thousands of teachers looking for PD help next year. If PD is to be simply logging in, sitting down and listening and looking for an hour or so and asking questions then I do not feel participants would need much for training. However, if we want to create interactive or collaborative experiences online, participants need skills to be able to get the full effect of those presentations. Those skills could easily be offered in small chunks all year long at all sorts of hours throughout the year then by the end of the year we will have created a community ready for real digital interaction and collaboration.

So, what skills are necessary? Denise Ouellette (Media specialist in Fort Kent) shared with me a wonderful document that I believe all people need more than most of the content on standardized tests. She shared the American Association of School Librarians document entitled Standards For The 21st-Century Learner. I know that if the participants and presenters that attended our session were fully proficient in all of the skills offered in that document, the learning experience would have benefited so much more for all. We can't get people to that level unless we start with simple things like how do you chat, how do you do video, how do you do sound, how do you post an image or document, how do you private chat with others and so many other "basic" skills that are required for online engagement.

Suggestion: A group of people work together (Google docs is so great for this) to create short (1 hour) sessions that teach the curriculum of basic online communication and interaction skills. I have worked extensively on program development online with peers and something like this would be easy for readers of this blog to get done in short time. With the sessions outlined with resources and set to go, would it be far fetched to be able to offer these sessions once a month to all educators in a digital format? With all the prep done already, volunteer presenters would not have much work to do to facilitate. If sessions were offered at all kinds of hours teachers and administrators would more easily attend these sessions. If the collection of 1 hour sessions only drew 100 educators each month, that is 1200 people more able to participate in online learning experiences and joining the growing community of great teachers innovating and adapting educational practice to take advantage of technology available.

If there is interest, I would love to work with others on this. If others start up a google doc please add me ( If others want someone to start things up, fire away with email addresses and I can get a doc going for us.

Thoughts? Is it worth we, as a community creating an Intro to online learning sequence? Does it exist already so we can adapt it?