Sunday, 19 February 2012

Scaling Personalized Learning: Share your metaphor

What metaphor would you use to describe personalized learning?

I was reminded of the power of metaphors this past weekend at the #BCSSA12 conference in Vancouver on Innovation and Personalized Learning. Charles Leadbeater drew on the metaphors of wine labels and football (soccer) - themes which are part of our universal psyche. As we visualized the differences between the didactic nature of the French wine-labeling system vs the "barbaric" accessible nature of the Australian wine-labeling system, we reflected on what this meant in the current educational context. The insular jargon-filled world that is BC Education is surely more accurately represented by French wine labels - understood by the few and inaccessible to the many.

We also reflected on the concept of"total football", first introduced by the Dutchman Johan Cruyff, which transformed the game in the 70's. The concept was that a player would train to be skilled in any position and the roles were therefore fluid. In education, this would entail a roving leadership model that allowed for students, teachers, administrators and the community to weave in an out of roles in the learning process.

As we continue the conversation on how to "scale" personalized learning in BC - that is make it the rule rather than the exception - we need to be able to use a common language and vision for what it could look like. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, the Universal Design for Learning framework enables a teacher to plan for personalized learning but what is the story or image that we can use to dialogue with colleagues?

One image that comes to mind for me is a painting palette. Consider the 2 images below. One contains your primary colors while the other reflects all the shades that can be created from those colors. There are certain "primary" elements that make up the educational experience of a student - core courses, field trips, school activities, etc. - but what combination and quantity of these elements reflects the shade that is most appealing to each student? Surely the image of all the various shades more accurately represents the mosaic of students' interests and abilities in our school system.  Furthermore, we could consider that there are primary characteristics that make up the nature of each child but it is a complex combination of these characteristics that give him/her their individuality:

I invite you to share your metaphor on Twitter with the following hashtag: #PLmetaphor

 I'll leave you this week with a Charles Leadbeater video on innovation in education.  Have a great week.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

UDL: Engagement and Prophecy

The theologian Ronald Rolheiser stated that "to be prophetic is to be able to describe the present" (2011). 

What motivates our students?  What tools do they use to communicate?  What does society expect of them? How do we prepare them to be contributing citizens?  As educational leaders in a digital world, I sense we are further outside of our comfort zone than ever before in trying to answer these questions.  This is disconcerting when we are supposed to be leading the way.

The consultation process of the BC Education Plan  helps address these shortcomings and most importantly engages a particular group of stakeholders who are far more prophetic than we are - the students.  By putting into motion this process with our youth, the Ministry of Education is leading by example and challenging the rest of us to "let go of the rope" - as described by superintendent Larry Espe in his latest blog.  This direction also recognizes the latest brain research that proves how diverse the learning journey is for each individual.   Engaging the students in an educational setting in a variety of ways is one of the cornerstones of the Universal Design for Learning framework:

A failure to be prophetic - to be able to realize what is happening around us - prevents us from taking action and articulating a vision for the future.  In his book "The 5th Discipline" Peter Senge uses the metaphor of the boiled frog to describe this phenomenon (2006 - 2nd ed):

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death.

 Describing what is and what could be, is not only our mission, it is the basic structure for great oratory that has inspired people time and again.  I was fascinated with a recent Ted Talk given by Nancy Duarte that reveals this structure in a comparison between speeches by Steve Jobs and Martin Luther King.  I'll leave you with this structure - and talk - have a great week,

Monday, 6 February 2012

Epigenetics: The Science of Hope

At the 2012 Conference on the Early Years this past weekend in Vancouver, we learned many things but nothing quite as astounding as the new science of Epigenetics. Dr. Tom Boyce from the UBC institution HELP (Human Early Learning Partnership), outlined a phenominal new approach to the age old rivalry of Nature vs Nurture. While this science is in its infancy, the implications will ripple through society in a few short years. Here is a brief introduction by Dr. Boyce:

Because our genes and our environment actually interact at a molecular and chemical level, we can say that the line between child and context has become blurred (Boyce, 2012)

First of all, a couple of salient, if not discouraging statistics that remind us of the strong relationship between childhood trauma and challenges in later life:

* 50% of adult mental illnesses can be rooted in the first 5 years of childhood (Grienenberg)
* Even after controlling for IQ, high school dropout rates can be traced back to the quality of care a 3.5 year old child received - at 77% accuracy (Sroufe, 2012).

The science behind these statistics is now being borne out by studies that show how synaptic connections are impeded by trauma or toxic stress - especially in the early years.

Nevertheless, the HOPEFUL part is that through the science of Epigenetics, we are beginning to learn how the right kinds of environmental/social interventions can actually re-alter and re-compose some of these connections and processes.  Furthermore, while our genetic makeup is determined at the moment of conception - including some predispositions for anti-social behaviour -  how this DNA is "unpacked" and chemically massaged depends on our ongoing social context - both positive and negative.

In other words, Trauma at an early age does not have to mean a life sentence of societal challenges.  Of course we knew that certain programs and interventions made a difference but now we have the science to back it up and need to pursue the research that shows which interventions make the biggest difference - on a molecular level.
Click here for reference website

Once again, the successful approaches that are being developed for children that have experienced trauma, are approaches that benefit ALL students.  This is the UDL mantra.

Have a great week,