The following is a quick sketch of a presentation from the NCAIS Technology Conference: 21st Century Learning and the Rebirth of Learning on March 26th, 2009.

To be provocative I originally described this session as blowing up the traditional classroom. Blame the influence of Dan Heath, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive & Others Die, and Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat, and Crowded. The tsar bomba below is the opening screen of the presentation representing that at least for me I had to “blow up” my old lesson plans and start fresh.

So let’s get to it – I started with some quick quotations from some notables.

“What’s the point?” –  Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Professor speaking about new innovations like twitter and wikis. His point is that when these new tools first arrive there potential use is often unforseen. We have to play and mess around – personalize the use of these new tools – to make the part of the standard tool chest.

“…part of living is working but we need to prepare students for living” – Guy Kawasaki speaking at NAIS conference in Chicago refering to idea that our mission as schools in larger than college prep.

“…We need to create an ecosystem for innovation to solve the World’s problems..” paraphrased from Thomas Friedman’s presentation at Queens College in Charlotte, NC. He was speaking as part of his book tour for the aforementioned Hot, Flat, and Crowded. This comment struck me as it became clear to me that we are or could be a large piece of this future ecosystem – spinning out students with the skills and understanding to be problem solvers and innovators. I will leave working out the financial details of stimulating innovation to others.

” Give your work wings; it has to live beyond the classroom, not jus die here” – Marco Antonio Torres, Master Teacher and Digital Storyteller, in telling us about what he demands from his students. His students produce community film festivals and advertisements for organizations both in and out of the school. It got me thinking about trying to motivate my students to produce that had another purpose besides getting a grade and dying in a pile in the corner of my classroom.

Next we discussed what we thought a learning studio is, could be, should be…. you get the idea. The word cloud create on Wordle below is a mashup of excerpts from blogs, wikipedia, education websites, etc.

wordle map of learning studios
wordle map of learning studios

Some of the things we came up and I wanted to talk about are listed below:

  • student centered – students as active participants in creating, not simply receiving information
  • scaffolded
  • projects
  • choices
  • groups
  • access to tools
  • creation
  • exploration
  • messy
  • verb versus noun
  • what can you do with what you know?
  • metacognitive – student learning about learning in personal ways

Now the conversation tried to approach why create learning studios. I jumped back to the quotes from earlier in the presentation. My take is simply survival. Our World is wobbling off course – global warming, world hunger, economic crisis and inequalities, etc. and these problems will not be solved using tools, practices, and/or policies from the past. It will only be through innovation that we can improve the future.

Take a quick look at backers-of-21st-century-skills-take-flak that reviewed Ken Kay and a panel of dissenters discussing 21st century learning. While the focus on content versus skills seems ridiculous to me, I understand the confusion. The comment that hit me was WIllingham’s claim that teachers have been taught to teach with projects for 75 years and there must be a reason why they don’t. What if new tools like RSS readers, blogs, wikis, cloud computing, online apps, etc. made managing students projects easier ? Could it be that using projects in the classroom was simply to much to manage? I don’t want to over simplify the issue. Clearly, there is more than management to using project based learning, but the impact of new tools is truly significant.

Connecting new tools to classroom practice is fun, exciting but challenging. Thinking back to Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard Law Professor, who said What’s the point? I offered some new tools without obvious connections to the classroom on the iphone. Below are several paintings done by Jorge Colombo on this iphone using an app called Brushes.



NYC iphone art


New Yorker Cover (iphone art)

Now it was my students turn… they were all on spring break so I took the liberty of sharing some of their projects. Really I simply shared their ideas and how they approach creating new projects.

One important piece in a learning studio is assessment. How do you assessment student progress, understanding, mastery of concepts, etc. when each student is free to design how they want to demonstrate their understanding?  I share that performance assessment is major piece of how I assess. Rubrics and guidelines map out the skills and content that students must show mastery of in their projects. Often I do not even need to address the content since you cannot, for example, demonstrate understanding of a theme from To Kill a Mockingbird, if you don’t know the plot. Students created movies, board games, blogs written in character, photo journals, a wiki comparing themes in TKAM and Lord of the Rings, and more. In each one there was a clear demonstration of their understanding of the content and their mastery of the skills. I also mentioned how I use blogs, wikis, dabbleboard, and other online tools to assess especially during the unit.

Finally, I shared where all the ideas come from – my personal learning network. Briefly we discussed twitter, ning, blogs, wikis, and various other spots where I pull my ideas together and try to create some kind of Pink symphony.

other resources and links, not everything relates to learning studios but it helped me get here somehow:

everybody likes PIE

what is a ning?

life tweets are clogging up twitter

unintended consequences of technology

Clay Shirky is Thinking the Unthinkable

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