Lehmann's Philly: the same, but different.
What is learning? For the past few nights I've been enjoying my time with Marcie and her boss, Chris Lehmann, Principle of the Science Leadership Academy, taking a look inside their school's way of thinking.
Learning and teaching is about what the students can do, not what the teacher is able to do. It's about what questions we can ask together, about being inquiry-driven, through questions which are authentic, to which we don't know the answers.
It's about being passionate and whatever we're learning has to matter. Chris' students were cutting sheet metal, part of a project to create a new type of biodiesel which would be more efficient than existing methods. The class applied for two patents this year, and two communities in Guatemala are developing the product to provide fuel for real.
It's got to be meta-cognitive, everyone's got to think about what they did, how they did it, what they could do better the next time. It's got to be technology-infused, technology which is ubiquitous, necessary and invisible. We've got to choose technologies not on the basis of what's new, but what is good for a given task. It's also about being on the same page as the community with whom you wish to interact.
What do certain tools do the best?
Lehmann's approximate and reasonably false taxonomy:
Research: RSS, delicious, Google, Wikipedoa
Collaborate: wiki, google docs, moodle
Create: blogging, drupal
Present: podcasting, uStream, Flickr, iTunesU
Network: Twitter, Skype, Facebook, email.
But tools don't teach
We need strong pedagogical frameworks to see the whole learning experience, onto which we can slot the right tool for the right job. It's categorically the wrong approach to come up with an idea for a "blog project", "a podcasting project", "a social networking project", in the same way as it's wrong to approach pedagogy from a starting point of "what pedagogical proof is there that social networking improves attainment". You start with the pedagogy and use an appropriate tool to fit the pedagogical bill.
In Chris' school, every member of staff and every bone of curriculum is hung on Understanding By Design, with all the teachers using and all the students understanding the same metalanguage of the oeuvre. By doing this, students are able to reverse engineer the work they have done within the pedagogical framework the teachers have used, in the same way as assessment for learning strategies aim to promote. They are able to learn about learning.
So, planning is undertaken along these five structures:
Desired results: where do you want to go
Understandings: the big ideas - why are we teaching or learning this?
Essential Questions: The throughline - what do we keep coming back to throughout the inquiry?
Skills and Content: What is the stuff that we have to know to get to those big ideas?
If, after a period of learning, you assess by giving out a test, you are not doing project-based learning. Tests and quizzes are but a dipstick, a quick snapshot of where everyone is at. The projects themselves, the projects that are the creation of the students themselves, are the main assessment tool. They are constant, they are ongoing.
What Chris is describing seems to me, albeit in other meta-language, to be what Scotland's Assessment for Learning and Assessment as Learning programmes are beginning to achieve throughout our small corner of the world. The ambition of his school's learning approach reflects the Curriculum for Excellence. I really shouldn't be so surprised that Chris is one of those here at NECC with whom I'm the most comfortable chewing the educational fat.