July 01, 2008

Lehmann's Philly: the same, but different.

Chris_lehmann 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
Learning objectives
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.


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sounds like something familiar Ewan. tools are simply things we use to do what we want to do

Once Again you are right on target. Its not about the technology but what learning being facilitated.

Spectacular on-the-fly summary of Chris' session, Ewan. Having listened/watched all of it via the UStream connection, your summary actually comes across as a vary accurate reflection.

I've (like others, perhaps?) been made brain-dead by 99.9% of folks 'liveblogging' unfiltered session notes...with little to no 'writing' voice thrown in by them to make the notes palatable to the reader.

You, on the other hand, demonstrate how vital it is to provide 'story' and 'context' when blogging from conference/classroom sessions -- that keeps the reader fully engaged. Simply recording facts without offering a compelling 'voice' -- as so many bloggers who cut-n-paste their session notes into a post -- means that so much of what matters is lost.

Just like what happens in most classrooms, it dawns on me as I type this.

Oh, and as always: your photographic eye is arresting. Good camera magic, fella!

Hi Ewan,
I watched the stream and was struck by the similarities with ideas bubbling here in Scotland nice to hear a transatlantic echo.

...but don't you think that tools change the pedagogy ? thats what many of us are finding when using GLOW for example..

Hi Jaye,
I think that Glow will change the pedagogy of some and, for others, will enhance the way they've been doing it for some time. It also makes more possible what is currently sometimes a bit of a struggle via traditional means. Learning logs are a good example, where learning blogs make reflection in the longer term over a wider range of critical friends possible.

"Lehmann's Philly: the same, but different."
I seriously inspire from your this quotation "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."
Very nice

Hey Ewan,
Sorry I didn't get a chance to talk with you more at NECC (left yesterday). Would have appreciated your take on what we're calling Essential Learning Functions--another way of looking at where you want to go, then considering which tools will help get you there. The functions are timeless, while the tools come and go, or can be swapped/adapted/mashed, etc. Welcome your take: http://reinventingpbl.pbwiki.com/Essential_Learning_Functions-BookExcerpt
We'll be updating and re-releasing regularly--a hot-swappable Appendix.

Hi Ewan, a good point well made. These Priorities were also recognised by Seymour Papert when he defined 'technocentrism'; focusing too much on the tool and overlooking the ethos and implicit beliefs about how people learn. Sure you'll have come across this, but I think it's always worth a reread.



A very informative post on learning. Couldnt agree more with you. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful article.

I loved the comment on tooliness- "You start with the pedagogy and use an appropriate tool to fit the pedagogical bill." I agree and well said!

While I realize I am somewhat late for this discussion, I wanted to express my praise for this blog’s succinctness and informative nature. However, I had a concern I would like to express. I usually do not approve of absolutes; they generally tend to disappoint one sooner or later. For example I agree, in most cases, learning and teaching that is meta-cognitive and technology-infused produces great results.

However, I do not believe that either is always needed with some learning experiences, like journaling. I remember journaling in my English class when I was fourteen years old. My class wrote in private journals which only my teacher read. She usually wrote comments to us in our journals, and then returned them. We never shared what we wrote with the class- or discussed the process of journaling. While I usually liked activities which involved meta-cognition, that journaling exercise was an amazing experience for me. Free to express myself with out having to share my ideas with others was very liberating. I felt I could truly write what I felt and observed and let my creativity and ideas flow with out the fear of judgments from my classmates.

Perhaps what concerns me about modern education, with its great push for the implementation of projects, technology, meta-cognition, planning checklists and high stakes standardized testing, is its homogenization of ideals and practices. Experiences that I had as a fourteen year old, such as hand-writing private journals seem to be endangered, and that concerns me- because only through that journaling exercise did I and many other classmates of mine gain our passion for writing.


Since my last post, one additional concern about this blog has manifested itself in my mind. The author wrote “tests and quizzes are but a dipstick, a quick snapshot of where everyone is at.” For those of us who teach in public schools, tests are not a mere dipstick; they are job security. Teachers, whose majority of students fails to pass standardized state tests, run the risk of losing their livelihood if test scores do not eventually improve. While teachers do not always like to do so, common-sense dictates that they put more emphasis on preparing their students to pass standardized state tests, instead of implementing project-based learning. It appears that society and politicians are at odds with some of the highly respected education-gurus; and unfortunately, depending on the circumstances, society and politicians have the power to dictate to teachers which path they shall take in regards to the learning experiences teachers will implement.


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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

Module Masterclass

School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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