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Transforming Education in 40 Days: A Call to Action

*** If you need the cliff notes version of this post, skip down to the Call to Action section! Last year I had a “hunch” about learning…specifically about curriculum.  That hunch turned into a full fledged idea and a mission to do better for kids.  Everywhere.  Along the line I met some truly incredible people who taught me things I didn’t know how to do before.  Like wire framing (thanks @ianchia), and pitching ideas (thanks @houseofgenius), and how to go about picking up programmers (thanks @toma_bedolla).  Now I’m ready to share the culmination of all this work with you. This isn’t just a post to tell you about what I’m doing, it is a call to action for everyone (yes, even you).  It is a request for you to join me in this mission in whatever form that may take. I have a vision: to make personalized learning a reality for EVERY child.  I know, it is big.  It is also doable. For those who are new to following me, here was my original “hunch” written on my other blog, Dreams of Education: “The problem with curriculum and textbooks is that they complete thoughts.  Curriculum and textbooks give the impression that learning has an end.  That when you have made it from cover to cover, the job is done.  I know in my own schooling this was true, I thought that school was teaching me what was important and that anything outside of the curriculum wasn’t important or relevant to my life…wouldn’t they have included it otherwise?  How did curriculum get this way?  Well, people realized that there was no possible way to cover every facet of learning, so they stripped it down to what they thought was important.  The problem? What is important to you may not be what is important to me.  What’s more, something that is very important to me may have been cut all together so I don’t even get the chance to know that it is important to me.  Humans tend to like things that are definable, we like things that we can put into a neat, orderly box and carry out in a predictable way.  It feels safe and manageable.  This is what led me to the following hunch: What if curriculum was more flexible?  What if curriculum/schools/learning looked more like Pandora.  If you aren’t familiar with Pandora, it is an online radio station that plays the music that it thinks you will like.  You type in an artist or song and it creates a customized radio station just for you.  It is remarkably accurate.  Pandora almost never gets it wrong for me.  It is like they have a direct line to my brain and can predict what song I would like to hear next.  When it is wrong, I can give the song a thumbs down and it apologizes profusely for the error and promises never to play that song again on my station.  The other thing I love about Pandora: I can have multiple radio stations.  Because sometimes I really couldn’t think of anything in the world better than Frank, Dean, and Sammy; but other times  I also want a little Timberlake, Whitestripes, or Bangles.  What if curriculum looked like that?  What if learning happened as a result of typing in one subject or topic that a student was enamored with and a completely personalize learning journey began playing out for them?  What if students were led through a journey that was completely customized?  What if they had several stations mapped out for them?” I believe this is possible.  I believe it is within our reach to create a completely personalized learning experience to every unique child.  I believe that we can honor humanity instead of treating our kids like widgets in a factory.  I believe that teachers should be teachers, focused on the needs and development of the child instead of teaching the masses through scripted curriculum. This is The Learning Genome Project. The Learning Genome Project will empower teachers and parents to become engineers of learning by providing each individual student the exact content they need, at the exact moment they need it.  The Learning Genome will enable students to explore the process of inquiry, experimentation, discovery and problem solving.  Instead of learning how to pass the next test, we will enable students to construct meaning and learn how to transfer that meaning to new life context.  At the hub, the Learning Genome is a platform that aggregates resources and, using a series of algorithms, provide recommendations of the BEST resources to meet the individual learning needs of a specific child.  The Learning Genome creates those serendipitous moments of finding just the right learning tool to meet the needs of children at the right time. Much like Pandora finds that perfect piece of music, the Learning Genome will find the perfect piece of learning material to aid the student in learning.  The key to the Learning Genome’s success is crowd sourcing.  I will be drawing on educators around the world (that’s you!) to help me tag curriculum, books, lessons, videos, apps, websites and other educational content.  This collection of tagged content lives in the centralized “cloud” and wil allow users around the world to find and access materials that best suit student needs.  By gathering information about the individual student’s learning style preferences, multiple intelligence strengths, social/emotional levels, interests and passion, the Learning Genome can help teachers to create customized learning maps for each individual.  This portion will be free. Every child deserves a unique learning experience. In addition to the Learning Genome Hub (the aggregate), the site will include a complete Student Information System, planning tools, e-portfolios, e-learning, individual learning plans, assessment and blogging tools.  All of these will work seamlessly together for you go-to for learning and planning. Changing the world here. Call to Action So…how can you help?  I’m glad you asked! 1.  Learn more about the Learning Genome at indiegogo. 2. Please consider investing in this mission (see the awesome perks that includes below). 3.  Blog about the Learning Genome with a link back to the indiegogo campaign (be sure to link to those posts you write in the comments below!) 4. Tweet about this project…a lot.  Let’s completely take over the Internet with tweets about the Learning Genome and taking over education for kids! Please make sure to link back to the indiegogo campaign so that others can learn about it! Use the hashtag #standagain (because after all, we are helping children “stand again” in their learning) 5. Offer your time as a Learning Genome Content tagger or beta tester 6.  Mention us on Facebook and like us on Facebook! 7.  Did I mention spread the word? Seriously, that is SO helpful!  You never know who might see that tweet and drop a couple thousand (or more) to make this project go! 8.  Time is of the essence.  I have 40 days starting NOW to make this happen.  eeek!  I need your help! So, what are the perks to helping with this project?   $5  gets your name on the Learning Genome Change Makers page.  You are changing education. That makes you a big deal.  I want everyone to know what a big deal you are!  I know many of you don’t think that your $5 can do anything.  Wrong.  According to my cluster map, I have hundreds of thousands of visits to this blog.  If each of you pitches in…we all win fast! $10 Remember all those cool Bloom’s Taxonomy posters I made?  This campaign is now the ONLY place you can get them.  These are 8.5″ x 11″ versions of the poster. $30 Learning Genome beta tester. You get the inside scoop and ability to play before ANYONE else.  I know, pretty cool. $60 EXCLUSIVE A full size large-format print of my Bloomin’ Peacock mailed to you.  That awesome little Peacock looks even better large.  Did I mention this is the ONLY place you will get a big version of this? $500 Even more EXCLUSIVE  you get all of my Bloom’s re-imagine posters in the large format.  Perfect for your classroom, library or as a gift to your favorite teachers. $1000  My Searching for daVinci webinar for your school.  What better way to spend your professional development dollars than learning how to create a daVinci like culture of learning at your school?  Worth it! $5000 For my corporate friends who want to see their logo in lights as a company that supports education and changing the world.  If you have an education company, The Learning Genome Project will be the place to be seen.   We have $85,000 to raise.  It sounds like a big number.  We can do it together.  I figured if I am going to lean on crowdsourcing to transform education, the funding should be crowdsourced too.  How awesome will it be to join together as an education community to say, together we transformed the way learning is done.  We changed things for every child in the world.  Yeah, it’s big.  

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Knowing Everything and Students with Names

Posted by admin | Posted in Blooms Taxonomy, inspiration, professional development, Teacher Resources, Technology | Posted on 18-07-2013

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This post is in response to a Newsweek article titled “What if You Could Learn Everything”

“Imagine every student has a tireless personal tutor, an artificially intelligent and inexhaustible companion that magically knows everything, knows the student, and helps her learn what she needs to know.”

 

Jose Ferreira, the CEO of Knewton, has made this artificially intelligent companion a reality for k-12 students.  He has partnered with three curriculum companies including Pearson, MacMillan, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt as part of his vision for making Knewton the adaptive learning tool that will make textbooks obsolete.   This “adaptive learning will help each user find the exact right piece of content needed, in the exact right format, at the exact right time, based on previous patterns of use…  Knewton, at base, is a recommendation engine but for learning. Rather than the set of all Web pages or all movies, the learning data set is, more or less, the universe of all facts. For example, a single piece of data in the engine might be the math fact that a Pythagorean triangle has sides in the ratio 3-4-5, and you can multiply those numbers by any whole number to get a new set of side lengths for this type of triangle.”

Knewton works as you might suspect, it begins with a test to see what a student already knows.  Content is pulled in the form of reading and videos to teach the student the things that they do not know.  This is similar to what many other “personalized” adaptive learning systems are doing.  What makes Knewton stand apart is the way that the technology “reads” the student.  As the student is learning, the technology is recording timing, confidence, tabulating each keystroke, and whether the student is guessing or taking their time to answer questions.  So, the more that a student interacts with Knewton, the smarter it becomes and the better that the study recommendations get.

When I see technology like Knewton, it astounds me.  I am always excited about technology that has the potential to improve learning and that feels seamless for humans to interact with.  While the geek in me rejoices that someone is tackling a project this substantial to increase learning, the educator in me is disappointed.  Knewton is all about knowing things. It is about facts.  But, is it really worth all of the effort for technology to train humans to be computers?  I mean, that is essentially what this is doing, no?  We are creating a new factory model, this time the technology is programming us.  Ironically, this is exactly what Knewton’s CEO is working to overcome.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that are worth knowing.  Important, foundational things that shape the rest of what we are able to do.  But, who gets to determine what is foundational and essential for a student to know?  As far as I’m concerned, most curriculum companies are already overreaching in what every single child MUST know.  So, with the vast amount of knowledge available in the world, how do we determine what is really critical for us as a society to know?  The rest of it, while interesting and important, is not necessarily worth forcing.  Even the title of the article, “What if You Could Learn Everything?” makes me cringe.  I don’t want to know everything.  I don’t want to be so crammed full of facts that I can rock a game of Trivial Pursuit, but I can’t actually DO anything useful.

My bigger problem is that once again, we are introducing a tool into education that intends to personalize the learning experience for the student, and in doing so, strips away their humanity.  You see that don’t you?  This is turning children into computers and fact recallers.

But students have names.  They have stories.  Teachers have a different kind of urgency to make things better because we begin and end with students who have names.  This goes beyond the altruistic, “wouldn’t it be great if education worked better” motivation of politicians and curriculum companies who have the ultimate goal of improving our  rank in math and science.  As a teacher, you deal in humanity.  You are concerned with the life that is being shaped.  You want kids to know that they are more than the collection of facts that they have memorized.  The are unique and have something important to offer the world.  That they matter.  Humanity.

So, while I find the concept behind Knewton fascinating, it isn’t what I want for education.  It may fill a need for a piece of the puzzle (namely the foundational knowledge piece), but it isn’t going to make education better if it becomes education.  Being educated is more than just knowing facts (and I’ll remind you again that we already have computers for that).  Being educated means that a child can make connections, synthesize, analyze, evaluate, apply, create something new.  It is learning that is applied.

Technology will play a critical role in the evolution of the classroom.  The role will be different from what Knewton offers.  Instead of assuming that all kids need is facts, the technology will recognize and embrace the humanity.  It will offer more than one way to learn, because while some kids will really enjoy sitting and reading, watching videos and taking an online multiple choice test, others will want to try out a concept through experimentation.  They will want to build something new with their knowledge, or launch further investigation into a concept, or take a field trip and see the learning for themselves.  Learning cannot be reduced to a computer.  This changes the recommendation engine and relies heavily on skilled educators.  This takes into account who a student really is and makes learning recommendations based on that.  The recommendations aren’t relegated to a computer, they can be field trips, videos, apps, projects, activities, experiments, books, and anything else that can be used to learn.  This is utilizing technology for personalization beyond pacing and content exposure to pass the next multiple choice test.  This is empowering teachers to truly shape the learning experience for each student.  This is recognizing that students should have a say in how and what they will learn.  This is why I created the Learning Genome Project.

The Learning Genome Project recognizes that learning is more than just a collection of facts.  It embraces humanity and rejects the idea that humans should be computers.  It will be transformative because it works to make each student the best that they, individually, can be.  It works to strengthen the WHOLE child, not just the fact reservoirs in the brain.  It goes beyond remembering content and challenges students to do something with their knowledge.  I can’t tell you how many students I have met that know their multiplication facts inside and out, but have no idea why finding area requires multiplication.  Knowledge is useful when it can be applied.  The Learning Genome Project urges students to go beyond knowing into the other, rich areas of learning.  Blooms Taxonomy is a useful for thinking through what it means to learn.  Knowledge and understanding are a portion of the learning, but so is the ability to analyze, evaluate, apply and create.  Learning is multifaceted and alive.  It can’t be so neatly all contained in this sort of adaptive learning technology.  Education should utilize technology (I tend to believe this will be the Learning Genome Project) in order to reach the individual.  It must reach outside of itself and meet that student with a name.  It must be able to recognize a student’s need without demanding that the need be met with a predetermined question/answer set.

This post took me some days to think through and write.  It spurred some new thinking for me.  It made me go back through the Learning Genome Project wireframes to dig out any hidden corners that may harbor something that would strip the humanity.  It caused me to think of a new Bloom’s Taxonomy image.  I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Hat tip to @alexbitz for sending me this article!

**If you know an investor who might be interested in the Learning Genome Project, I’d love an introduction!

Comments (5)

[…] article I read this week had me thinking about Bloom’s Taxonomy and what learning really is.  It led to me coming up […]

There are times I just want to crack the heads of educators together. The problem is that each sees the world from their perspective. Fill a room together with educators and there are those who talk about how to push the best students further and in another corner there are those who devote their whole being to helping students to just be able to read a simple instruction manual. When anyone from either group gets up to speak, those from the other group tune out or belittle the speaker as being irrelevant.

I recently met with the principle of a middle school that told me that the first thing they ask incoming students to do is to write the alphabet and that many cannot. Until almost ALL students can read the simple instruction manual or do simple multiplication then simply knowing stuff is a valid goal and all the tools that support achieving the basics are needed.

I would like to know what others think about this.

Bill, the failure of many is to recognize that EVERY child is uniquely individual. The assumption of many (secondary education reformers, who may or may not have ever been educators) is that the foundational skills are a given. As you point out, this isn’t the case for many students around the world. Because the strong foundation has never been built, the focus on rote memorization is of little practical use in real world application. We have to change the way we approach what learning actually is. Learning, I would argue, has little to do with rote memorization. It has more to do with the ability to make connections, synthesize, approach a problem with agility, explore/indulge in curiosity. Without these, the memorization has no application to anything useful.

Hi Admin, Thanks for the response. Based on your comments I suspect you are thinking of other than being able to read and Arithmetic when you say education. Unfortunately, the criticism of memorization and the like often blocks efforts to make sure every child learns to read and do basic Arithmetic. There are many 5th graders who cannot write the alphabet or do multiplication let alone division. In fact, about half of all US students are 1 or more years behind by the 3rd grade. In most of Germany, when a child is behind in the 4th – 6th grade they are blocked from continuing in a better school (more than half of all students – they are not worth the investment – late bloomers need not apply). I agree with you with regard to higher level learning but I am working on a project to ensure every child has 100% mastery of reading and Arithmetic by the end of the 4th grade and the debate about higher level learning often hinders helping those who are not even getting to the level where teaching creative thinking is relevant. Perhaps one needs to find new words for foundation education and the rest because the two groups cannot communicate (and probably do not need to). You close with “without these, the memorization has no application to anything useful.” I beg to differ. If the bottom 50% of students in most developed countries could at least read and do Arithmetic effectively they would have very different lives even if they formally learned nothing beyond that. (By Arithmetic I mean (add, subtract, multiply, divide, fractions, decimals, rounding, percent, ratios and proportion, time, money, estimating, sizes and volumes, negative numbers and even some pre-algebra, etc.)

Bill,
I have to respectfully disagree with the last line. The drastically different, truly life-changing, education doesn’t come from memorization. I know students who can memorize addition/subtraction (know their facts inside and out) but can’t find perimeter or area. That is not a skill that is useful for any sort of life transforming implementation. Reading is of little use if it is skills based alone. If students can phonetically read a word or answer canned questions about a text, it is not the same as the ability to read and then DO something with the new information gained (apply it in meaningful ways). The skills are important, but I believe the better approach is learning in context.

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