Sunday, April 29, 2012

Ed Latham: Educational Revolution

Many forces have been frantically at work to "fix" education while still maintaining tenets that were established in the Industrial Revolution. Billions of U.S. tax dollars have been spent over decades to create change and "improve education". As people in charge still argue what that may mean, the public has become very hostile and negative towards many of our educational professionals. Teachers and Administrators struggle to keep any sense of balance as forces tug them back and forth seemingly every other year in different directions. It may seem quite bleak at times.

Adversity promotes innovation and we are right on the cusp of seeing innovative leaders coming up with alternatives, systems and options.

Many have heard of Khan Academy by now. If you have not, please do yourself a favor and check it out here. Khan's vision is to offer a free, accessible education to anyone with an Internet access. He has assembled a wonderful team and as of this post over 140 million videos on his site have been watched by people from all over the world.

One of the goals of Khan Academy was to Flip the Classroom. Details of this movement can be found here. The basic thrust is to let students learn the knowledge level learning and maybe even a little application at home and then in class students can engage in higher level learning and doing. Wonderful concept and one that will come to fruition in our near future.

Not everyone sees Khan's work as the end-all savior for educational change. Many detractors point out that although the videos available at Khan Academy rival most paid services, especially in mathematics, simply flooding educational videos at kids at home is not the educational change necessary. You may get the gist of the concerns from this article. Critics may not have heard some of Khan's speeches in which he offers the disclaimer that his works are simply the first step.

Much of the work mentioned above is a positive step that works within the system to begin the arduous task of changing the behemoth of a system firmly entrenched in the United States. Another movement believes that game play and game theory needs to replace current practice in order to provide a working education system. There are many recent champions of such Gamification. One very popular force is Paul Anderson. He has worked for years to transform his entire practice of teaching science into a game. You can learn all about his great work here. Like all innovators, his passion and organization are inspiring many to think again about what works and what learning should look like.

So much excitement, so much that is "new", right? Wrong! At the turn of the 20th century, Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell developed a system of learning to help British Army Scouts learn basic skills like first aid and survival skills. This system he then applied to young boys to create the boy scouts. This system of education involves small units of study laid out with learning resources, projects, and product expectations. As learners complete their units they get a merit badge and other units are "unlocked" for continued study. All these years, the basics of gamified education have been laid out and silently working in a volunteer organization while our country continues to spend billions to save what many consider a failed system. Why don't we take gamificaiton experts from around the country and pump some of that money into them to produce the tools and resources and the new system we need to move forward? The short answer is that corporations are already frantically cranking out their interpretations and implementations in the hopes of getting school boards to invest in their solution. Even among the educational revolutionaries out there now, collaboration between forces seems limited by fame, production, and of course the potential profit margins.

I am a collaborator and feel that by working together, educators are so much more effective than individuals trying to survive in the safety of our classroom. I have studied games my entire adult life and have been an educator for two decades. Gamification may not be perfect. It may even only be successful with particular demographics. The point is our current public education system offers only a monopoly option based on seat time and made up subjective grading policies. With the addition of high stakes tests, educated adults are even now giving students the power to fire any educator they collectively wish to remove. Whether our current system collapses or we continue to plod through it's inefficiencies, we need to break up the monopoly to allow for different educational models to exist in our society. Current educational funding formulas not only discourage diversity of models, it effectively prohibits any hope of parallel systems. Like it or not, change will be happening soon. As parents and learners start experiencing some of these new models, the "business" of school may find itself out of a job. I know we teachers often don't have much time outside our 12-15 hour days, but if you teach, you may find it worth finding a few hours a week to look into these other models starting up and brushing up on skills necessary to adapt to those models. Come join the revolution.


  1. Thanks Ed, I love it and plan on linking to it in my blog!!

  2. So very sad, I hate to say it, but, I am just about on my way OUT. John Dewey would roll over in his grave...what a sell out.

  3. John Dewey was a major figure in Progressive Education which had the following tenets:

    1. Emphasis on learning by doing – hands-on projects, expeditionary learning, experiential learning
    2. Integrated curriculum focused on thematic units
    3. Strong emphasis on problem solving and critical thinking
    4. Group work and development of social skills
    5. Understanding and action as the goals of learning as opposed to rote knowledge
    6. Collaborative and cooperative learning projects
    7. Education for social responsibility and democracy
    8. Integration of community service and service learning projects into the daily curriculum
    9. Selection of subject content by looking forward to ask what skills will be needed in future society
    10 De-emphasis on textbooks in favor of varied learning resources
    11. Emphasis on life-long learning and social skills
    12. Assessment by evaluation of child’s projects and productions

    Dewey believed strongly that learning must be a social endeavor in which social reform can and should take place. Quite the contrast to much of the "Sit down, be quiet, and start studying this for your test" mentality that is still very much in vogue.

    I have had the pleasure of working with hundreds of teachers all over Maine as a mentor and coach. All of them are wonderful people who teach because of their passion and compassion. In most cases, the prevalence of feeling like they are "doing it alone" or "just surviving" are indicators that adult professionals may have strayed away quite far from Dewey's principles listed above. Think of the teacher comments shared during open house and parental meetings as you go back over the 12 items listed above again. Do you hear comments like "Ed is not working well with others..."? In elementary school you might. In fact I believe most of our elementary "system" still holds true to much of the progressive education philosophies. When students get around 13 it seems imperative we force them to "stop playing", "get to work" and "start taking learning seriously" as if their previous 12 years of their existence were a waste of time.

    Dewey would indeed be rolling over in his grave and would be fit to be tied. Teachers everywhere are living and breathing these frustrations and those towards the end of their career are counting the days before they can get out while at the same time feeling sadness, frustration, and a sense of loss. Teachers already offer so much of themselves in their work. I am hopeful that forums like this one offer discussion space, collaboration, and most of all offers more of the progressive education ideals Mr. Dewey was so passionate about.

  4. "All these years, the basics of gamified education have been laid out and silently working in a volunteer organization while our country continues to spend billions to save what many consider a failed system."
    This is a big problem, and without going too deeply into the subject, it is definitely a result of the opposite of volunteer organizations, which is the big central government with all their massive bureaucracy and endless attempts to increase their importance and justify their existence.
    On a brighter side, do you think that those who can afford it – or simply are determined enough, – will use these and many other resources and ideas to educate their kids at home? I never heard of modern homeschooling until a few years ago when I first heard of it and then met the first person who does homeschooling. I have since then met several people who homeschool for a number of reasons. Some do this because the child doesn't fit the mold, others because they can do so much more in a more meaningful way. So, when you blindly praise all teachers for their selfless labor – maybe it's worth differentiating. There are bad teachers and really rotten school systems where even the greatest of teachers give up and go home to educate their own kids.
    Speaking of Khan Academy, I follow one of the greatest critics of that concept's blog, Dan Meyer, who says that a Khan Academy would have been a blessing (as bad as it is) when he was homeschooled, because the alternative was simply nothing. Let's see, there are teachers who actually use Khan Academy in class... Playing his videos for the whole class. So, why are such teachers there, explain that again to me?
    No, using a variety of tools isn't a bad thing. But replacing a live lecture with a video lecture with the heralded educator in the classroom to press the button on the projector and the laptop??? Am I missing something?
    If I had a choice whose classroom to send my kid to (btw, why shouldn't I have a choice? Why is the teacher assigned to the kid, or the other way around, why can't a family meet the teacher and figure out whether it will or will not work for us? You know like an interview maybe? To be fair, I would be happy to do that myself, too, if I were a teacher. It's kind of important), so I would send him to Mr Meyer's classroom, not Mr Khan's.

  5. Olga, you mention using khan in the classroom and I would never advocate for that. Khan himself states often that his resources are to be used outside the classroom to front load the knowledge level learning so that when the student gets to the classroom the teacher can work on application through creating type learning activities. I agree that having a teacher use these videos in a classroom is not only redundant, but incredibly lazy and inefficient.

    I have worked with a few home schoolers and there are some that are doing wonderful jobs. I have also met some that let ego, religion, or just ignorance limit the learning opportunities their children get to experience. Fortunately, most home school students belong to a collective of families. These collectives typically have much better access to resources, more social interactions, and just by the nature of how many adults are involved more opportunities for constructive learning experiences.

    The original post was meant to highlight that many educational models are independently being developed and promoted and that traditional educators need to be aware of these other options that may some day run in parallel or even usurp the standard education system we know.

  6. Ed . . . thanks for the provocative post! :) Olga, now it's your turn!! ;) Care to post on a controversial issue . . . or otherwise?

    This is certainly a topic that needs lots of discussion. I don't think anyone yet has a perfect answer to what the best solutions would be in the evolution that is going to take place . . . but I'm sure it is going to happen. I am with those who are still trying to sort it out in my own mind.

  7. Ed, oh I am not taking your post as promotion of Kahn everywhere and every time. I certainly understand where you are coming from. My goal was to illustrate how it has been used and what other views are out there, that's all, just trying to expand the picture.
    I think that your examples support your message, indeed things are achanging