On Alternatives to Fractured (Fractious?) Curriculum

March 22, 2014 § Leave a comment

In his seminal, Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, Sizer defines a new organizing approach as an alternative to traditional departmental silos.

1. Inquiry and Expression
2. Mathematics and Science
3. Literature and the Arts
4. Philosophy and History

In essence, these quadrants are the building blocks of an education for citizenship — each element a contributor to a student’s capacity to define and express his or her own values.

Reorganizing has the ancillary benefit of helping to contextualize knowledge more authentically, moving away from what Sizer characterizes as the, “Splintered view of knowledge that usually confronts high school students.”  Indeed, Sizer continues, “their world rarely uses the fine distinctions between academic disciplines” (134).  Neither does the adult world, I would argue.

In a consolidated landscape, teacher training transcends the disciplinary, opening more room to focus on techniques to foster the development of essential student skills. Sizer utilizes the paradigm of coaching to describe effective student and teacher training — a skill we who work in residential boarding schools appreciate and apply on a daily basis.  To Sizer, “good coaching cuts across academic specialization” (134).  Instead of investing our energies in defending our departmental garrisons from incursion, teachers have the opportunity to find common ground in the ways that we think and see in our fields, and to help students better appreciate these connections.

One can imagine the forging of a transdisciplinary framework where students gain the building blocks of curricular knowledge — or what we call “requirements” in our current parlance — in common seminars organized around a theme, or a real-world problem.

  • Communication: English, History, and Arts combine to approach essential skills of communication through writing, oral and digital storytelling both creative and historical, and other visual media.
  • Inquiry and Reasoning: Arts, Math, Science and History combine to approach the quest to derive meaning from diverse sources of information and data.  Infographics and other forms of data visualization are great examples of structuring intelligible meaning from static sources. 
  • Movements as Patterns of Thinking: A variety of the traditional disciplines can combine to form a chronological or thematic look at major thought movements, equipping students to study these ideas both within the world at the time of their conception, but also as critical lenses through which to evaluate the development of modern thought, and human artifacts of various descriptions.  Romantic Thought in Poetry, Art and Science could be one example. 
An idea that I have been toying with here as a bridge to more of this sort of work in our curriculum is a common essential question for school-wide, or grade-wide, consideration.  
  • What is the “good life”?  
  • What is the proper role of a just person in an unjust world?  
  • How does the velocity of the modern world impact our relationships– human and non-human? 
  • What are the hallmarks of a robust community? 
  • How do we know when “enough is enough?”  
While a more substantive reorganization of our curriculum — and with it the comfortable, recognizable rhythms of our lives in schools — requires far more thought and debate (justly so, I’d add) asking each class to ponder a common question initiates a dialogue between teachers about shared skills and ideas. On behalf of our students, who have been dutifully plugging away, trying to assemble coherence from the fractured menu of high school content, it is about time we searched for this common ground. 

By Request – Five Ways to Create and Use QR Codes In Your Classroom feedly

March 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

By Request – Five Ways to Create and Use QR Codes In Your Classroom
// Free Technology for Teachers

Recently, through the Free Technology for Teachers Facebook page I was asked for suggestions for tools for creating QR codes. Here are five suggestions that I often make in regards to creating and using QR codes in classrooms.

Russel Tarr developed the QR Treasure Hunt Generator. The QR Treasure Hunt Generator provides you with all of the things you need to get started creating your own QR codes and using them in your classroom. To use the QR Treasure Hunt Generator type out a series of questions and answers, generate the QR codes using the tool Russel Tarr provides, then print and display the codes around your classroom or school. Click here to view a sample QR Treasure Hunt.

Goo.gl is Google’s URL shortening tool. When you shorten a link with Goo.gl a QR code is created for it too. To find the QR code, click the “details” link after your shortened URL has been made. The details page also shows you how many times your link has been used. This is useful to me if I want to make sure that all of my students have used the link. If I see that the link or QR code has been used 17 times, but I have 25 students, I immediately seek out the students who haven’t followed the link.

QR Droid’s QR Code Generator allows you to create QR codes that link to websites, chunks of text, phone numbers, email addresses, contact information, calendar events, and location coordinates. To create your QR code simply complete the information fields that you want to link to then select the display size for your QR code.

QR Voice is a free tool that allows you to create QR codes that when scanned will play a short audio message. To create your message and QR code you can record a voice message by clicking the microphone icon on QR Voice or you can type in your message. Either way you’re limited to 100 characters. QR Voice is offered in Spanish, English, Japanese, and Portuguese. Teachers could use QR Voice to create QR codes that they then print and attach to objects in their classrooms or schools. Then have students try to identify those objects in the language that they’re trying to learn. To check their answers students can scan the QR code and hear the correct answer on their phones or tablets.

TagMyDoc is a tool that allows you to apply a QR code to Word documents and PDFs that are stored on your computer. Upload your document then TagMyDoc creates and applies a QR code to it. You can print the document with the QR code on it or simply project the QR code for your students to scan and get a copy of the document on their mobile devices.

Click here to register for the Practical Ed Tech Summer Camp.

This post originally appeared on Free Technology for Teachers .
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Ted Sizer on Essential Qualities of Good Schools

March 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Inspiration, hunger: these are the qualities that drive good schools. The best we educational planners can do is to create the most likely conditions for them to flourish, and then get out of their way (221).

– Ted Sizer, Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. 1984.

Modeling Close Reading for Future Teachers: Professional Resources | Edutopia

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment

Modeling Close Reading for Future Teachers: Professional Resources | Edutopia

We Didn’t Eat the Marshmallow. The Marshmallow Ate Us. – NYTimes.com

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment


“The marshmallow study captured the public imagination because it is a funny story, easily told, that appears to reduce the complex social and psychological question of why some people succeed in life to a simple, if ancient, formulation: Character is destiny. Except that in this case, the formulation isn’t coming from the Greek philosopher Heraclitus or from a minister preaching that “patience is a virtue” but from science, that most modern of popular religions.”

More on Collaboration: Essential Ingredients | Connected Principals

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment


“True collaboration is a very important skill and it is something that I believe that we need to teach to our students…both directly and by example. We need to develop learning activities which will force kids to collaborate. Why? Any time that I have been involved in a collaboration effort, the learning has been more powerful. Also, it is great to work as a team. You can’t be good at everything, but you can certainly draw on the strengths of others.”

The Curiosity Project

March 9, 2014 § Leave a comment


“International educator Scot Hoffman is a big believer in the power of curiosity to drive learning. After nearly two decades of teaching around the globe, he also realizes that school isn’t always so hospitable to inquiring minds. (As Einstein said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”) That’s why Hoffman has developed The Curiosity Project, a self-directed learning experience that engages students, parents, and teachers as collaborators in inquiry.

I first met Hoffman a couple years ago during a visit to the American School of Bombay in Mumbai, India. It’s a school where inquiry-driven approaches like project-based learning, design thinking, and maker spaces are taking hold across the curriculum.”

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