#Learnopolis and INMAX

Today, Westminster is hosting INMAX – a Benchmark Research membership group of large, independent schools in the U.S. The topic of focus is leadership and innovation, and the agenda appears quite intriguing as a whole.

At 11:30 a.m., Jill Gough (@jgough) and I (@boadams1) will be sharing a story about tearing down walls and connecting dots. We will be sharing the story of our school’s multi-year journey to become a PLC – a professional learning community. The official title of our session is “Learnopolis: Tearing Down Walls with PLC.” We plan to use the Twitter hashtag #learnopolis for tweeters, and a PDF of our slide deck is embedded below (the iMovie in slide #9 is inserted below, too, as a YouTube video).

In short, we are trying to communicate the following:

  • “School” hasn’t changed very much in the last century – maybe longer. [We need to adapt and evolve!]
  • Schools exist in a bit of an “egg-crate culture” (Kathy Boles), as we have generally organized with individual teachers and rows and columns of students. For the most part, teachers are relatively isolated as professionals.
  • In the 21st c., we can capitalize on the notion of social networks by rethinking and rebuilding the critical infrastructure of schools – the human infrastructure. [New basic building block should be learning teams.]
  • While we cannot rebuild the physical plant, we can rebuild the way we work within the physical plant. We can build a learnopolis!
  • By shifting our central paradigm from “teaching” to “learning,” and by providing regular, job-embedded, structured time for teachers to collaborate, we can build the schools that 21st c. learners desire and deserve.

We are looking forward to learning together with our colleague schools at INMAX today! And we are looking forward to building a learnopolis! After all…it’s about learning!

18 thoughts on “#Learnopolis and INMAX

  1. This is a great conversation. I love the idea that education is about “drawing out” rather than “filling up.” That is a great metaphor as we transition from teaching to learning.
    I am struggling with some of the same issues as Adrian in teaching US History. I don’t know how to make the course more “inquiry driven” while still communicating the narrative and scope of the course.
    However, while “teaching” History of the Ancient World (HAW) this summer for the first time, I didn’t have “files to pull” for lecturing, and the course became more student driven than ever, and I have never received more positive student course feedback. I found that to be an interesting correlation.

    From one student: “I learned more than I think I ever have in high school. It might be becuase I really love history and focusing on just history made me really curious about it so I asked questions I wouldnt normally think about!”

    For me, the student feedback reinforced that students learn more when they take an active role in what they are learning, and when they have an opportunity to question rather than just receive information. I’m not sure if every course (ie:AP’s) lends itself to this type of structure, but it worked in this case!

  2. Pingback: the river as once-and-future classroom « postcards from the outback

  3. Hi…I’ve been thinking about this conversation quite a bit. I’ll try to explain the way I think about the learner/student language. I read Coach Wooden’s book You Haven’t Taught Until They’ve Learned over a year ago on a recommendation from my friend Jeff McCalla. I immediately suggested it to Bo. My approach to the children is very different now that I have changed my language from student to learner. Their approach to me is also very different. Here are two examples from my student course feedback:

    1. Everything that we did this year was so helpful. I really enjoyed this class year and what we learned. Words cannot describe how much you have helped me. I now try to approach all my other classes like I have towards math. You have been such a great helper and encourager, and I can tell that you really wanted me to do my best.This year has been so fun and not once did I consider that I would ever be “good at math” The second chance tests really proved how much I know and I am so happy that I had you as my teacher. Thank you so much for everything that you have done.

    I began teaching in the fall of 1986. I can’t find a note where a child referred to me in writing as a helper and encourager before this year.

    2. I strongly agree. I have never been excited about math, but this year it was my favorite class. I like being smart and solving things. I have knowledge that will help me solve other problems in the simplest way possible. You taught me in a way that made sense. Why take the long way with problems when there is a shortcut or an easier way? You made me think, and i really appreciate the work that you did for us so that we could learn. I never would have expected that i would like math so much, and I know you put a lot of effort into every single one of your students so that they might feel the same way as i do now. I am so grateful that i had you as a teacher. Thank you for teaching me how to think critically and love math.

    I don’t have many years of SCF where the children talk about my effort for individual learners as well as for the class.

    I take on a different responsibility when I focus on their learning rather than just my teaching. How am I differentiating for the advanced learner while lighting the path for the strugglers to make their way to proficiency? How do I support the child that needs to catch-up while making sure the others are not waiting?

    I agree that the child has responsibility for his/her learning. I was going to say I just don’t want to give up too soon, but I just don’t want to give up. I don’t want to give up, period.

    I strongly agree because at times when I didn’t understand, instead of telling me the answer or saying something like “It’s not that hard to understand! you should have listened the first time!” you would say something encouraging along with something informative to help me solve and correct my own problem. You didn’t assume that I wasn’t listening when I didn’t understand, and you focused on learning and not actually the number grade. This made math less stressful, and I was able to take much more in, and by the end of the year my first chance test grades improved immensely. I think just because of the process you took us through to learn it.

    I also think (and hope) that I am modeling learning with them. While they have been working to learn algebra, I’ve been working to learn to better assess learning. I’ve also been working to better and more efficiently differentiate lessons and assignments. I openly discuss my hypotheses and conclusions. I ask for their input and feedback. I make adjustments based on their feedback. I don’t always get it right the first time, but I try again. Isn’t that what I want them to do?

    We are learning together.

    • Sounds like you are in very good place both from yours and the kids’ perspective. I too am in a similar place, and the feedback that I get, suggests the same about the kids’ that I teach, too.

      I think we are looking for the same things here, and that’s (chiefly) to have the students learning things. I see great merit in many of the approaches that you are employing and understand where you are coming from.

      I have very different ideas about how to achieve those same things though, and strongly believe that academic rigor, LEARNING and valuable life lessons can be achieved in more than one way. Constant reflection is the hallmark of a professional, and I shall continue to be self-critical, but I’ll take some serious convincing that learning is NOT taking place via my methods, before I make a 180 in my approach.

  4. Thanks for taking the time to reply. This is fascinating to me.

    Answering your first question;

    In OUR exchanges the distinction between teacher and learner are indeed difficult, I agree. However, we are peers. The children and I are not! I’m a little uncomfortable (in fact I’d go further and say it’s potentially bad/dangerous) to blur those lines too much. I’m not saying that I cannot learn stuff from them, but the traffic is NOT flowing in each direction in equal volume – it just isn’t!

    In terms of point 1.

    I really worry about the foundation that may be missing here. At this age there’s a LOT of boring, fact based learning that needs to take place BEFORE deeper, more meaningful, creative learning and problem solving can take place – in the cathedral analogy without good bricklaying the whole thing is going to come crashing down. You can’t solve complex chemistry problems without knowing about the atom, protons, neutrons, electrons and a few element symbols. Some of that is BEST delivered with tedious, uncreative legwork.

    As for, “Yes, I taught that; they just did not learn it!” I actually think there is some TRUTH to that! There really IS a responsibility of the student to ‘learn’ it themselves once it has been delivered. That seems like a worthy goal and one that should not be thrown out. I understand the spirit of the quote, but let’s not move that responsibility totally from the kids.

    I certainly understand chemistry a lot better know than I did 20+ years ago, and of course that’s because I’ve been immersed in it everyday, but I simply don’t think that’s a very good analogy for the situation that the kids find themselves in.

    Anyway, good stuff….onward….

    • Adrian,

      Thanks for the dialogue, and thanks for having it in a public forum for others to read and comment. Much better than the email.

      A few thoughts come to my mind. My boys are awake and wanting to play, so I am bullet-listing for now. Sorry for brevity here and any unintended tone that e-brevity implies.

      1. I am NOT advocating that you be “buddy-buddy” with your students. I believe in keeping those lines crystal clear. You asked for some clarity on “teaching v learning,” and I thought the exchange we are having was one way to express the difference. You are right that traffic flow between teacher-student is imbalanced, and that is because we play traffic cop a lot, too, in addition to being on the road ourselves. If informational intelligence is one’s biggest measure, then you are correct that you are “superior” to the teens in your care. There are other intelligences, though, and they are increasingly important in this century. Information is less at premium because we can access “boring info” in so many more ways. In the past, school was the main way. In too many cases…it still is.

      2. I totally disagree that “there is a lot of boring, fact based learning that needs to take place BEFORE deeper, more meaningful, creative learning and problem solving can take place.” I think we convinced ourselves of that as educators prior to this new era, and I think we have gotten into habit of that progression. If huge knowledge transfer is the primary goal, and it may be for you as a HS AP teacher, then the “DELIVERY” model is the most efficient. But education means to “draw out” not “fill up,” and learning should be about so much more than facts, knowledge, and efficiency. In the discovery model, learning matches more real life, sticks, and promotes further learning in more cases.

      3. If the cathedral builders were sitting in desks learning how to lay bricks from someone showing them from a textbook or a SmartBoard, I would agree with your analogy. But I think your analogy does not work for me – the brick layers are actually building! They are DOING CATHEDRAL BUILDING! I think students should be doing more and sitting and listening less. Let them learn [chemistry – fill in blank] by DOING the [science – other topic].

      4. I realize you have external pressures (AP for example) that make #3 seem hard, if not impossible. But there are other schools having great AP [chem] success while moving away from so much sit n get.

      5. If we assume an index of 100 to mean the content you cover, how much do you think students retain and learn deeply? Research indicates that rote learning for a test means that 30-40% is typical retention. But what if we covered 70-80% of the indexed material, but did so in ways encouraged and endorsed by educational experts and practitioners of last 10-15 years? We are finding that students are retaining 60-70% of content while also capturing some dispositional and engagement gains that are not even present with sit n get. Now, if a teacher’s time frame is only the 180 days of his/her own course, there are issues because we struggle with “giving up content coverage.” BUT, if a school approaches this systemically and approaches as a team with a multi-year time frame with coordinated scope and sequence, the coverage is taken care of – and then some – in the long run. I do realize that HS tries to pack in three different sub-disciplines of science in just four years. That is a real challenge.

      6. Of course students are responsible for their learning, but we educators can tend to relinquish our responsibility too soon. We can devise more intervention and enrichment to help learners at various places on spectrum feel the importance of their needing to learn.

      Happy to continue discussion later. Need to go now. Thanks for pushing and thinking with me. I wish our kids had more opportunities for this type of self-initiated, collaborative thinking. I find it powerful, and I assume you do…you keeping engaging and asking questions. “Questions are the waypoints on the path of wisdom.”

      • A LOT more to say here, but since both you and Clark picked up on this;

        “there is a lot of boring, fact based learning that needs to take place BEFORE deeper, more meaningful, creative learning and problem solving can take place.”

        allow me to explain what I mean.

        As a scientist, you CANNOT hope to solve the 21st century problems of climate change, alternative fuel sources and food supply etc., WITHOUT knowing about atoms, protons, neutrons and the elements, FIRST! Without those fundamental building blocks of knowledge you would be just a mad scientist at the bottom of the garden, tinkering around in the shed, with zero purpose, in the *hope* that you might accidentally come across something. Whilst many scientific discoveries have been found ‘by accident’, none of those were found by uninformed individuals.

        BTW – not that I advocate memorizing the periodic table or learning a bunch of facts simply for the sake of it, BUT there’s nothing wrong with a bit of character building, ‘boring’ fact crunching either. Those kind of things are EXCELLENT life-lessons – seriously.

      • Most, if not all, of the problems we face as a society were created by us – folks who generally learned in school by the method you are advocating. Sit and get…facts then application. The Prussians came up with that model, I believe, to DELIVER information to military troops that were getting their butts kicked. Our desks tend to be in rows and columns still. Information delivery is efficiently handled in this way…like a radio tower broadcasting to receivers.

        But maybe in a Web 2.0 world, the “receivers” want more and deserve more…deserve to explore, create, add to, and remix. They are broadcasters now, too, and they are flexing those new muscles.

        As children, we don’t learn all the vocab words and then get permission to speak. We learn by doing. Why is school different, as a norm? Because school has evolved for teacher convenience (gross oversimplification on my part, I know…and I don’t mean it as critical as it reads).

        Perhaps we need to try it another way! Perhaps if we were guiding complex problem solving in integrated studies, our current generation of school-based learners could solve the problems our generation of fact-application troops seems to be propagating.

        Yet, in a more balanced moment of typing, I think “your camp” and “my camp” are striving for the same goals and must work together – learning is complex, and I know you and I both see each other as colleagues of the same larger camp. We must strive to reach the complexity of learners that sit and work with us in classrooms and other spaces. A one-size-fits-all approach is unfair to our learners – adult “teachers” and child “students.” I believe you and I are on the same page about that, and I appreciate the dialogue you have spurred as we keep working to develop our professional practice to make our teaching spectra as comprehensive as the human learning spectra.

  5. Hi Bo – sounds interesting.

    I know that you describe yourself as a questioner, and I feel the same way about myself. I have a question.

    In this post, in fact in nearly every post that you write, you speak about ‘learning’. Here, you specifically draw a distinct between between teaching and learning, and that’s where my question comes in.

    I (like Gavin, when he posted earlier on the WMS Mac Blog) have always associated teaching directly WITH learning – good teachers ‘teach’, and in the process students ‘learn’. I don’t think there has been a single day of my 21 year teaching career when I did not ‘teach’ with the sole purpose of the students ‘learning’ – why else would I do it? On the (many) occasions that I have felt that my teaching may not have been leading to a great deal of learning, I have attempted to adapt and change what I do. That seems like ‘normal’ professionalism to me. Even when I have been in ‘lecture, filling empty vessels’ mode, I have been helping the students ‘learn’. In short, making a distinct between teaching and learning seems totally counter-intuitive to me and is very confusing. To borrow a phrase from a well-known Blog, for me it’s never NOT been ‘about learning’!

    In that light, my questions are these;

    ‘Do you feel that learning can no longer take place in more traditional models?’ (here I am assuming you feel that at one time traditional models DID lead to learning).

    ‘Do we need to ‘blow-up’ the whole system?’

    One more thing. Although some of the terminology surrounding this sits very poorly with me, like calling the teacher the ‘lead learner’ or the kids ‘learners’, and those are phrases which I’m just not comfortable with (for many reasons), I DO understand and appreciate their spirit (even though I could never use them myself). I mention this because despite my constant questioning, I want to re-emphasize my willingness to embrace a forward thinking model.

    • Adrian, THANK YOU for your comment and your clear willingness and desire to think about all of this stuff! I do believe we are both questioners, and I am glad we are pushing each other to learn. Out of curiosity, who exactly would you identify as the “teacher” in our exchanges via several media in the last month? I would have real difficulty identifying either of us as the “teacher,” but I think we are both learners. Don’t you?

      What follows is a bit of a “thinking out loud” hodgepodge.

      As for your two, more direct questions:

      1. I do believe learning can occur in traditional settings. I think it has, and I think it does. However, I think the world of learning has changed, while the traditions of teaching and school have been so much slower to change. I think the “proportion” of “traditional setting: real-world setting” is wrong in the typical school – even our own. I think we educators must work hard and relatively speedy to confront this issue. The traditional setting is GREAT for information delivery…very efficient. But I don’t think the traditional setting encourages learning that sticks – deep, brain-based learning, like you and I are engaged in right now. Like children learn before school. Like adults learn after school. “School” seems to be a mismatch for the other life-years of our natural learning paradigm.

      2. I don’t necessarily think the whole system should be blown up, but I would imagine that the evolution is going to be different than if we did start school “from scratch.” I follow tons of educators who are blowing up the traditional model and starting schools from scratch, and their path of learning and growth is very different than the ones I follow who are making one small change at a time. We may be replanking a ship that is at sail, when we may need to be building a whole new method of travel – the plane.

      95% of what we know about the brain we have learned in the last 15-20 years, yet school looks much the same. I think that is an issue.

      Have you ever sat in a lecture and understood perfectly (you thought at the time), only to realize later that your understanding was much less complete when you tried to re-explain the lecture to a non-attendee a few hours/days later? I think that is the metaphor for me that captures the basic difference between teaching and learning. The lecturer taught it, but did you really LEARN it?

      Have you ever heard a receiving teacher question if a sending teacher covered a topic? The sending teacher replies, “Yes, I taught that; they just did not learn it!” That generalization captures a lot of the teaching-learning difference for me, too.

      Did you know chemistry as well when you graduated university as you know it now? I imagine not, if I can be so bold. What has made the material really make sense to you at a deep level? I imagine a piece of that growth has been in you struggling and wrestling with how to make sense of the material to others. That has largely resulted in YOU learning the material better…because you had to really question and engage. Are students really being placed in a formal environment to do this themselves? Shouldn’t they be? The issues we face as a world may demand it…unless we want to be facing the same or larger issues 27 years from now, too.

      A book to consider: You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned by Sven Nater about Coach John Wooden.

      I hope this brief “diarrhea of typing on vacation” from me helps explain even a bit of my thinking relative to “teaching vs. learning.” I can think of many more conversations/examples to share, but my boys just awoke, and I must go help them learn something today.

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