Visualizing instruction in our school ecosystem #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

A major aspect of Pedagogical Master Planning involves generating an “as-built set of blueprints” for a school’s pedagogical ecosystem, so that a school can see itself in ways it likely never has before. The pedagogical ecosystem is comprised of the interconnected sub-systems of 1) purpose, 2) leadership, 3) professional learning, 4) instruction, 5) curriculum, 6) assessment, and 7) learning environments.

One way we are conceptualizing the as-built blueprints involves the use of “infrastructure polygons,” inspired originally by Candy Chang’s work.

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In this example, in which Chang visualizes the contrasted city infrastructures in Nairobi and Dakar, one can quickly see that Dakar possesses a much higher density of piped water, electricity, and toilets than Nairobi. For example, about 19% of Nairobi’s population has access to piped water, compared to 84% of Dakar’s residents.

Recently, TED uploaded Jessica Green’s TED2013 talk, “We’re covered in germs. Let’s design for that.

As another great example of using info-graphic polygons, Green employs these visualized data tools to compare and contrast the microbes in various rooms in a building. (You should watch the talk, just to see how this method of data visualization works. It’s fascinating.) The information polygons make it easy to see how classrooms compare with offices in terms of microbial “footprints” or profiles. [Stick with me if that last sentence made you want to click to the next post in your feed reader or email!]

With Pedagogical Master Planning, a dimension of the Discover phase involves capturing information about instructional methodology. Through classroom observation, interviews, self-reporting, etc., we collect data about instructional modes like lecture, lecture and discussion, demonstration, simulation, case study, PBL, role play, graphical creation, etc. After aggregating the data, we can visualize the information using polygons similar to those used by Chang and Green.

Imagine a polygon put to use as an info-graphic that summarizes the instructional methodologies used throughout the school. In a very oversimplified example, one might show that 78% of instructional time is spent in lecture, 11% in demonstration, 5% in case study, and 6% in graphical creation. What invaluable information for a school that is working strategically to become more student-centered and student-directed in its pedagogical approach.

And imagine the power of such visualization in an actual school situation. We could potentially visualize the following:

  1. A student’s user experience as an individual throughout a day. Such an info-polygon could show the instructional modalities that “Suzie” experienced in a day of attending classes. Or a week, or a month.
  2. A particular department’s aggregated picture of instructional methods. Such a picture might reveal strengths in a department so that members of that department become mentors in that methodology for other departments less familiar in practice with that mode. It might also reveal areas for targeted professional development.
  3. An ability to overlay instructional methodology polygons with learning environment set ups (e.g., seating arrangements like seminar, cooperative, senatorial, etc.). Internal action research could be conducted regarding how modifying the classroom layout influences instruction over time.
  4. An in-depth look at how the predominant instructional methods relate to desired outcomes in certain skill sets such as the so-called “Cs” of 21st C learning – communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, etc. Wouldn’t it be interesting to see how much time students actually have to BE primary communicators in a week of school, if the school believes it wants to help students develop advanced capabilities in various communications. [Think about the 10,000 hour rule of developing mastery. Do you know how much time students actually spend practicing these skill modalities?]
  5. Time studies for a school, showing how their instructional methods evolve over time once they become more systemically engaged in studying something like this as a school working to shift or enhance a culture of diversified pedagogy.

Such ideation around information polygons and “as-built blueprints” are only one piece of the potential for Pedagogical Master Planning. By being able to see more clearly what is happening in the actual pedagogical ecosystem, a school can be more strategic in developing it’s integrated sub-systems for the learning that can happen. Being able to see provides clarity from which to plan for innovation and development. Being able to see can help reduce resistance as people are able to gain greater understanding about the current reality of instructional methods used compared to the desired learning outcomes for students. It’s a bit like turning on the lights in a darkened room. The light shed on the situation helps us navigate more agilely and purposefully. We’re less likely to need to shuffle our feet slowly and wave our arms in from of us to keep from running into something unexpectedly.

7 thoughts on “Visualizing instruction in our school ecosystem #PedagogicalMasterPlanning

  1. So powerful and obviously useful…but is it sale-able? Will educational leaders devote the resources needed to create these measurement protocols? How much resource does it take? Need to discuss. I really like the way the data are visualized…problem is making the capture palatable to more than a few, or finding the few and proving it is not all that hard to do.

    • Grant, if I’m my most honest, I’ll have to admit that my first gut reaction to your comment was frustration and anger. Trying to “count to ten” and think reflectively before I respond too quickly, I imagine it’s because I take school innovation so seriously and personally. It’s not just work and job for me – it’s what I see as my core passion and purpose.

      I keep coming back to the campus master planning metaphor – a major framework on which Pedagogical Master Planning is built. Schools commit serious resources to blueprinting the campus and bricks-and-mortar projects at their institutions. And they should! Those blueprints are 1) visual – so people can see the same picture and understand the transformation at a deeper level of shared understanding; 2) systemic – so that the sub-systems are all considered and built in harmony with each other — things like plumbing, electrical, HVAC, lighting, egress, etc.; 3) field-useful – they do not sit on a shelf in a glossy cover for five years, rather they are unrolled and re-rolled thousands of times to inform the construction process.

      If one holds to the premise that we spend money and time and human capital on the things that matter most, then at some point, schools will have to employ PMP or something very similar to it – because the transformation of schools that experts and practitioners and thoughtfully engaged individuals are discussing will demand it. The highest levels of school innovation are coming from new schools – new start ups with less than 10 years of history. For the schools that have 20, 50, 100, 200 year histories, they will have to decide 1) if they will stay very much the same and fill “that niche,” 2) if they will evolve slowly at the margins without real shift to the core structures of what we consider school (like departmentalized curriculum, for one example), or 3) if they will engage more of a holistic methodology to consider such things as what future learning environments will look like, how should education employ more of what we know to be true of the brain and experiential, project-based learning throughout life, etc. I think you call this third option “zero-based strategic thinking” in one of your recent blog posts. And it will have to go many steps further than post-it notes and brain writing.

      The visualized metrics in this post are A PIECE of the dashboard of infographic-based “as-built blueprints” of a current reality in a school. From my experience and thousands of conversations and research hours, most schools do not have a truly accurate picture of their pedagogical core – not in complete aggregate so that we even know how much time students spend as consumers of information versus creators of knowledge. And this is just one dimension. If people put any stock in the 10,000 hour rule, and if we pay attention to the incredible work in creativity and neuroscience, then we will have to engage methods for REALLY SEEING how our students are spending their cognitive and emotional-psychological time as learners. If a school claims to “create 21st creative thinkers and communicators,” does that school know the true ingredients and menu of how those students are generating those skills in a systemmic, user-experience sort of way?

      So, I don’t know perfectly which schools will move to more systemic, visual blueprinting for their teaching and learning cores. But I do know that evolution is as fast as we will move in existing schools if a more holistic process and methodology is not employed – one that is at least similar to the methods with which we approach physical renovation. I think more ed innovators will have to really wrestle with whether we value learning as much as bricks and mortar. I think ed innovators will have to accept that continuous engagement with a school community – students, parents, faculty, alum, etc. – will be the new normal in a world of near constant change. I think ed innovators will have to grapple with the reality that education and the system of schools should be a LEADER of R&D and learning science rather than a lag, relative to other industries.

      The degree of seriousness with which we rethink the way we plan and implement in schools will determine how much we actually improve from the status quo. And I LOVE schools. But I think we underperform as schools relative to what we COULD be, especially given the influence of cognitive science, other-industry innovation, matching natural human learning with the methods of school, etc. If what we care most about is content coverage and efficiency, then the current system is fine. It does great at those things. But if we really care about deeper learning, active citizenship, integrated problem-solving, nurturing creativity in multiple domains (not just the “arts”), and if the new start up ed organizations continue to point to other/better ways to educate, then schools will have to consider a more masterful approach to the core pedagogy.

      • As always, I agree with 110% of your argument. I was expressing what I hear from leaders who, though people of good will, are still locked into a certain modality…and they are the ones who need to allocate the resources to the kind of visionary research, reflection, and planning tool that you have developed. As a business development person, I have to ask how we close the gap between the right thing to do, and getting people to actually allocate the resources to do it!

    • Yep, I agree with you. One idea among many, regarding closing the gap – innovation grants. Thinking at a larger scale than applying for iGrants for technology or PBL as “stand alone,” a school could consider taking a route more similar to inventors or entrepreneurs in other sectors – “VC” money for a truly revolutionary approach. There has to be more R&D at a formal level around this school-transformation landscape before us.

  2. Dave,

    Thanks for reading and commenting. I really appreciate the exchange here with you. You have summarized and reflected back wonderfully. If schools are trying to investigate and explore models for what school and education could be, then I do think it is critical to engage in a committed observation and study of oneself. If we stick with the architecture metaphor, we have to know the current footprint and as-builts before we can really talk most deeply and meaningfully about what could be – what we want the remodel to do and be and look like. If we switch to a map/journey metaphor, we plug two things into Google Maps or Mapquest – our current location and our future destination. Both are critical components.

    I think the overall research method combines qualitative and quantitative methodology. While I may be echoing my grad school mentor, as I hear his voice in my ear, I don’t think either is less rigorous than the other. Rather, I think they reveal various insights and are most illuminating when used together. I think what we want to know and learn informs the various methods and means that we employ.

    Grant’s problem-solving post this week is great. As I tell everyone (and even him despite the effect it could have on his head), The Falconer has been and continues to be a profound influence on my thinking and work. It is through such systems questioning that I think we discern the ways we want and need to understand a thing.

    Thanks again for the feedback and encouragement. And for the good challenges about methods. Perhaps I should have started with a question to you – what types of quantitative methods are you imagining and asking about? Yes, that would have been a better next step to take to build on your thoughts. What did you have in mind that seems to be “missing,” I guess, based on your comment?

    Take care,


    • Sheesh! I’ve just now (finally!) read your reply, Bo – I am grateful to you for taking time to read my comment and respond… and I’m a little embarrassed that I haven’t picked up the thread until now. I appreciate you for clarifying and offering a sense that pedagogical master planning would be well served with a mixed methods approach. I like the map/journey metaphor in your comment, too – thanks for sharing a simple analogy for a powerful concept!

      I appreciate your thoughtfulness and your willingness to engage, Bo – thanks for your efforts!

      With warm regards,

  3. This post resonates strongly with me – thanks for sharing, Bo!

    Your ideas prompted me to re-read a post from Grant Lichtman called “The Real Roots of Problem Solving” ( Grant encourages leaders to invest more time and focus on understanding the roots of problems before jumping into brainstorming and problem-solving: “Know yourself; assess your strengths and weaknesses, your resources, or those of your group, before attempting a solution.” Your work offers a playbook for assessing strengths and weaknesses in ways that can be catalysts for meaningful conversations about teaching and learning.

    I see the process of developing a collection of “as-built set of blueprints” as a powerful form of action research. Gathering school-specific data early in a strategic process is a crucial step that helps school communities identify problems within culture-specific contexts (with input from a variety of stakeholders) and form essential questions that resonate strongly within a particular school setting.

    Question – I hear you explaining a qualitative research process… is it possible to apply a research design to developing these blueprints that mixes more rigorous, quantitative methodology?

    I love the idea, and I appreciate you for sharing a useful, creative tool for action research in schools.

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