Do you ever wonder about the various ways that schools are working to transform their teaching and learning practices? I wonder about this all the time. In fact, thinking about school transformation and working for school transformation define my educational career, especially the past decade and current next chapter of my career.
I’m convinced that schools are complex ecosystems. Within those ecosystems, in efforts to enhance education and forward schools, I wonder how our developing practices are acting like competing species in a natural ecosystem’s food or energy web.
In the screen grab above, we can see a diagram of an ecosystem energy web. I’ve seen this image used in a number of presentations and talks. The colored species are thriving and dominating, and the grayed species are declining and disappearing from the ecosystem.
I wonder how project-based learning, design thinking, inquiry-based instruction, formative assessment, standards-based grading, performance-based assessment, e-portfolios, etc. are interacting in transforming schools. I wonder how these Dewey-progressive and 21st-century-skills approaches are behaving like reinforcing and competing “species” in the school ecosystem. I wonder how they are interacting with more traditional practices and methodologies, and I wonder how they are interacting with each other. The interactions with each other really fascinate me.
For those who know me or read this blog, you understand that I am a strong believer in PBL (project-based learning, problem-based learning, passion-based learning, etc.). Yet, I often worry when I imagine a middle school student taking six or seven departmentalized courses, and her teachers somewhat or entirely adopting PBL… as independent practitioners. Even thinking about half of them adopting PBL as independent practitioners can cause me some concern.
I start to imagine that seventh grader trying to manage four large-scale projects that are not coordinated or integrated across the departmentalized subjects. I start to wonder if the PBL will be the “dominant species” in the ecosystem, or if the departmentalized subject species will devour and crowd out the PBL species. Will the 55-minute time slot for class be the predator or the prey? Or could they become symbiotic species, if the other system characteristics were thoughtfully re-examined and redesigned? How might “flipping the classroom” become a symbiotic or predatory species? (If folks aren’t careful, can you imagine those poor parents at home managing four independent projects with their over-stretched children? Yikes!)
I wonder how the teachers’ assessment practices (species) will complement or compete with the PBL species. I wonder about design thinking being integrated into a course whose teacher is moving intentionally toward PBL. Then, I start to wonder how the traditional content grading will fit with a species that depends on iterative prototyping and rapid failing to conceptualize enhancement and reach eventual success. I wonder about the report card or progress report species trying to capture the elements of this system – elements that are better understood disaggregated rather than smashed into a single number.
I wonder about students designing for perceived problems and struggling to interact with “real” community members because of the online policy species that was introduced to the school ecosystem. I wonder about the level of access of the students and teachers to the surrounding community, and then I think back to those departmentalized subjects and students trying to manage four sets of discovery-and-interview phases in their silo-ed project work.
Which species will prove dominant in the ecosystems of our schools? Are we thoughtfully designing these ecosystems with collaborative and integrated thinking, so that the parts of the system harmonize with instead of cannibalize each other?
Are we designing and nurturing and sustaining the ecosystem from a learner UX point of view? (“UX” is short for user experience.)
Thanks to @MarkCHale, head of Greensboro Day School, for putting me onto “Recombinant Education: Regenerating the Learning Ecosystem,” which is KnowledgeWorks’ Forecast 3.0 and the work of Andrea Saveri. Exploring this resource led me to “TEDxNewWallStreet – Sean Gourley – High frequency trading and the new algorithmic ecosystem,” all of which significantly helped me think more deeply about the interplay of the current and coming changes in schooling and education.