What if schools embraced (at least a bit more of) the unknown? Yes, and…

What if we structured (at least some) time in school to provide for the type of research that Uri Alon describes in his talk: “Why truly innovative science demands a leap into the unknown?”

What if we recognized and said “Yes, and…” to the likelihood that genuine and authentic research – the kind that stems from deep questioning and sustained curiosity – is most likely to lead learners (young and old) into the “Cloud” that Uri talks about?

What if we did more science – practiced more of being scientists – than just studying science in school?

What if we reverse engineered (at least part of) school and created margins and white space for the kind of exploration and discovery that bypasses the points A—>B path that we expect and embraces the unexpected “point C” that Uri shares with us?

What if we allowed time for learners to originate their journey(s) from projects of significant and profound interest to them and made it okay to reroute numerous times along the way?

What if we had at least two points of origin for the kinds of work we do in schools: 1) subject-area points of origin that later find projects, and 2) project points of origin that later find disciplinary avenues? What if we built schedules to allow for – and to encourage – both/and? And the weaving together of the two…. What if we widened the spectrum of school learning to more closely match with life learning (before and after school years)? How might we ignite more play, passion, and purpose in these ways?

What if we built capacity as faculty members and community partners to facilitate the type of relational way-finding that Uri declares is the nature of true, meaningful searches? What if we more significantly prioritized the guide-on-the-side postures by making room for the student learners to be the chief navigators of (a more significant amount of) their journeys?

What if you watched Uri’s talk and figured out ways that its corp might change the core of your classroom practices and school-day architecture?

CHANGEd: What if we facilitated more stuff like the Cockroach Beatbox? 60-60-60 #10

Colleague @jgough sent me: The Cockroach Beatbox. YouTube’s version is below. Fascinating! Made me think we should facilitate more of this kind of work with students. Yet, I hope the students would be the scientists, not just the audience. I hope they could produce the equipment, animations, video.

Then, I read comments at Cockroach Beatbox; my brain sparked to invaluable discussion and debate possibilities, too.

CHANGEd: What if…60-60-60 Project Explained

A note of celebration and a tapestry of bright spots

Don’t you love getting little notes – notes that thank you for something and name the specific thing for which you are being thanked? Makes me feel celebrated when I get one of those. I instantly hit “send to OneNote” and place in a “sunshine file” for a proverbial rainy day. As a principal, I have a lot of opportunity to celebrate folks. To be honest, I am not very good at public celebration, but I am working on it – celebrating publicly is a learning goal of mine. But I do try to send email notes (I write better in pixels than on paper) as often as I can.

Yesterday, though, my learning partner and co-facilitator of PLCs beat me to the notes. She wasted no time in celebrating the bright spots of our teams. Specific behaviors were named and resulting outcomes were celebrated. What inspiration that is to a receiver to keep doing those things and improve. Of course, the notes reveal the situations and moments and behaviors that were celebrated, and those notes collectively tell a story about some truly amazing work in our Junior High math-science PLC, which meets four days a week, for about an hour each day. Some days the entire community of JH math and science teachers is together, and some days we break into course teams or other teams.

Enough from me…GO READ ABOUT IT at Experiments in Learning by Doing.

Who can you send a note to today? What bright spot can you celebrate? Pick one and do it! It’s about learning.

Demos and Tinkerings

What are the similarities and differences in “demo-ing” and “tinkering” in science? Or in any discipline? When do we, as teachers, demonstrate a concept to students, and when do we encourage play, experimentation, and discovery on one’s own? I imagine that both demo-ing and tinkering are important – I mean to spur discussion of the both/and possibilities, NOT argue for an either/or decision. In the past year, in particular, I have read and observed a great deal about the uses of demo-ing and tinkering…such understanding seems critical to me amidst the important conversations encircling 21st century teaching and learning.

On Wednesday, March 30, 2011, I enjoyed an amazing school visit at St. Gregory School in Tucson, AZ. Below you can view 4 minutes and 17 seconds of video showing a mere snapshot of what I observed in science at St. Gregory. [I have a lot of video still to produce from my school visits…but this is a start!] Dr. Scott Morris, chair of the science department, took a lot of time with me explaining the changes and transitions in science instruction that St. Gregory is experiencing and precipitating. There is a concerted effort – with much evidence of success – for the student learners to decrease their time in “sit-n-get” and increase their time “doing science.” From my brief exposure to science at St. Gregory, I would say that they are building a tinkering paradise.

As I strolled to the science wing of the high school, two boys were burning leaves with a magnifying glass. I did just this thing two weeks ago with my older son PJ. In this case, however, the StG students were fogging the space between the leaf pile and the lens. With an iPhone, the boys were recording the light cone whose finest tip was causing the burn of the foliation. As far as I could tell, they had designed this experiment. They ran into all kinds of interesting issues, and I heard them prototype their next attempt with the rest of their classmates. Those classmates were tinkering with transistors and receivers…soldering circuits that they had discovered directions for on the Internet. Another group was dismantling a radio and attempting to discover “what does this part do?” And there was evidence of the invention of a musical instrument that used electric charge and bar bending to create amplified sound.

Oh…did I mention that this is an AP class, and the students are reviewing for the AP exam. What a way to review! Of course, I realize that my limited view and time may not have revealed the full scope and measure of the class structure. However, from years of observation, I sensed that these students were in a routine…developing habits of mind…about hypothesizing, designing tests, and experimenting. They were practicing the scientific method, not just repeating or parroting it. They were being scientists.

In the middle school chemistry class, a different type of experimentation was occurring. The teacher was demonstrating a carbide cannon. But he explained there would be no boom until the reaction was recorded in writing and the equation was balanced. Watch the video below and see if they got to experience the boom. Certainly some seeds were planted and excitement generated. Those middle schoolers were tinkering with chemistry and catching the science bug – a bug that catches most all of us around age three. I believe their science teacher helped them sustain that natural curiosity and interest in their natural world. I wonder what type of experiments they might create when they get to the upper level science classes. Or even earlier…

I think the video provides an interesting look at the use of free-form tinkering and teacher-led demo-ing. Again, I maintain that both are important. Are both present in your facilitated learning? Your classroom? How do you utilize demo-ing, and how do you utilize tinkering? What is the balance of the methods for your student learners? Are they mostly sitting-n-getting, observing demos, tinkering? What recipes may result in the best tasting learning? Could the recipes be different for different types of learners? Different types of teachers? And how might those terms – students, learners, teachers – be blurred in distinction when we try different recipes and methods and pedagogies?

NOTE: If I understood correctly, St. Gregory uses a block schedule. Classes are 70 minutes in length and meet every other day. However, the AP science classes meet everyday for 70 minutes for an extended time in which to experiment and learn. I may have misunderstood however.

Presentation Zen and The Blessings of Science

Because I make numerous presentations* in my line of work, I am committed to kaizen – continuous improvement – in this area. Garr Reynolds is one of my virtual mentors in the area of story-telling design. His recent post, “Science & the importance of having a sense of wonder,” led me to this TEDxTokyo talk by Ken Moji. In his ten minutes, Mogi-san reminds us of some critical elements of learning: a sense of wonder, curiosity, explanation, exploration. His concluding lesson is tremendously powerful! What a strong reminder for us pursuing the science of teaching, the science of learning, and “presentation zen” in the classroom.

* By “presentation,” I mean being an organizer, coordinator, and facilitator of ideas. As much as possible, more and more, I try to avoid simply standing and delivering.