21 August 2015

#tokfriday: Art, Emotion and the #BlackLivesMatter movement


The Black Lives Matter movement in the United States has gained prominence over the past 3 years as a social advocacy organization that brings awareness and forces discussion about how the police treat of people of color. The movement is especially concerned with the violent and sometimes deadly tactics police use against people of color.

The use of art and emotion is important to any movement, from protest songs to state propaganda. Recently, Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records shared their new protest song connected to the #blacklivesmatter movement, called "Hell You Talmbout."

The KQ

There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul. | Arnold Bennett

Other TOK Links

Language, Reason, Ethics, Human Sciences

The Short Article

Janell Monáe's protest song is a heart-rendering role call of injustices

Further Reading

Why Music? A Look at Art & Propaganda

Straight Outta Compton's power is in its protest songs. It's time America listened
Riot on the Set: How Public Enemy Crafted the Anthem 'Fight the Power'

Janelle Monáe and Wondaland Records Share Protest Song "Hell You Talmbout"

10 August 2015

How Time Structures School | Part 2—Beyond Genius Hour

In Part 1 I tried to lay out a theoretical case for rethinking the way school views time as a defining structure; specifically looking at the way timetabling defines the learning environment, and therefore the knowledge and communication architectures within. In this post I’d like to explore three specific ways that school can start to re-imagine how time structures school: 1) within the classroom; 2) within the timetable; 3) within the school. We can also view these three as moving from least to most innovative (disruptive?) and in turn transformative from a “new learning” perspective.

Within the Classroom

For over 100 years traditional approaches to the use of classroom time have more or less been defined by the teaching of discrete subjects within a discrete timetable cell within defined walled spaces. While this format has worked well (and still works well for some students and for topics) the argument can be made that this model also creates barriers to a broader and bolder conception of what school can and should do with respect to teaching and learning in the 21st century (footnote: Is it time to stop calling for 21st century education? It is 2015. 2030 is closer in time than 1995. Why are we still talking about education as needing to move into the 21st century? We’re already here! 21st century education is the new normal, isn’t it?). Many classrooms therefore have begun to experiment with how time structures pedagogy and content within their own four walls.

The most salient example, I think, is the use of 20% time, Genius Hour, or Passion Projects within a classroom. Based on a principle first used by 3M and popularized by Google, the Genius Hour approach to re-structuring the time and therefore the pedagogy and content structure within the classroom has proven to be a powerful innovation. Genius hour empowers students to take educational ownership by giving them the choice and the time to pursue independent academic interests. The idea is to give students dedicated time in a classroom, every week, to pursue an inquiry-driven and/or choice driven learning model. The most common form is to give students one period a week, or roughly 20% of their week, to pursue an inquiry-based learning experience. This type of flexible time is generally undertaken by individual classroom teachers (although some models have cross-disciplinary teachers teaming up) and is not implemented school-wide. 

A great introductory resource to find out more information on 20% Time in Education can be found here. For a critical look at Genius Hour and whether it truly achieves it’s aims, Ewan McIntosh of NoTosh.com wrote a very good blog post here

The Project Based Learning, Problem Based Learning, and Inquiry Based Learning movements also, to varying degrees, play with how time structures the learning environment within the classroom. All empower students in different ways to take control of the learning by allowing them to use time in varying and different structured ways. The main limitation with both the movements above, and the Genius Hour approach, is that the learning environment is still defined and thus limited by the timetable cell. Robust conceptions of true multidisciplinary learning (or phenomenon teaching as Finland is calling it) are still effaced by the structure that the timetable places upon not only the learning environment, but also the way the learning environment is thought of. Students will still think of going their Genius Hour in Geography class with their Geography teacher, even if the project crosses the investigative boundaries traditionally set by the class title and content.

School, to take proper advantage of the learning affordances being brought in by the age of new learning, should be thinking broader and bolder, and encourage a move beyond Genius Hour. 

Within the Timetable

One way to circumvent the overarching way timetabling defines the learning environment (without throwing the timetable out) is to include within the timetable a cell for the type of broader and bolder multidisciplinary collaborative “21st century” learning environments valued. 

Flexible learning time is a concept that incorporates within the timetable a designated celled time for students innovating, creating, and exploring, often via in self-organized learning mechanisms. In practice flex-time might look something like this (the International School of Brussels High School successful operates a similar model):

Block Schedule with Flex Time
Block 1
Flex Time
Block 2
Block 3
Block 4
During flex-time students can self-organize around problems or questions they hope to explore, find a mentor teacher or teachers to help them with their investigation and exploration, and then follow through to the creating and innovating stage of their prototyping and problem-solving. They can also connect with the community, create student-led organizations and/or clubs, do independent research, among other options.

Another varient that I conceptualized but haven't seen adopted (and which I have tried to pitch to my school, unsuccessfully, for two years) is a "Friday Flextime" idea.

Core classes

Core classes

Core classes

Core classes
Core classes

Core classes
Core classes rotation
Core classes

Core classes

Core classes rotation
This large block of flex time could be reserved for student initiated and teacher mentored transdisciplinary Project-based learning—"passion projects," and student clubs and organizations in predetermined chunks of time (ie 1 hr for student clubs and orgs and 2 hrs for "passion projects"). It could be collapsed to do full half day activities (ie on and off campus service & experiential learning, guest speakers and workshops, etc)

The main change flex-time initiates is the idea that learning takes place in a discrete time, in a discrete location, within a discrete subject—and almost always with a age-based cohort of peer students. In contrast to 20% time, which is generally limited to specific classrooms, flextime becomes a school-wide change. Flextime provides for numerous possibilities with regards to providing spaces for inquiry-driven teaching and learning. Flex-time breaks down these artificial barriers, and allows for the learner to self-create a pathway and/or roadmap to and through learning objectives, with students and on topics of their own choosing

The inclusion of flex-time shifts the scheduling away from all learning in discrete, discipline specific timetable cells. Instead, flexible time is given to pursue non-linear, non-discreet, non-discipline specific teaching and learning by giving students dedicated time within the school day to innovate, create, explore by pursuing independent or collaborative projects, multidisciplinary project-based learning, and/or maker projects, among other things (creating “MakerSpaces” would be a great addition to the model of flex-time). 

Within the School

While flexible learning time has the potential to be quite powerful—if for no other reason that it breaks down to some extent the walls and cells—there are two inter-related but distinct concerns: 1) it falls short of a true multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning; 2) it lacks certain design constraints and structures to help students maximize their results. What would re-designing and re-imagining time within school look like? It is important to state from the outset that the goal is not necessarily to create an ideal model, rather it is more to promote a changing perspective, or point of view.

There are still very good reasons to view some traditional structures of school and curriculum as necessary—students do not always know their needs, and many times they have misconceptions (sometimes drastic) about the world around them. Lessons in grammar, math, writing, researching, close reading, etc are all necessary components (most would argue and agree) of a well-rounded and complete student. But the question remains, can we balance this out more? And should we?

Finland’s new Phenomenon teaching requirement is a good starting point for a conversation on this shift toward a more balanced approach to teaching and learning, one that acknowledges the scaffolding needs of building block knowledge, while also projecting forward the needs of the new realities of teaching and learning in the digital information age. 

“The next big reform taking place in Finland is the introduction of a new National Curriculum Framework (NCF), due to come into effect in August 2016…The concept of “phenomenon-based” teaching – a move away from “subjects” and towards interdisciplinary topics will have a central place in the new NCF…What will change in 2016 is that all basic schools for 7- to 16-year-olds must have at least one extended period of multi-disciplinary, phenomenon-based teaching and learning in their curricula…The NCF [also] states that students must be involved in the planning of phenomenon-based study periods and that they must have voice in assessing what they have learned from it.” 

Finland isn’t ditching traditional school subjects. Rather they are starting the conversation about the idea of a larger, transformational shift in education, “that breaking down the dominance of traditional subjects and isolation of teaching is an opportunity to more fundamental change in schools.” 

To be sure, this is not a revolutionary idea either. A.S. Neil’s Summerhill School, John Dewey’s progressive schools, trade schools, and some “alternative school” models have all used variations of this restructuring of school. However it has always occupied a very small niche within school writ large. But school write large hasn’t had a foundational shift in structure in over 100 years. Maybe now is the time. 

For examples of a few select schools playing with this model, see the following links: 

09 August 2015

Introducing the UAS I.C.E. Lab

For over 4 years I've been incorporating some type of dedicated classroom time for students to pursue large authentic projects. First they were open-ended, choice-based end of the unit projects. Then two years ago I came across the Genius Hour/20% time idea and incorporated that into my classroom. By the end of the 2014 school year I had my 9th grade history class working on a project I called I.C.E. Lab (Innovate, Create, Explore), using 20% time to "create something" that was loosely tied to our Technology and Change theme in our 9th grade World History class (a performance final in lieu of taking a real cumulative final).

Sometime last summer (July 2014) I visited a Boys and Girls club in Appleton, WI. The director gave us a tour and at one point he took us to a room with some instruments and music equipment. In the corner of the room was a computer and a beat kit. We looked the room over and as he was explaining everything he said something that stayed with me, something to the effect while that most of the musical equipment doesn't get used a lot, the kids are always on the computer making music with a music making software and the beat kit. It was a space where kids came to make stuff, specifically music. I very quickly asked myself internally "Why don't we have a space to make stuff like this at our school?"

When I returned to Montevideo, Uruguay to begin the 2014-2015 school year I began to put together a proposal to create an I.C.E. Lab in our school—a continuation of the idea of Innovating, Creating, and Exploring that I tried out 4th quarter. I found $5,000 left over in a budget, wrote up a vision and basic outline and proposed it to the school administration. To my surprise, it was enthusiastically supported.

By the time 2nd semester of last year rolled around (February 2015), I was busy preparing to present at Innovate Graded 2015 and was also just starting my masters degree in New Learning at the University of Illinois. As part of one of my classes I wrote an update about my proposal to create an I.C.E. Lab at our school. It was only then after another student commented on my update that I learned about the growing momentum behind creating MakerSpaces in libraries and schools (and the literature supporting it)! I was at Innovate Graded just a few weeks later where I was exposed to even more excitement and materials around design thinking in schools, especially the work Ewan McIntosh and his team at NoTosh.com are doing. I also had the chance to tour Graded's MakerSpace. Lots of great minds we're thinking alike and many were already out in front of this idea.

By this time I also had to place our international order. Armed with the keyword I needed all along—MakerSpace—I began to put together the raw materials for our I.C.E. Lab space. The idea was to try to promote four different learning strands with the space: 1) design thinking, 2) cooperative/collaborative learning, 3) self-organized learning, 4) student ownership and choice. With that in mind I tried to order products and materials that would help. I ended up settling on four broad categories: 1) 3D printing, 2) digital media production, 3) robotics, 4) coding and programming. I was able to not only convince our library to help me run the experiment, but to also move some furniture around to help create the space; we ended up being able to squirrel away a corner space of around 4 meters by 3 meters for our lab.

Flash forward to this past week. I still wanted to preserve the original name I.C.E. Lab because I had grown attached to it (and it sounds cool and unique, no?). My idea is to build out from the original Innovate, Create, Explore acronym and include this framework into the structure of the learning that goes on. My principal and I decided that creating a class to help found the lab—design and create it—seemed like a good approach (with the end goal of opening it up to a much larger audience without necessarily a "class" attached to its use). At the end of last year I had asked my two sections of 9th graders to apply to be a part of the first cohort. 10 students ended up applying and were able to fit it into their schedule—a perfect number. This Thursday (6 Aug 15) we all got together for the first time!

I wanted students to be a part of the whole process, to own every aspect of this space, right from the beginning. Class started Thursday and I decided to spend the first two 45 minute periods having students work on our first problem and first project (I decided to use this Problem/Project terminology to frame our work together, we'll see how I like it). Problem 1: How do you design a creative space? Project 1: Design our I.C.E. Lab.

I created small handouts for the first two days, having students focus on taking inventory of what we have, measuring the space, and thinking about how to organize and divide the raw materials we have. And then using that information to begin their first prototype.

This Tuesday the students are going to be coming in with their 1 Hour Prototypes, where we'll then begin to combine our ideas and change the "you" to "we": How do we design a creative space? I'm excited to see what they come up with! 

My hope is to continue to document our learning journey together over the next few months here on this blog; to create a nice set of sharable experiences for anyone else who might be looking to start a journey of their own. We'll try to post again soon about some more of the specifics of the space and the raw materials we'll be working with, and my ideas on how to structure and scaffold the work students will be doing in the lab.