Building the ‘Tribe’ with a Common Vision

I pride myself in scanning the horizon and putting some thought into how we can best prepare students for the future, but for some reason I was momentarily deflated after watching a recent Ted Talk by Pattie Maes from the MIT Media Lab’s new Fluid Interfaces Group, entitled, Unveiling the “Sixth Sense,” game-changing wearable tech. Excited about the possibilities but deflated because it seems that the technology is changing so rapidly while our schools are still lagging behind. 

Creating an envrironment where everyone in the community is looking ahead to the future is an exciting challenge for school leaders. Sir Ken Robinson in his book, The Element: How finding your passion changes everything, talks about how important it is for those in their element to be surrounded by others who are passionate and have skills in the same field. He refers to this group as the “Tribe”. Imagine a school tribe where a critical mass is purposefully looking to the future.

I’m convinced that time needs to be devoted to discussing the future and the following prompts serve as starters for a conversation on this video.

  • How will technologies like the “sixth sense” impact education in the very near future?
  • What technologies will our graduates be using in the very near future? How can we best prepare them for these technologies?
  • Will any of our students become leading thinkers in developing future technologies?
  • How can our school evolve to better prepare for the future?

It’s not enough to just send out the links and expect others to review and put some real thought into the implications for the future. There has to be genuine dialogue (which doesn’t mean that we have to be in the same place at the same time). How are your schools working to create the vision?

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9 comments

  1. Blair,
    Like always, you have your finger on the pulse of educational trends and I am so grateful that you started this blog. Since I am a HUGE fan of The Matrix and all science fiction movies I am excited about the seamless 6th Sense device that Pattie Maes and her team have developed. I can hardly wait to own my own device! But how will this new technological marvel change the face of education? That is the critical question here, I think.

    First off, before I explore the use of this tech application in ‘class’ I would, if I was Queen of the World, change several aspects of how education is delivered at the same time I (as Queen) provided this device (and others that complement it) to educators and students. I would remove the traditional teaching day/week and replace it with conference times and planned whole class sessions that can be done either through some interfacing tech system or in person and the choice would be based on individual preference, project/issue requirements and parental support. The reason I would remove the traditional system is that it is archaic and does not help students learn. The fact is we still cling to the basic school structure that was developed to suit farmers (ie. Harvest driven schedule). Many brain researchers have concluded that our traditional schedule does not maximize a student’s learning potential and to be honest consists of a lot of wasted time. Once that barrier is removed, using this technology would only enhance the learning experience for students.

    Since I am a firm believe in the power and necessity of choice on a grand and small scale I would have to (as Queen of the World) support and/or develop other supplementary tech programs that enable essential knowledge/skills to be learned/developed through thematic and/or grouped programs. These programs would be concept specific but would enable students to experience a virtual world environment where students were exposed to a variety of perspectives on critical issues through a gaming type/6th Sense + 1 (my addition) environment. For example, let’s explore what could be possible using this approach with a 7th grade medieval unit. First, students would cross reference based on the syllabus requirements a variety of user-friendly documentation (and grade appropriate) through an upload that could be made available through the 6th Sense program. This format and the delivery enable each student to gain awareness of critical aspects of the time period when he or she is most able to retain it. Once that basic aspect of the course is covered—and a student would cover it at his/her home whenever he/she is motivated to do so—he would move to the next level of instruction which would involve a virtual world situation where he she would embark on a journey, would have to become a variety of different Medieval characters and would, as much as possible, experience the sights/sounds/literature/history of the time period. During this phase of the program, each student would gauge his/her learning through completion of specific tasks/quests that develop his/her understanding of the time period and improve his/her critical thinking skills. Anyway, after that portion is done, students would report/analyze and assess a variety of different issues and would meet in real time or online to share and explore their findings with their peers and their teacher. I could go on, but it would take me forever! But I hope you can see where I am going with this idea 🙂

    I know there will be a lot of questions about the above but we must throw away our Sabertooth Curriculum and realize that someone has moved the cheese and we must change or die if we want to help our students gain the skills they need to succeed in a world that is constantly changing.

  2. Now you are talking! You did not mess around with taking baby steps to get to the future. You just used sound ideas on instruction and applied them to a new environment. I love the way that you imagine the future and I think that this is an excellent activity for educators to do. Now we just need others to do the same. My guess is that many teachers would love it. Thanks for your contribution.

  3. Let me tell you a tale of three schools….

    School number one I experienced as a young lass in a foreign country. Two expatriate oil companies (Exxon and Esso) founded this educational institution and its sole purpose in life was to deliver the American curriculum to us students (children to those employed at the oil industry) stuck in a pretty backward country. The teachers who taught us were innovative and certainly unique individuals. But what set this school apart from what I would have experienced back home is the level of instruction and the idea that ‘whatever the cost’ to the company, we (as students) would have the best supplies, the best instructors and the most resourced facilities a learner could hope for. That mantra led to excellent learning experiences for us. For example, in grade five in science we were already dissecting frogs and small mammals & doing all kinds of experiments; in English we were exposed to excellent literature and to a guided and leveled reading program; in PE we participated in all kinds of sports including lacrosse…I could go on and on. Now I’ve got to tell you that I attended this school in the late seventies and it was located in (at the time) in one of the most challenging places to live—Libya—but as you can see this school was very forward thinking in a place where backward thinking ruled. What I learned from that experience was that nothing beats caring teachers who have the ability to order what they need to reach the students they teach. These excellent teachers were not limited by their surrounding and they went that extra mile to make learning interesting, innovative and fun. I can tell you that when I want back home, I was able to ‘float through’ school without much effort since it took my public school till grade nine to ‘get to’ (content) what we were doing at this school in grades 5-7!

    School number two is the one I went to in grade ten. This school, at the time (80s) was considered the best private school in the province I am from. I was the one of the chosen few: I was part of the first stream of grade ten girls allowed to join the school…it was, at the time, quite an honor. In the 80s this school provided computers in labs (although we only had one) and we were taught programming (computer). Teachers were generally exceptional, as far as their knowledge is concerned (all had at least a master’s degree), but rather dry in their delivery. The school had and continues to have a six-day schedule [for day students] (7 day schedule if you we like me, a boarder: this is a boarding school), which included a half-day on Wednesday, and a half-day on Saturday. Sure, this school has been around for a well-over a hundred years, and the campus is almost identical to the one pictured in Dead Poet’s Society but what made the place great is the wonderful mix of a rigorous academic program coupled with an incredibly strong extra-curricular program. On top of that, there were adventure and enrichment trips. When I was a student at this school, they were really cutting edge when it came to technology since no one else around was introducing students to computers or computer programming.

    The last school I want to mention here is one I never attended but one that is right around the corner from my parent’s house. When I was a student in the 80s this private school was a third tier school. We (as students) at the school above (School # 2) use to laugh at this school and we rarely had to play them (sports/competitions, etc) since they were not of our caliber. However, as time passed, this school changed. It decided that it wasn’t going to take being a third tier school lying down. It pumped all kinds of money into its programs and decided to embrace technology. It provided excellent packages for teachers and tries to employ the best. It took them a while, but they succeeded. Now they are a fully integrated school and they are considered one of the top one hundred employers in the province from which I am from. It’s no longer considered a third tier school.

    The point of this long tale that I hope is clear is that if a school wants to improve itself or maintain its strong heritage it can never rest on its laurels or be penny-pinching in its approach to education. Schools have to try to hire the best teachers they can afford, provide their teachers with the supplies they need to reach their students (and then some), and trust their teachers when it comes to instruction (but check on them to make sure they are following the mission of the school). A poorly resourced school and one with a poor co-curricular/extra curricular program is a poor school. Period.

  4. I should have concluded with this: a shared vision and the cash to make that vision a reality are vital if one wants to propel a school forward. Being innovative costs money…

  5. Blair,

    Your posts are engaging and certainly have lead me to think deeply on several educational issues but your focus on technology has been excellent and has made me start to questions some basic aspects of what I teach and what is demanded of students in accelerated literature courses (AP & IB) which is what I teach and have taught for a long, long time. Since I have been a teacher for a while I have noticed that some things trickle upwards (like Gardner’s theory of the multiple intelligences and literature circles) and some trends trickle downwards (like argumentations, interpretive and synthesis essays in timed settings). But assessment practices and what is assessed has not changed much over the years.

    You discuss tech integration, which I feel is essential in today’s environment, but the integration you suggest and what we all feel is needed is limited in the higher grades by the external ‘programs’ or ‘assessment tools’ educational institutions embrace that are recognized as exceptional and advanced.

    For externally assessed pieces of writing (AP, IB, SAT—pick your acronym) students are forced to write in a manner that seems very disjointed and archaic. How it that we, as educational institutions, buy into these is programs and allow them to dictate to us the tools students can use to communicate?

    Think about this issue from a student’s point of view…in today’s world our students use tech all of the time. Quality schools try their best, like mine does, to provide the means for authentic tech integration. Overall, students are more comfortable using the computer than a pen and paper but the programs we have collective revered and have embraced still demand hand-written work…why?

    Think of this in these terms…imagine a ball player taught to hit the ball out of the park using the best bats and balls available. Now imagine that there is some test to assess this ballplayer ability to move up in the ranks. To do well on this all important test, the ‘rule book’ demands that the ball player is stripped of the equipment he has used his whole life and instead given a stick and a rock and told that if he/she can hit the rock out of the park then he/she makes the cut. In reality, if that was the way ballplayers were assessed there would be a public out roar and this outdated practice would be stopped since the means of assessment and the tools allowed to be used have no relationship to the real world. Why isn’t this happening in education? Why do we not demand more of the programs that cost our schools thousands of dollars every year?

    I do not know how to improve this situation but it needs to be improved quickly. Part of me feels that if school heads demanded change from the companies that create these programs change would occur. After all, isn’t the mantra generally about pleasing the customer? I am just a teacher and therefore have little power over the programs the schools I work in buy but it bothers me that a tool—like a computer—is not allowed when it comes to formal writing assessments. Please think about the ballplayer…because that is what writing on paper is like for students now-a-days in integrated classrooms/schools all around the world. That may be one of the reasons we, as teachers, cannot use technology as much as we like…we a far too worried about the bottom line…the tests.

  6. I have to say this, blogging is fun but typing in a small box is challenging since you can’t see what you wrote as easily as you can when you write using a Word document. I only point this out because I am new to blogging and I am horrified by some of the mistakes I have made in my posts 😦 I guess I am an old dog learning new tricks!! lol

    Is there any way to see what you wrote in full before hitting the Say It button??

  7. Imagine the barriers that public educators have in the US when their students are judged on performance on standardized tests. This really promotes teaching to the test.
    Let’s take your idea of writing with pencil and paper instead of using technology. We all know that our writing improves when we are allowed to use technology. We can easily revise, move sections around and get immediate feedback when we misspell a word. I believe that the practice of assessing students’ written (pen and paper)work will change in the very near future. Once the technology becomes more affordable this will change.
    This blogging is perfect for you. It may be time to expand the participants by opening up this discussion to the rest of the faculty.
    No way to preview after you hit “Say it?”

  8. It is ONE thing to be worried about getting up with technology but even more important is how our students are rewiring their brains with their attention 24/7 in technology. Current brain research does show that students who have been using technology since they were very young (including chatting, texting, watching TV, staring at their computer, reading stories digitally, and more…) have restructure how their brains learn. For the good? Students now can do many tasks at once. But research shows that they are only learning a little bit of everything, but that deep learning is not taking place. Some people would say this is good since there is too much to learn these days. But then would will be the ‘specialists’ in the future? Who will have the skills to look at new ideas and built on them? Let me know if anyone reading this would like to receive the research as I receive it?

  9. I’d like to see the research that you are talking about. This is certainly an interesting topic since we know that they will develop different habits. I’ve seen some research that shows that access to the internet can be a distraction. We will certainly need experts in fields even in the future.

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