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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

From The Archives...

I was reading today, in eSchool News, about a new report featuring 'Six technologies that soon could be in your classrooms.'  It nudged me to look backwards as well as forwards.

I periodically look at random snippets of my past writing and see how they read today.  Here is part of a piece I wrote at Gartner in 1999 called: Understanding E-Learning Market Dynamics: 2000-2002.  

I said that the critical different types of educational content in any ecosystem will be:
  • Classroom: The students and teachers meet at the same time and in the same location. 
  • Synchronous: The students and teachers meet at the same time, but in different locations. This includes virtual classrooms and virtual seminars. Virtual classrooms are optimized around one instructor and 15 or 20 students, while virtual seminars may have as many as 1,000 students with one presenter and a group of assistants. 
  • Asynchronous: Students access the classroom, book-style material and tests on their own. This is also called self-paced classes. 
  • Simulations: Students take on new roles and solve problems in a computer-generated environment. 
  • E-Communities: Providers and consumers of information are linked through virtual sites that feature chat rooms and other exchange mechanisms. 
  • Just in Time: Technologies and processes are deployed to deliver small chunks of customized information close to the point of need. In some systems, called self-accessed learning tools (SALT), student pull the information. In others, predictive help is pushed from the application.
While I would tweak a bit of the wording today, I am pretty happy (and relieved) with how well that framework holds up.  And with Unschooling Rules, I believe even though the content is more sweeping and controversial, it will hold up even better.

See a list of much of my published work here: http://unschooling-rules.blogspot.com/p/clark-aldirch.html#books.  And feel free to hold me accountable!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

When we serve...

Most people haven't the faintest notions of what their life mission is... [But] when we serve [others] with depth and sincerity, we get a glimpse of the essential quality of who we really can become.

- Greg Anderson, The 22 Non-Negotiable Laws of Wellness

Unschooling Rules 13. Include meaningful work.

(For obvious reasons, this quote makes me think of Jeff Sandefer.)

Friday, May 25, 2012

Education Evolution - Some Wrong and Right Questions

We can't evolve education until we start asking the right questions.  Here are some wrong questions and right questions.

Wrong "Big" Questions

How can we help teachers?
How do we better assess students?
How do we better assess teachers?
How do we better assess schools?
How can we create better textbooks?
How can we design better tests?
How can we increase graduation rates?
How can we better teach geometry?
How can we reduce the differences in children/ make more children the same?
How can we get schools to change?
How can we pay schools to implement reforms?
How do we increase number of Phd’s?
How do we improve school management?
How do we encourage schools to go after grants?
How do we better subsidize education?
How do we have free ("open-source") educational content and media?
How do we reduce the meaningful role of parents and corporations, delegating them to "donors" and "helpers"?

Right "Big" Questions

How can we decrease the time kids spend in classrooms and doing busywork?
How can we help each person find out where they are better than anyone else?
How can we develop entrepreneurship?
How can we teach leadership?
How can we better teach nutrition?
How can we get more students into productive real world environments sooner?
How can we help children find their passion?
How can we reduce the roles of schools in education?
How do we increase the real diversity of education opportunities?
How do we make end-to-end education funding more transparent?
How do we have a vibrant marketplace for educational content and media?
How do we increase the meaningful role of parents and corporations, elevating them to "guide"?

What else?  Please add in the comment section!

How a game designer would teach polynomials

Polynomials Sim - Learning Objectives
The goal of the sim is to develop a comfort level with polynomials, and bring an increased competence in solving traditional polynomial problems such as presented on national tests. This will be accomplished in part through a rethinking and presenting of the mechanics behind the math symbols traditionally used. (Bells and whistles can be added - this is just a core interface design.)

Polynomials Sim - Set Up
While some sims will have stories and scenarios, this sim will keep things a bit more abstract. The player/student will manipulate objects in order to solve presented math problems.
It is possible that different skins could subsequently be used to make the interactions more contextual, such as using, as examples, farmers with fields, friends at a party, or money in a bank, depending on player interest.

Polynomials Sim - Basic Screen Interfaces and Interactions
The sim will start off very simply and get increasingly complex. Instructions will only be minimally used.
The first level would be very easy, and consist of a single challenge. As with all levels, it will show both the traditional math symbols at the top of the screen and the workbench view below. In the workbench mode, the player/student would drag down a box until the two lines were equal. The player would hit [enter] when they believe they have solved the problem for x.

(The interface would also have other features, such as allowing the player to move around the right blue column via the other gray box, not to add or subtract value but to arrange the table in various size rows (here, 1 X 10 could be turned into; 2 X 5; 3 X 3 remainder 1) if they saw fit.)
The second level would then be slightly more complex.

(The player could also drag the red column to the right side of the equation and subtract from the right side that amount.)
The next level could add the next level of complexity. Here, a squared relationship can be introduced. The player can drag the corner to change the value of x, which will also change the non-squared X as well. The player is understanding visually and kinesthetically what these symbols really means.

The next level of complexity will be adding multipliers, which can be visualized through stacking. The player may be able to choose between how they wanted the material to be visualized.


Other levels of interactivity would be introduced. The sim can also highlight patterns, such as a lens showing if everything divisible by 3, for example. Various math steps would have kinesthetic analogies. In the sim, the role of the symbols can start taking on a higher role, and traditional technique for solving problems presented.
Finally, in more complex levels, there will not just be one solution to each challenge. The players will feel as if "their" solution is unique, and they can take pride in it.

Polynomials Sim - Conclusion
This sim will provide a visual and kinesthetic take on traditionally symbolic content. It will support, but not overlap, with traditional methodologies. By having a rigorous level structure, players will get a bit more ability, as well as a bit more complexity, each incremental level, providing motivation. Finally, it will increasingly show the role of symbolic manipulation to have efficiency in dealing with greater complexity.
There is a caveat, of course.
As with so many school related subjects, the better we collectively get at teaching them, the more limited, brittle, and useless the current curricula will seem. Even more tragically, this stick is often used to punish the innovative media, not the original program (see Schools: What if we are at a false peak?).
In this case, the problem is that math isn't real. Math itself is a pedagogy - a perfect self-contained microworld to (hopefully) eventually but imperfectly onto our imperfect world with imperfect results but to make better plans and decisions. Ultimately, it is this perspective that must be embraced to really teach math, rather than the self-referential quixotic rathole of today's school tracks.
However, as long as schools and tests are the context of math today, this would be one approach I would use to 'teach' it.

How a game designer would 'teach' cell structures

The restrictions of traditional passive media have shaped schools and formal education experiences more than we can possible imagine. So it is useful to consider how content might be structured using new technology.

Cell Sim - Learning Objectives
The goal of the Cell Sim is to develop in the player a knowledge of the core components of cells, and how and why differences in cells exist. (And story, badges, et al can be added. This is just a core interface and gameplay design.)

Cell Sim - Set Up
In this sim, the player will have to design cells to meet stated challenges. Players will do this using a toolkit of simple building blocks that correspond to real world cell elements (suggested building blocks are presented below). The graphics will be accessible and encourage experimentation.

Cell Sim - Basic Screen Interfaces and Interactions
The player gets a 'board' in which they can place cell elements. The cell they define will exist in the surrounding environment, and will have a shape based on the placement of these elements (the membrane auto-adjusts the size). In this most simple of example (the level one) below, the player has to build a cell that can carry a signal from the right to the left, using a few different options.

Almost invariably, the cell the player will create will be long and thin, which maps to the cell properties of a real world transmitting cell.

The player could in the next level connect several signals and receptors, and design a cell that had the natural properties of a neuron.

Subsequently, the player could design increasingly complex cells, and for a wider variety of purposes, including some ready for growth and replication. Rather than simply be a puzzle, however, the cell can evolve dynamically during the course of a gameplay. In a similar structure to the popular iPhone game Plants vs. Zombies, the player can harvest nutrients to build functionality while defending against hostile forces. A screen shot may look similar to this:

Over the course of the gameplay, players would develop for themselves different types of cells. They would also engage in all of the essential cell activities, eventually making a multi-cellular organism.

Technical names and timelines could be used in game and interjected during transition screen to reinforce necessary vocabulary.

Cell Sim - Conclusion
The entire module could take less than 30 minutes to engage. But the player would remember core functionality and properties for years, if not longer.

My Interview on Simulations and Serious Games on WAMC Northeast Public Radio

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Some "Learning to Be" Questions

The premise of Unschooling Rules is that education should be centered around the student, not the providing institution.  Curricula should be around what children need and love, not what schools are able to teach.  Education "reforms" that ignore these facts will fail.

 Specifically, the sole purpose of education is to enable every person to:
  • Discover what skills he or she can do better than anyone else. (And master some need-to-have basics.)
  • Discover what their deepest passions and beliefs are, including how to best serve. 
  • Engage in projects to test, expand, and refine these skills.
  • Create a sustaining career that aligns skills, projects, and passions.
This is necessarily an individualistic journey.  Here are essential questions, loosely (and sometimes inaccurately) categorized.

"Learning to Be" is essential for both understanding each person's unique skills, and also understanding one's passions and mission. Some "Learning to Be" questions are:
  • About what are you passionate? How can the world be made a better place?
  • What are your strengths?  Where is your talent?
  • What is your story? How would someone describe you?
  • What makes you uncomfortable?  Do you need to get better, or can you work around that?
  • If you could spend your life doing anything, what would it be?
  • Of whom are you jealous?
  • What blogs do you read? Who do you follow?
  • What is your greatest fear? What is your greatest frustration?
  • What do you do to avoid doing what you are supposed to do?
  • What gives you energy?  What drains energy?
  • With whom do you associate?
  • What is your role in a group?
  • What is your voice?
  • Where are you generous?
  • What is your brand? 
In contrast, "Learning to Do" requires significant practice. Some "Learning to Do" questions are:
  • Where do people come to you for help?
  • What do you have/want the most experience doing?
  • What tools are necessary for you to master?  What tools do you use everyday?
  • What do you want to deliver?  What do you want to be paid for doing?  Do you want to serve individuals or broad markets?
"Learning to Know" can highlight new places to either "Learn to Do" or "Learn to Be."