Friday's Keynote speaker Tony Wagner likened our current state of educational reform and accountability to Charles Dickens opening to A Tale of Two Cities. We are in the best of times. We re in the worst of times. Well, I think that all depends on what we educators do with the hand we are dealt. Here are three big ideas that resonated with me while at the Deeper Learning Conference this weekend at High Tech High San Diego.
1. Iterate, Iterate, Iterate.
Tony Wagner told is this was his new favorite word and it's a great way to look at schooling and life. Mary Hendra from Facing History described her online PD program as being on the 6th year of "pilot". Basically, it will always be in pilot. Do you know what is no longer in pilot? The horse and buggy, the Yellow Pages, the CBS Evening News. Therefore, iterate ... or become obsolete, or as Scott McLeod says, "Irrelevant".
2. Authentic, Authentic, Authentic
Many school tasks are "So What" tasks. They are done for the teacher, read only by the teacher and end up as landfill. It turns out projects are not immune to this syndrome. While learning about Challenge Based Learning (CBL) I was reminded of the supremacy of the authentic task. Pseudo context, as Dan Meyer has pointed out on many occasions ain't fooling anyone. Student work should be for a real audience who would benefit from the end product. Whether you are writing a friendly letter or creating a multimedia infomercial the purpose and audience must be crystal clear and... authentic.
3. Innovation and Accountability Need to Be Introduced to each Other
The energy at the Deeper Learning Conference was high. Much like Educon, these are the true believers of educational reform who have jumped in with both feet to make education relevant and meaningful for children. So, one question remains for those of us who believe there is a better way to do school. Can we innovate in the era of the Standardized Test? I think we can, but the burden is on us to articulate the skills, knowledge, and dispositions our students are acquiring in this different model. It was encouraging to attend to several conversations with those who were wrestling with low test scores in a project based environment or networked digital professional development. Assessment in this environment is messy and more subjective than those beautifully hard and fast numbers that actually mask a lot of important details. So, if we believe that standardized test scores don't tell the whole picture -and they don't - then we need to tell the rest of the story.
So are these both the best and worst of times? For me the glass is not only half full but overflowing. If we take the bull by the horns and write our own narrative it will be the best if times if not a renaissance in education. However, if we let others define our role and outcomes, we just might end up on the other end of a guillotine. Our kids our counting on us to lead the way. Let's get 'er done!