Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Invisible Hand of Learning (Part 1)

The Professional Development (PD) program at my school is broken and we need your help to fix it.

For the last seven years we have used what I call a “push” model and it has proven ineffective because it is the embodiment of 20th century learning. 20th Century learning is all about “pushing” information at a group of passive recipients. The recipients are expected to follow detailed instructions, take notes, absorb information and regurgitate it in the form of a new product.

This is the model we have used for our PD and it stinks. It stinks because the culmination of the effort– the new product– was rarely produced and infused into classroom learning. For seven years the Director of Technology has been responsible for researching new tools and approaches, creating handouts, video tutorials and lectures to be delivered to the faculty to help them meet their yearly PD requirement.

Teachers at our school are required to receive 20 hours of training in technology and all 20 hours have been “pushed.” We are nine years into the 21st century and it is time to rethink this 20th Century model of learning. It is time to stop “pushing” and let the faculty “pull.” Self-directed learning is what I call a “pull” model and this year we will try to pull our learning instead of pushing it.

I am very interested in trying to ignite the passion for self-directed learning in my K-8 students yet, until now, I have not tried this approach with our faculty. The problem with the push model is that it is not as customizable. It violates the the laws of supply and demand that make free markets work so well. Economist Adam Smith described the invisible hand as the mechanism through which needs were filled in a free market society. To paraphrase Smith, when a demand arises in the marketplace, a supply quickly follows as if guided by an invisible hand.

Free market economics is successful because it is a “pull” model and PD should be no different. The “push” model is an artifact of not only the 20th century, but of the failed economies of centrally planned communist states. Centrally planned economies failed for the same reason our PD has failed: you can’t make people want something just because you supply it. Demand for something comes first, then the invisible hand guides the supply to meet it.

Businesses do market research all the time to figure out what people want so that they can customize their product to suit the specific tastes of the consumers. These are the ideas I hope to bring into our PD program this year. Instead of the “sage on the stage” paradigm of the push model, I will be working with teachers to customize their own PD. Teachers will tailor their learning to suit their own demands and I will surrender control to the invisible hand.

The pull model is all about collaborating, creating and sharing in the spirit of 21st century learning, but it does not work without a community. As the trainer I am responsible for the supply of information to our faculty but I am also hoping to enlist you, the community, to help supply me with guidance and solutions to problems that arise throughout the year.

This post is part one of what will be a five part series detailing the ups and downs of this experiment.
In order to ensure that the focus of the training is directed at improving instruction in the classroom, I am proposing a few criteria. I would like to know your opinion about the following guidelines:

1. Training to learn how to build and cultivate a Professional Learning Network (PLN) is encouraged.

2. Training to learn how to use technology to transform outdated classroom activities into more modern approaches is encouraged.

3. Training to learn how to use technology to publicize classroom projects and accomplishments to parents and the greater school community is encouraged.

Is this list too broad or too constricting? Your comments and questions will be very valuable to all of us, so please let us know your take.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bearing Fruit

It has been less than a month since the Doha trip and the connections I made are already bearing fruit. Sts. Philip and James School may have three global collaborative technology projects lined up for the months of March and April.

We have an environmental project involving students from Oman. We are planning to order reusable grocery bags, add our own designs with the help of our art teacher, work with other schools in international groups, using social technology, to learn about different aspects of environmental education and have a cultural exchange. The project may involve up to 5 countries. We will be giving the reusable bags away at local grocery stores to interested shoppers and the project will culminate with a tree planting on the school grounds. is a great resource because for a small membership fee will ship you a geographically appropriate tree to plant. They also have detailed instructions on how to plant and care for the tree.
In addition to what we are calling the "Green Bridge Project," we may also have two other projects for April. One project is a multi-media collaboration about internet safety and etiquette with students from Pakistan and the other project involves a cultural exchange/geography lesson using Google Maps with international students from a school in India. We still have some details to work out with all three projects, but when you have a group of enthusiastic teachers involved, most logistical problems seem easy to conquer.

The Flat Classroom Conference was so amazing, I kept saying, "I wish I could bottle this feeling and bring it back with me." We all know that feelings can't fit inside of bottles, but the good news is that thanks to the flattening of the obstacles separating our classrooms, we can recreate that feeling right in our own schools.

I am looking forward to engaging with these fantastic teachers once again and I can't wait to introduce our wonderful students to each other.
Stay tuned . . .

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

That's How We Roll Video

I shot this on the last day of the conference. I wasn't able to get every student on camera because things were so hectic, but at every break in the action I searched for a couple of new faces to get on film. If anyone who was left out would like to get edited into it, just contact me and we can get it done!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Student Projects and "The Souk"

The learning never stops at this conference. I have never been so busy. I learned about the Chinese New Year and Russian Orthodox churches from a teacher from Beijing on the bus.

During lunch I learned a math technique called "double division" from a math teacher here in Qatar. It is a technique where you can do long division without knowing anything about multiplication. Very cool (if you are into math!)

On the bus ride back to the hotel I learned what to say to a Muslim when they sneeze: alḥamdu lillah (الحمد لله)
It basically means the same thing that we mean when we say "God bless you".

That was just between some great workshops at the actual conference. The students who came here got to present their ideas for a Flat Classroom project to us in groups. The teachers were supposed to listen and give feedback to help them improve their presentations and tighten up their ideas.

Later in the day, they presented in front of all of us using multimedia tools. Some of the ideas were terrific and the presentations were awesome. It can't be easy for 15 or 16 year olds to stand up in a foreign country and pitch a big, world-changing idea to complete strangers; for some, in their second or third language.

We had to vote on our favorites and it was tough because they were all so good. It was heartbreaking to see some of the students who weren't selected afterwards, but by the evening I think they had already gotten over it.

After our workday we went to the Souk. Here are the pictures from the evening:

Museum of Islamic Art

Here is a short slideshow with pics from the museum trip yesterday:

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Yaqzan is My Hero

I am sitting in the auditorium in the Qatar Academy enjoying the debate about web 2.0 technology. Yaqsan (one of my brothers from another country) just got up and challenged the teachers in the room to spread the message of the conference virally.

He said if we go back home and teach other teachers, this message will spread. That is a powerful thought and a bold statement for a 16 year old student from Oman to make in a room full of strangers.

Yaqsan is a rockstar.

Here's another challenge to SSPJ students (8th grade you should know this):

What is the definition of "Viral Marketing"?

Conference Begins!

We just arrived at the Qatar Academy, our conference host, after a great morning of sight-seeing. (I will post more pics and video about that later).

I didn't realize this, but the Qatar Academy is IN Education City. Everything in Doha is apparently under construction (I will blog about that later as well) and it is amazing how new and shiny everything is around here.

The Qatar Academy is a truly beautiful school. Here are some pics:

I also got to have lunch with 2 students from a school in Ethiopia. Neither of them is Ethiopian, though. One student is from South Africa, the other from Kenya. I asked Edgar (the Kenyan) if he ever heard of the VIST school because our 5th grade just finished their blog ( about our used textbook sharing project with VIST. He has not heard of the VIST school, but we had a great conversation about Facebook and privacy in the Web 2.0 world.

I asked these two African students why they were here and this is what they had to say:

They are from the capital of Ethiopia.
Here's a trivia question for the SSPJ students- can anyone tell me what the capital of Ethiopia is?

The 6th Omani

On our bus tour, to the waterfront (known as 'The Corniche') I chatted with a teacher from Oman and his 4 students. We hit it off right away and I have to say I am super impressed with those kids. They are some of the most polite high school kids I ever met.

We exchanged information and I have spent the better part of the morning talking with them, learning from them, sharing with them. We took a tour of the new museum (which I will write about later) and because of our instant bond I began calling myself the "6th Omani". Here is a pic of us at the Corniche:

If you are wondering why we seem to be 2 Omanis short, it is because one was taking the picture and one wandered off!

Listen to what Salim Al Busaidi, the Omani teacher, had to say about his experience with the Flat Classroom Project:


Ok, the flight was not as bad as I thought. I actually had 3 seats all to myself so I was able to get some sleep on the plane.
I thought we would be flying over Africa, but we actually went way up north and then came down over Europe.

Here is the flight map from the inflight monitor:

Flying over Saudi Arabia was interesting- I have never seen so many miles and miles of endless sand.

Finally there! First sign I ever saw in English & Arabic. I found Coke and Pepsi cans in Arabic as well- that was interesting to see!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pre-Conference Reading

The trip to Doha is going to be a long one.

I was lucky enough to get a direct flight (there and back) which saved me from potentially going insane from the sleep depriving jet-lag/stop-over combo, but no matter how fast that plane goes, Qatar is still pretty far from JFK airport. Due to the fact that I have 30 hours of flying to do in the next week, I have been spending an inordinate amount of time planning my in-flight reading selections.

I have been debating whether or not to go the immersion route, i.e. books about technology and global themes, or the escape route, i.e. anything that doesn't fit one of those categories.

Thanks to Allegra Stratton's book "Mujahababes" the decision was easy. Mujahababes is about modern youth culture in the Middle East and if the first two chapters are any indicator, I made a good choice. She never specifically writes about Qatar, but she did visit Kuwait, which should be comparable. My goal is to learn enough to be able to ask intelligent questions once I touchdown in the gulf.

Now I just have to pack everything else!