Innovation and Disruption in Everyday Education

Two nights ago I came across a tweet from Huntington Post Education;

I then modified and retweeted it;

What followed was an overwhelming number of retweets, favorites, and follows (at least for me, with a measly 600 some followers). Additionally, if you click on the link, you will see that HuffPo has since changed the title of the article to These 11 Leaders are Running Education But Have Never TaughtInteresting.

The vast majority of the RTs and interactions shared my sentiment, but one caught my eye;

And a conversation ensued;

Challenge Accepted.

As I started thinking about who and what I was going to highlight here, the tweets kept rolling in. This one really got me thinking.

The excerpt that really struck me;

Of course, even in Disrupting Class, the predictions of the ed-tech end-times were already oriented towards changing the business practices, not necessarily the pedagogy or the learning. [Emphasis mine]

I think that the ‘disruption’ really needed in education is to simply utilize methods of instruction and systems that have been demonstrated to be effective through research. In the end I don’t think we need to revolutionize the entire system, as we have pockets and individuals to serve as wonderful models. The real problem is how to scale from individuals doing great things to a great system as a whole.

As I highlight some of these innovations by everyday teachers, let’s start with the greatest disruption in my teaching, Modeling Instruction. Modeling is a highly researched, highly effective method for teaching Physics. Modeling came out of a great disruption; physics teacher David Hestenes wrote a basic concept inventory for his physics classes thinking they would rock it. Instead, they bombed it. Years of research then gave birth to Modeling. Frank Noschese, a ‘normal’ physics teacher in New York State, gave a great TEDx talk demonstrating how students “Learn Science by Doing Science” using Modeling. In fact, Frank was recently lauded by a non-educator for his work with modeling. Kelly O’Shea is closing in on 200,000 views on her blog where she posts guides to how to  implement MI, her modified MI materials, and other thoughts relating to physics education. She teaches at a private school in NYC. Both (and the many other modelers ‘disrupting’ traditional physics teaching) are ‘just’ teachers.

Standards Based Grading (SBG) is a movement in education more widespread than modeling instruction. The basis of SBG is to guide students towards mastery of topics rather than pushing them through an outdated factory model of learning.  Rick Wormeli and Robert Marzano are two academics leading the charge in SBG, though it has primarily succeeded as a grassroots movement of educators working in isolation. Frank and Kelly, mentioned above, are also teacher-leaders in this field. SBG has in fact even entered the higher-ed realm, with Andy Rundquist pioneering its use through non-standard assessments in his physics classes. In my district my wife was one of the first to implement SBG 5ish years ago as a result of her Masters thesis. Many others have followed suit, and, for certain in my case, the result is increased student learning.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is a movement where students learn by doing, with a flexible route to demonstrating learning in comparison to other methods of instruction. The most visible example of PBL I know of is Shawn Cornally’s BIG school, where he is attempting to scale PBL to make school more awesome, a worthy task. Project Lead the Way is an example being implemented in my district, a program where students learn engineering through PBL. Students interact regularly with engineers from Seagate, Toro, and other local firms, and produce plans and prototypes with their guidance. Two other teachers at my school pioneered the building of an Environmental Learning Center around “the idea that meaningful learning happens when students engage with the community around them, including the natural environment.”

Many teachers were Flipping the Classroom before Khan Academy popularized it, and many have similarly continued to innovate within the flipped structure. Ramsey Musallam in particular popularized a variation called Explore Flip Apply, which was developed because of research indicating that sparking students’ interest and thinking through inquiry before providing content delivery improves learning outcomes. A local colleague of mine, Andy Schwen, wrote a nice post describing his transition from a pure flip to the EFA model.

Twitter is utopia for individual educators uniting to improve learning, and perhaps the best example of this that I know of is a loose collection of math teachers known as the Math Twitter Blog-o-Sphere. They use the hashtag #MTBoS, interact regularly, and have fantastic conversations about student learning. What’s really amazing is that from this virtual community has sprouted a real one. Tweetups are a regular occurrence (I have participated in three), and for two years now they have organized a loose, edcamp-style workshop called Twitter Math Camp. Last year 100+ educators took part.

I’m fairly certain that I’ve missed numerous ‘disruptions’ and ‘innovations’ out there. So my challenge to you; fill the comments with examples. They can be specific instances (projects, lessons, whatever), or general cases. I am particularly interested in examples outside of the math and physics world in which I primarily live. Blow it up, my hope is that maybe someone important will notice and realize that educators are the voice that’s missing from the education reform table.

4 responses to “Innovation and Disruption in Everyday Education

  1. Best post on education reform I’ve ever seen – congratulations. I watch great teaching every day, it isn’t universal in all of us.

    There are great teachers out there using good methods. In the business world – if we find there are pockets of good employees within departments and ‘waste’ in other areas – we use Lean and Six Sigma principles to increase the onus of performance management. Leverage these frameworks to understand the value and remove waste. This has to be done with great care and planning. Then we reward good behavior (manage by carrot, not stick) with respect, pay increases, and getting those well performing resources involved directly in the hiring and mentorship of new resources (who will then become well performing as well).

    All of this is extremely difficult – add in unions, parents and tax-based financing and you have a perfect storm for lack of innovation and positive change. Throw in that most investments are grants in ‘lump-sums’ that don’t (or can’t) consider ongoing operational cost and long term strategic vision and innovation.

    The fact of the matter is that large sets of people don’t change overnight. We need to start this one person at a time, and as our efforts grow to innovate education we need to consider the different stakeholder groups and address their needs and concerns slowly and openly. Only when we have made it to that point can we start growing and inspiring positive change.

    • Matt, thank you for the encouragement and the insightful comments. I think you succeeded here in highlighting aspects of using the ‘business model’ that can work in education, while at the same time pointing out the complexities of ed that make it different, and rightly so, from business. “Manage by carrot, not stick” is something I will take with me. I am seeing that happen to some extent, which is great, but it’s tough to have enough carrots in the ed world. It seems that at the very least I have inadvertently implemented the mentorship piece, as I’ve made it a focus of mine to seek out our talented new staff to encourage and empower them. Your comments affirm that decision I made based on gut feeling.

      We won’t change overnight, but change we will.

  2. I like that you are seeking out your talented staff to mentor them. I have been doing that as well. Even those of us who don’t have hiring responsibility can help to shape the future of our staffs, as we help create culture.

  3. Great post about an interesting discussion. I very much appreciate the collection of useful links about the main movements in math and physics education today.

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