Washington Post article about Finland’s Education System….good read

How GERM is infecting schools around the world

This was written by Pasi Sahlberg, author of “ Finnish Lessons: What Can the World Learn About Educational Change in Finland? and director general of Finland’s Center for International Mobility and Cooperation. He has served the Finnish government in various positions, worked for the World Bank in Washington D.C. and for the European Training Foundation in Italy as senior education specialist. Sahlberg has also advised governments internationally about education policies and reforms. He is also an adjunct professor of education at the University of Helsinki and University of Oulu. He can be reached at pasi.sahlberg@cimo.fi.

By Pasi Sahlberg

Ten years ago — against all odds — Finland was ranked as the world’s top education nation. It was strange because in Finland education is seen as a public good accessible to all free of charge without standardized testing or competitive private schools. When I look around the world, I see competition, choice, and measuring of students and teachers as the main means to improve education. This market-based global movement has put many public schools at risk in the United States and many other countries, as well. But not in Finland.

(Alex Wong/GETTY IMAGES – GETTY IMAGES) You may ask what has made Finland’s schools so extraordinary. The answer has taken many by surprise. First, the Finns have never aimed to be the best in education but rather to have good schools for all of children. In other words, equity in education comes before a ‘race to the top’ mentality in national school reforms.

Second, Finns have taken teachers and teaching seriously by requiring that all teachers must be well trained in academic universities. All teachers should enjoy professional autonomy and public trust in their work. As a consequence, teaching has been a popular career choice among young Finns for three decades now. Today the Finnish government invests 30 times more in professional development of its teachers and administrators than testing its students’ performance in schools.

Third, Finnish educators have learned systematically from other countries how to reform education and improve teaching in schools. The United States has been a special source of inspiration to Finland since John Dewey a century ago. Such American educational innovations as cooperative learning, problem-based teaching and portfolio assessment are examples of the practices invented by teachers and researchers in the United States that are now commonly found in many Finnish classrooms.

One thing that has struck me is how similar education systems are. Curricula are standardized to fit to international student tests; and students around the world study learning materials from global providers. Education reforms in different countries also follow similar patterns. So visible is this common way of improvement that I call it the Global Educational Reform Movement or GERM. It is like an epidemic that spreads and infects education systems through a virus. It travels with pundits, media and politicians. Education systems borrow policies from others and get infected. As a consequence, schools get ill, teachers don’t feel well, and kids learn less.

GERM infections have various symptoms. The first symptom is more competition within education systems. Many reformers believe that the quality of education improves when schools compete against one another. In order to compete, schools need more autonomy, and with that autonomy comes the demand for accountability. School inspections, standardized testing of students, and evaluating teacher effectiveness are consequences of market-like competition in many school reforms today. Yet when schools compete against one another, they cooperate less.

The second symptom of GERM is increased school choice. It essentially positions parents as consumers empowering them to select schools for their children from several options and thereby promotes market-style competition into the system as schools seek to attract those parents. More than two-thirds of OECD countries have increased school choice opportunities for families with the perceptions that market mechanisms in education would allow equal access to high-quality schooling for all. Increasing numbers of charter schools in the United States, secondary school academies in England, free schools in Sweden and private schools in Australia are examples of expanding school choice policies. Yet according to the OECD, nations pursuing such choice have seen both a decline in academic results and an increase in school segregation.

The third sign of GERM is stronger accountability from schools and related standardized testing of students. Just as in the market place, many believe that holding teachers and schools accountable for students’ learning will lead to improved results. Today standardized test scores are the most common way of deciding whether schools are doing a good job. Teacher effectiveness that is measured using standardized tests is a related symptom of GERM. According to the Center for Public Education, standardized testing has increased teaching to the test, narrowed curricula to prioritize reading and mathematics, and distanced teaching from the art of pedagogy to mechanistic instruction.

Healthy school systems are resistant to GERM and its inconvenient symptoms. In these countries, teaching remains an attractive career choice for young people. My niece Veera is a good example of this.

Seven years ago, when she was graduating from a high school in Helsinki, she called me and asked my advice on how to get into the teacher education program in the university where I had been working as teacher educator earlier. I told her that as a straight-A graduate, she should feel comfortable with the entrance examination and be herself in the interview.

In Finland primary school teacher education is a master’s level academic research-based degree similar to degrees in law, economics or medicine. She read required books, took the exam and was invited to the final interview where only the top candidates were selected. A month later, she called me in tears and told me she was not accepted. I asked her what was the toughest question in the interview. She said: “Why do you want to become a teacher when you could become a lawyer or doctor instead?”

Afterwards she wrote me a letter about her interest in teaching. This is what she wrote: “First is the internal drive to help people to discover their strengths and talents, but also to realize their weaknesses and incompleteness. I want to be a teacher because I want to make a difference in children’s lives and for this country. My work with children has always been based on love and care, being gentle and creating personal relations with those with whom I work. This is the only way that I can think will give me fulfillment in my life.”

The following spring she applied again. She was accepted from a ten-fold number of applicants and she recently earned her master’s degree as a primary school teacher. If the Finnish education system had been infected by GERM like many other countries, Veera and many of her peers would never have chosen teaching as their life career.

Addressing pandemic disinterest in the teaching profession with Teach for America and Teach First programs may be a solution to local shortcomings but will not cure the systemic infections that cause current educational underperformance in many countries. We should instead restore the fundamental meaning and values of school education. Without public schools, our nations and communities are poorly equipped to value humanity, equality and democracy. I think we should not educate children to be similar according to a standardized metric but help them to discover their own talents and teach them to be different from one another. Diversity is richness in humanity and a condition for innovation.

A growing number of students in Korea and Japan are taking their own lives because they can’t take the pressure by the adults anymore. Recent suicides of two 14-year-old Kenyan schoolgirls, Mercy Chebet and Sylvia Wanjiku, add a sad chapter in the book of the victims of GERM.

We must stop the GERM that puts such a pressure on children in schools through competition, choice, and accountability. Choosing collaboration, equity and trust-based responsibility as the main drivers in education reforms enhance immunity of our school systems to stop GERM and have good school for all children.

Article about Flipped Learning by Jeff Piontek

Assumption: The Khan Academy is the flagship model of a flipped classroom.

The popularity of the Khan Academy might have come about because of Sal Khan’s TED talk, resulting in significant press coverage, or when it received funding from the Gates Foundation, but whatever the reason, the Khan Academy did vault the idea of the flipped classroom into the media spotlight starting in 2011. The media often grab on to new, flashy ideas, and as a result, video use in schools has been given quite a bit of attention. The Khan Academy is one of many powerful supplemental sites for video content resources. But a true flipped classroom is created by classroom teachers working within their school community to give the learning back to their students.

Resulting misconception: Students spend class time working through online modules.

While computer-based modules can help facilitate learning, a flipped classroom does not rely exclusively on any one single tool. Even though thenational media, such as 60 Minutes, and schools themselves such as charter or blended schools like Carpe Diem show clips of students glued to computers in rows of cubicles completing learning modules, not every teacher using the flipped techniques does so. In fact, mechanized online modules are the exception rather than the rule in a flipped classroom. Rows of desks and chairs play no role in our classrooms, just as drill-and-kill modules do not.

Resulting misconception: A flipped class results in a one-size-fits-all education.

On the contrary, a well-run flipped classroom can help a teacher individually address the needs of each student. Differentiation is key, because each student has an opportunity for one-on-one attention nearly every day from his or her classroom teacher. We meet face to face with our students and converse about the lesson, as well as life. We guide students to the counselor if needed, but we listen, don’t judge, and expect our students to master the subject. The proof is in increased formative and summative assessment scores, but more importantly with our students telling us they “get it!”

Resulting misconception: The role of the teacher becomes diminished.

Actually, the teacher’s role is amplified as the responsibility of the teacher and the learner is reversed. Educators now have a different relationship with each student that will in turn meet their needs more completely. If a teacher is only supervising students who are using computerized learning modules, then yes, theoretically, one teacher could probably supervise dozens, if not hundreds, of students at a time. But if the role of the flipped classroom teacher is to interact and meet the unique learning needs of each and every student in every class every day, then the need for qualified, caring, professional educators increases. Although video can be leveraged to deliver direct instruction, it does not, and cannot, replace the teacher as the facilitator of learning.

Assumption: A flipped classroom centers around the videos.

Teachers are still responsible for making decisions about which tools will best meet the needs of their students. For some teachers utilizing the flipped class technique, a video meets that need. For others, video is not a part of that overall strategy. Neither approach is superior to the other, and the decision must be made with the overall learning climate and learning objectives in mind.

Resulting misconception: All flipped classrooms use video as a “front-loading” instructional tool.

Looking at instruction through Bloom’s Taxonomy, an educator can take one of two approaches to teaching: start with either Lower Order thinking (and work up the pyramid) or Higher Order thinking (and then work down), often referred to as bottom-up (front-loading) or top-down teaching. If teachers use instructional video in a bottom-up (or front-loading) approach, then the teacher will lead the instructional cycle with a video and build the remaining learning activities off of the video lesson. Meanwhile, many teachers use video for extension, application, or even skill assessment (also known as higher-order thinking skills). A top-down approach places an instructional video (or any other resource) in the middle of the learning cycle as found in an inquiry-based classroom or a problem based learning (PBL) class. There is no right or wrong answer on how or when a flipped educator incorporates video, as long as it’s the right tool.

Misconceptions about Flipped Learning by Jeff Piontek

Resulting misconception: Flipped learning is a distinct pedagogy or methodology.

The flipped classroom is an ideology, not a methodology. We do not think of it as a “method” (a step-by-step prescribed process), but one of many techniques in the arsenal. Flipped classroom teachers vary in grade levels and subject matter. So, a chemistry teacher in a suburban city in Indiana and a chemistry teacher in a small rural town in Colorado might both be flipped teachers, but their techniques could be on opposite ends of a teaching spectrum because their students’ needs are different. A student who excels in a flipped class might have a self-directed schedule with little intervention or direction from the teacher, while a student who struggles will get more direction and one-on-one instruction. We have seen both types of students succeed in the same class with a different approach that meets their personal learning styles.

Conclusion: Don’t be fooled by oversimplifications

The generic term “flipped classroom” might be a bit misleading, and there could be some baggage associated with it, but that is no reason to write it off as a useless educational model. It is being utilized to help meet the individual learning needs of students. Before embracing or rejecting this technique, or any other educational tool, consider carefully how practitioners are actually using it. Do not be fooled or confused by the media hype, oversimplifications, or misinformation.

Ultimately, flipped learning is not about flipping the “when and where” instruction is delivered, although that is part of it. It’s about flipping the attention away from the teacher and toward the learner; it is about eliminating large-group direct instruction and meeting the individual learning needs of each student. Flipping a class is about reevaluating what is done in class and leveraging educational tools to enhance the learning experience.

Flipped Learning and Flipped Classrooms by Jeff Piontek

A flipped classroom is all about watching videos at home and then doing worksheets in class, right? Wrong!

Consider carefully the assumptions and sources behind this oversimplified description. Is this the definition promoted by practitioners of flipped classrooms, or sound bites gleaned from short news articles? Would a professional educator more likely rely entirely upon video to teach students, or leverage video, when appropriate, and incorporate other educational tools as needed for successful student learning?

Many assumptions and misconceptions around the flipped class concept are circulating in educational and popular media. This article will address, and hopefully put to rest, some of the confusion and draw a conclusion on why flipped learning is a sound educational technique.

Assumption: Videos have to be assigned as homework.

Although video is often used by teachers who flip their class, it is not a prerequisite, and by no means must a video be assigned as homework each night. As with everything else, the use of a particular learning tool (teacher-made videos, hands-on experiments, online simulations, supplementary text, or current news articles) needs to be carefully evaluated and implemented by the teacher to accomplish the learning objective.

Resulting misconception: Videos are just recorded lectures.

Yes, in a flipped class a short video (usually 8 to 12 minutes in length) may be a recorded lecture, but educators are using video as a medium to pose questionsgenerate conversations, provide instructions for projects or experiments, assist with remediation, create lessons that can be used during a student’s absencegive example problems and solutions, and clarify misconceptions. Teachers are also encouraging students to create videos to foster greater peer-to-peer learning practices.

Resulting misconception: Homework is bad; therefore a flipped class is bad.

Flipped class practitioners create a learning environment in which student work can be completed in class. This requires a change in the way a class (or school) is structured. Flipped classrooms may look more like “learning centers” where students are working on different tasks at the same time. Our classrooms are quite chaotic: small groups gather at the corner tables, a one-on-one conversation up front, experiments at the stations, and yet others writing in their research journals.  On a larger scale, an entire schoolcould be restructured to reflect the value that unstructured and “unprogrammed” time has on student learning and well being. Providing students with time during class to complete their school work also reflects a respect for students’ time and life outside of school. Because the class time is no longer the teacher’s to control, time in school is now focused on student progress rather than teacher-determined timelines.

Resulting misconception: Students must have internet access at home.

If a teacher chooses to assign a short video as homework, equitable access to the video must be ensured. For those students who do not have access at home, teachers are giving flash drives to students who have computers at home, but no internet access; burning DVDs for students with no computers, but DVD players; and providing additional access to computers either in class or before, during, or after the school day. Equity is a very important (and a legal) consideration, but creating equitable access to instructional tools is not an insurmountable hurdle. The issue surround equity can be solved with a little creativity and pooling of resources.

Web literacy: Where the Common Core meets common sense

Web literacy: Where the Common Core meets common sense

We believe it’s essential for every teacher to develop lessons that challenge students to learn how to verify sources; here’s one example

By Alan November and Brian Mull

“To ensure that students learn the grammar and strategies of the web, we believe it’s essential for every teacher to develop lessons that challenge students to learn how to verify sources,” the authors write.

(Editor’s note: This is Part Two of a series of articles on developing web literacy among students. To read Part One, click here.)

Are you as worried as we are that the overall impact of technology on our children’s ability to solve complex research problems is negative? Have you heard a child near you say, “Just Google it,” when asked to describe the meaning of life?

Research shows that students primarily use one search engine and then only look at the first page of results. They can quickly give up or settle for something “close enough” when they don’t find the information they’re looking for. Huge amounts of time are being wasted in searches void of the rigor of research.

A very depressing view of the state of American students’ approach to internet research comes from a recent op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal. When challenged, Yale students in Mr. Brill’s advanced journalism class wrote essays describing that they would simply use Google to solve the Watergate scandal by keying in words such as “secret fund.” After New York University journalism professor Jay Rosen heard about this, he posted on Facebook, “I don’t believe this anecdote about moronic Yale students. … It sounds made-up or very, very distorted.” In other communications, Bob Woodward, one of the individuals who broke the Watergate story, wrote to Mr. Brill after reading the essays, “…your students have what I can only call a heart-stopping overconfidence in the quality of the information on the internet.”

Somehow, we do not think this problem is limited to the students admitted to Yale. We believe we have an endemic problem across the country, where our students have weaker research skills as a result of not being taught the rigor and discipline of using Google and other search tools across the curriculum in all grade levels. To paraphrase Marshall McLuhan, being an excellent researcher with print does not automatically make you thorough in a different medium, the web.

The K-12 students we ask (and the majority of our doctoral students) confidently explain that they know how to use Google. Then we start giving them research questions, such as searching for teacher websites in England that cover the American Revolution. When they cannot generate a single teacher website from the U.K., they discover they really do not understand the architecture of information on the web. Our general analysis is that our students don’t know that they don’t know. We probably would be better off if they knew that they did not know. Then, at least, they might ask their teachers for help with their internet research skills.

There are two driving forces that create an urgency to redefine what it means to be literate in today’s world: common sense and the Common Core. Common-sense observations demonstrate how students are misusing the web for their homework and everyday research. They typically do not realize why or how they are getting their results. As Woodward put it, they believed that “somehow the internet was a magic lantern that lit up all events.”

The second driving force is the Common Core State Standards. Most states will have to rethink their approach to teaching critical analysis of all kinds of information, as the standards require that students be able to:

  • Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility and accuracy of each source, and integrate the information while avoiding plagiarism;
  • Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research; and
  • Interpret mathematical results in the context of a situation and reflect on whether the results make sense, possibly improving the model if it has not served its purpose.

In the interest of preparing for the Common Core and common sense, we will demonstrate an example of a research problem and a solution strategy.

This example is guaranteed to grab your students’ attention and possibly elicit some gasps of astonishment. Visit Google and type in ear mouse. Then click on the “Images” tool in the left-hand margin and choose one of the photos that depicts a human ear growing out of the back of a lab mouse. Wait for the gasps. Now, challenge your students to use their research skills to determine how the ear ended up on the back of the mouse.

To help your students focus, have them begin by reading two sources with varying accounts of the ear. One of these articles was published by a trusted news source, the BBC. The second was written by a global team of individuals on Wikipedia. In reading both articles, your students probably will find some inconsistencies rather quickly.

The BBC article opens with claims that a scientist was able to grow an ear on the back of a mouse. The Wikipedia article claims that cartilage was grown around an ear-shaped mold that was surgically implanted on the mouse’s back. Additionally, the BBC article explains that the scientist involved is a transplant surgeon named Dr. Jay Vacanti, while the Wikipedia article says that this scientist is an anesthesiologist named Dr. Charles Vacanti. Yet a third source from Australia explains, “In truth, the mouse was not genetically engineered, and the ‘ear’ had no human cells in it.”

When we challenge students and teachers alike in our critical thinking workshops to determine which version is the most accurate, the response is almost always to find another source. But which other source is the most reliable? If the mouse could talk, we would ask!

The next most logical source would be to find research labs where this kind of work is being done. It is essential to teach students to distinguish between a primary source such as a university lab and a secondary source such as an article in the BBC. In various articles, there are references to both the University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Let’s use an advanced feature of Google, the “Site” command, to limit our results to those two universities.

Site: will allow a researcher to narrow results to a specific domain or extension. Knowing that, we can begin with the following two separate queries.

Search One: ear mouse vacanti site:umass.edu

Search Two: ear mouse vacanti site:mit.edu

(Please note: you cannot use the Site command twice in the design of one search.)

The use of site: will limit results to one of these universities. Through continued investigation, we find even more connections to Harvard and Brown University. With enough digging, we learn that there were actually two doctors named Vacanti. They were brothers. We also learn much more about the research being done by these brothers in growing tissue around biodegradable molds.

The essential lessons here that link to the Common Core (and common sense) include:

  • To understand the difference between primary and secondary sources.
  • To understand not to automatically trust so-called reliable sources such as the BBC.
  • To learn focused research with the tool that many students use every day, Google. To begin doing so, spend some time investigating Google’sadvanced search tool.

We are not surprised by the Yale example that we referenced at the beginning of this article. Our experience in working with schools around the world has taught us that too many educators and students have a “magic lantern” approach to research on the web.

We believe there should be an urgency to teach students to think when they use the internet. This takes ongoing practice in many different research situations. To ensure that our students learn the grammar and strategies of the web, we believe it’s essential for every teacher to develop lessons that challenge students to learn how to verify sources.

Through our resources, you can find a list of sites that will be useful in developing these types of lessons, as well as a framework that students can be taught. It is not enough to learn how to do this in one class, or only in the library. It must be infused throughout the curriculum. We welcome the Common Core standards that will require this kind of skill set. We also welcome your ideas and strategies for teaching web literacy and critical thinking on the web.

Alan November and Brian Mull article on Web Literacy

Why more schools aren’t teaching web literacy—and how they can start

Fourteen years after we first published ‘Teaching Zack to Think,’ here’s a new three-part framework for making sure students are internet savvy

By Alan November and Brian Mull

The advanced researcher can take Diigo much further. For example, while Zack might have found a few valuable sites about the Holocaust on his own, he might want to connect with others who have been tagging material on the Holocaust for years. To do this, Zack can use Diigo to search for online groups that are sharing resources about the Holocaust. Currently, there are nearly 200 groups sharing information on this topic! A little time spent searching through these groups might prove to be more productive than spending the same amount of time searching with Google.

Additionally, if Zack has classmates who are working on this paper with him, they can all agree to use a specific tag, known only to them, within each of their own accounts. From there, a simple search on Diigo for this tag would provide each student with the resources found by all.

One of the greatest benefits of using such a tool is that the students’ libraries follow them from class to class and from year to year. Therefore, a student who studies biology as a part of the seventh-grade curriculum can return and add to the resources found when taking biology again in high school and then in college.

For teachers who are interested in using this organizational tool with their students, we highly suggest signing up for an educator account. Doing so will allow you to create class accounts easily for all of your students and also immediately makes them part of a class group for easy sharing.Attend Alan November’s ed-tech conference and get $50 off the cost of registration!

Sharing and making sense of information

We are currently witnessing an explosion in the use of social media on the web. For many, this use is for personal purposes—keeping track of friends, interacting with various types of media resources, and sharing interests with others. But another segment of the population is making use of social media to advance their own learning. Services like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and Google+ are allowing connected learners to develop personal learning communities of like-minded individuals who are sharing rich learning resources with one another on a variety of topics. Those who are using these personalized networks insist that some of their most important learning opportunities take place online with individuals they have never actually met.

Previously, researchers were confined to local research groups and formal classroom interactions. Beyond these organized efforts, their connections with others were confined to one-on-one phone calls or group eMail messages that bounced around among participants. However, online social networks are allowing adult and student researchers to share and make sense of knowledge they collect in a more fluid manner. Through these interactions, researchers are able to gain a broader perspective from individuals with varying backgrounds.

Looking at Twitter, for example, we can use a similar organizational method that we saw with Diigo to find focused information on topics of interest. Twitter’s method is simply a short word or phrase (like the tags in Diigo) preceded by the “#” symbol. This is called a hashtag. Searching through Twitter using a hashtag allows users to get past all of the shared information not related to the topic at hand.

To do a search like this, first you would need to find an appropriate hashtag. For this example, we’ll use a hashtag from our Popular Education Hashtagsdocument. We’ll select #stem for STEM education. Now, go to Twitter’ssearch tool. Type #stem in the search box as the query. Immediately, everything on Twitter has been filtered out except for content being shared about STEM-related fields. This content would include helpful websites, articles, or answers to others’ questions. Now, let’s say you want information having to do with STEM careers. At the top of the search results, click the gear button and go to the advanced search page. There, you will be able to add careers to your query, thus doing some further streamlining.

For student researchers, understanding how to use methods like this and having the ability to connect to experts and peers who deeply understand specific areas of knowledge can add valuable perspective and broader connections to a topic of research. Even from early grades, we recommend having a class Twitter account. We also recommend having the aforementioned hashtag handout in a public place near a classroom computer.

As questions come up in class, have specific individuals send out these questions and request further information from the “Twittersphere.” As they do this, encourage students to identify the best hashtag to target their queries. Then, as students begin to develop new content that brings together what they have learned, have them share their thinking and their products with others—again, using the appropriate hashtags. In time, this will become second nature for students and will demonstrate how these tools can be used ethically and educationally.

For Zack, sharing and inquiring about the research he found on the professor’s website using the hashtag #holocaust could have been quite eye-opening. Through making powerful connections and digging deeper into the content he was learning with others who share a passion for this topic, Zack could have gained further insight on the legitimacy of the information he found.

Conclusion: Good research hasn’t changed

In the 14 years since the original writing of “Teaching Zack to Think,” the web has seen dramatic changes in the quantity and variety of information to which we all have access. What hasn’t changed is the need to learn how to properly navigate and make the most of these resources. We must remember that good research is still good research. The technology we access each day hasn’t changed our need to bring rigor and purpose into the work that students do. Understanding the three pillars of modern-day web literacy will take students to new levels of ability. By helping students like Zack further develop skills in finding, organizing, and making sense of information, whether in books or online, we will be preparing them for greater opportunities to thrive—no matter what changes technology has in store in the future.


Great article on Web Literacy by Alan November and Brian Mull (Parts 1 and 2)

Why more schools aren’t teaching web literacy—and how they can start

Fourteen years after we first published ‘Teaching Zack to Think,’ here’s a new three-part framework for making sure students are internet savvy

By Alan November and Brian Mull

If you follow the dictate that we teach what we test, it’s understandable why schools haven’t spent more time preparing students to be web literate since NCLB was passed.

In 1998, a 15-year-old high school student used the personal website of a professor at Northwestern University, Arthur Butz, as justification for writing a history paper called “The Historic Myth of Concentration Camps.”

That student, who we will call Zack, had been encouraged to use the internet for research, but he had not been taught to decode the meaning of the characters in a web address. When he read the web address,http://pubweb.northwestern.edu/~abutz/di/intro.html, he assumed that the domain name “northwestern.edu” automatically meant it was a credible source. He did not understand that the “~” character, inserted after the domain name, should be read as a personal web page and not an official document of the university. As with any media, punctuation counts.

Without web literacy, Zack believed Butz’s explanation. Zack read about how the Nazis were fighting typhus, a disease carried by head lice. He went on to read that the pesticide Zyklon was used to kill the head lice—not the prisoners in the gas chambers. Without basic knowledge of web punctuation or the skills necessary to validate internet content, Zack was at a disadvantage to think critically about what he was reading. He had been taught to read paper, but he had not been taught to read the web. Zack was illiterate in what undoubtedly has become the dominant media of our society. At the time, Zack’s teachers also were illiterate about the web.

It turns out that validating content is not rocket science. Even a first-grade student can begin to understand the organization of information on the web. It seemed obvious at the time that understanding the grammar, punctuation, and syntax of the internet was so basic to being literate in our web-based society that schools immediately would begin to teach all children web literacy. Yet, that hasn’t been the case in most schools.Attend Alan November’s ed-tech conference and get $50 off the cost of registration!

For more information about Building Learning Communities 2012, to be held in Boston July 15-20,click here. Get $50 off the cost of registration when you enter the promo code eSchoolMedia12.

It is our sense that two forces have worked in historic tandem to create the conditions where most of our schools do not teach our children basic web literacy. One is NCLB, which—even though it included funding for technology and staff development—we believe has had a chilling effect on introducing any innovation to the U.S. curriculum. The second is that web filtering became the de facto policy for keeping children “safe” online.

Instead of taking the high moral ground to teach students how to deal with odious content and the ethics and critical thinking skills that go along with social media sites such as FacebookTwitter, and YouTube, too many schools simply block these sites. As a point of information, the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) does not require schools to block social media sites (see “FCC opens access to social media sites for e-Rate users“).

To this day, when we visit schools and give students various research problems to solve, it is the very unusual student—who is usually self-taught—who understands how to decode content on the internet. We know many librarians and individual teachers who creatively include web literacy in their curriculum. Colleagues such as Joyce Valenza will tell you this is not enough. As we did with books, we need every teacher to be web literate and to be designing assignments that require students to learn how to research and decode across grade levels and subject areas.

Retooling the research process

The web has grown exponentially during the past 15 years, and new concepts such as search engine personalization have emerged in this time. To learn how everyday search behavior can lead unwittingly to a more narrow view of the world, read Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble, or see the story “New web-search formulas have huge implications for students and society.” While their access to these sites might be blocked in school, our students are accessing vast amounts of information every day when they leave school via unfiltered search engines and social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

This reality should be a warning to all educators that we must prepare our students to make meaning from the overwhelming amount of information at their fingertips, and we must guide their ability to create and publish new information worldwide. To do this effectively, we must return to the basics of what it means to be a good researcher—but at the same time, we must look at the new tools our students have access to.

In our original 1998 article “Teaching Zack to Think,” we focused on teaching students techniques that would allow them to search with more purpose. This skill, while still important, is only one of three pillars we believe are now essential to be web literate. These three pillars are…

  1. Purposeful search: Using advanced search techniques to narrow the scope and raise the quality of information found on the web.
  2. Effective organization and collaboration: Being able to organize all of this information into a comprehensive and growing library of personal knowledge.
  3. Sharing and making sense of information: Sharing what we find and what we learn with the world, and using the knowledge of others to help us make more sense of it all.

If you follow the dictate that we teach what we test, it’s understandable why schools haven’t spent more time preparing students to be web literate since NCLB was passed. However, the Common Core State Standards that 46 states have agreed to follow does require that students be able to manage web-based information. David Coleman, contributing author of the Common Core State Standards, says that students must be able to “…read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”

The learning progressions articulated in the Common Core State Standards are structured to support students as they develop competency in discovering meaning, analyzing content, comparing information, synthesizing, and applying and sharing their understanding. Without foundational and working knowledge of information and web literacy, students will not be able to exhibit the range of functional and critical thinking skills required to conduct even the simplest research tasks.

Effective organization and collaboration

We’ll focus on the first of the three pillars of web literacy, purposeful search, in a subsequent article. As for the second pillar, assuming that Zack learns how to find high-quality information online, he’ll still need to develop organizational methods that enable him to make effective use of this information as he creates new content by himself and with others around the world.

A logical starting point to teach students how to be organized and to collaborate in their search experience is to teach them how to use Diigo. Diigo, a social bookmarking tool, allows a researcher to organize sites and images from the web, as well as personal notes, using keywords called “tags.” These tags are set up by individual users and can relate to subjects, content areas, individual projects, and more. In addition, all of these collected resources can be annotated and enhanced through embedded sticky notes. To learn more about the basics of Diigo, watch this online overview.


Literacy and iPad Learning Apps

General Literacy and Learning iPad Apps

brain pop 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
1. BrainPOP Featured Movie – BrainPOP®
I’m very impressed with the quality and learning videos – kids love these!

mza 921443720198657036.320x480 75 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
2. The Electric Company
Social-emotional games and content.

Pre-Reading, Reading and Writing Apps

futaba 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
3. Word Games for Kids – Futaba – INKids 

word wall hd 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
4. Word Wall HD 
A game that makes learning words fun.

first words animals 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
5. FirstWords: Animals
Fun and playful.

fingerprint play 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
6. Fingerprint Play Maker
Write your own play.

fire fighter 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
7. Big Kid Life Fire Fighter
Lots of fun — for free!

big kid play vet 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
8. Big Kid Life Vet

sight word bingo 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
9. Sight Word Bingo
Engaging fun for learning sight words.

mad libs 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
10. Goofy Mad Libs
This app gives you word suggestions so you’re also building vocabulary while learning parts of speech and writing.

if poems 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
11. iF Poems
I LOVE this app! Especially the poems read by Helena Bonham Carter.

mzl.tpntvdud.480x480 75 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
12. Toontastic
A big favorite of ours – a great way to write your own stories.

Scribblenaut Remix 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
13. Scribblenauts Remix
Thinking, writing, spelling, problem solving . . .

dont let the pigeon 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
14. Don’t Let the Pigeon Run This App!
Make your own story and learn how to draw pigeon.

idiary for kids 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing             joined up 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
15. iDiary for Kids Lite            16. abc Joined Up 
An engaging way to get kids to write!

story patch 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing             my story book maker 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
17. Story Patch                        18. My Story – Book Maker for Kids

sock puppets 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing             comic life 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
19. Sock Puppets                    20. Comic Life

kids crosswords 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing             spellosaur 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
21. Kids Crosswords              22. Spellosaur

chickitionary 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing             rorys story cubes 24 Educational iPad Apps for Kids in Reading & Writing
23. Chickitionary                    24. Rory’s Story Cubes



Resources with AWESOME Content for FREE!!!

Sharing content online has become an extremely important part of our online presence. While original content reigns supreme, a high percentage of our output comes from other sources. With Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and countless other networks surfacing daily, there is plenty of space to fill. Companies should have a focus on what they want to share with their audience, but there are so many small organizations and individuals that don’t have a plan. What should we post? Where do I find content to share? It may sound elementary, but you want to focus your efforts on content in your niche. Starbucks is not talking about Healthcare on their Twitter feed, and you shouldn’t get too far away from your core either.

So, where do I find quality content on large range of topics? Facebook, Twitter, Google + are laced with great content. This issue with these three giants is that it becomes a hunt, and it wouldn’t be deemed the most efficient way to curate. Below are 4 sites that give you the key to a quantity of quality.

Scoop.It! – Allows individuals and organizations to create online magazines. As an user you create topics with keywords. So you create a topic called “Social Media Now” and use the keywords Twitter, Facebook, and Google+. When you hit the “Curate” button recent stories will appear that include one or more of your keywords. You can then Scoop-It for your magazine. This content is now a part of your magazine for that topic. You have the option to share any story on Twitter, Facebook, and/or Linkedin at the same time via a check box system. You can also share to Pinterest, Google +, and StumbleUpon through the Scoop-It interface. It’s a fairly open network that allows you to follow, rescoop, and favorite content of others. It’s not going to be confused with Facebook in terms of interaction with other users, but there is definitely a fair amount of give and take that makes the experience worthy. My one suggestion here would be to not exceed 3 topics. It becomes too much to manage when you have too many topics.

My Scoop.it site:  http://www.scoop.it/t/online-blended-schooling

Business 2 Community – B2C is a blog syndicate focused on Social Media, Technology, and Business, etc. It also spans to topics such as Automotive, Entertainment, and Sports to name a few. Their content originates from thousands of bloggers that connect to the network. This content is republished on the B2C site by category within 1-5 days of the original posting. There is a ton of valuable content on the site and it just keeps on coming. A new article appears every 10-20 minutes and starts on the front page. After its time on the front page you can find it sitting in a specified category. It would take you weeks to read all the content on B2C at any one time. As with Scoop-It sharing is made easy across all the major networks. As a matter of fact, this article with be on the B2C site in the next couple of days.

Topsy – Is a real-time search engine that really meshes well with Twitter. This network launched almost three years ago to the day, and seems to fall under the radar. You need to get in there and experience, especially if you’re active on Twitter. When you first go to the site you’ll see what is trending today and a small orange number that shows the number of times the story has been posted. You’ll also see a Real-Time Search Box. Below is a search for “Marketing Strategy” with some of the stats. You can retweet a story right from the interface. Topsy also allows too follow users on Twitter by hovering over their picture without leaving the network. Finally, you can search by Photos, Videos, and Experts.

Standardized Testing and the reality of school.

As you read this, students all over the country are receiving their results for state standardized exams. Schools spend up to 40% of the year on test prep, so that, shall we say, no child is left behind. Schools’ futures and funding depend on the number of students who fall into performance bands like “Advanced,” “Proficient,” and “Approaching Basic” based on bubble sheets and number two pencils.

But this is not the rant you think it is.

Let’s get one thing straight from the beginning: As a former elementary, middle and high school teacher, I’m not opposed to standardized testing. Common assessments are a critical way of maintaining high expectations for all kids. Great teachers want benchmarks to measure progress and ensure that they are closing the gap between students in their classroom and the kids across town. What you measure should matter. The problem is, most American classrooms are measuring the wrong thing, and they don’t even know it.

Schools used to be gatekeepers of knowledge, and memorization was key to success. Thus, we measured students’ abilities to regurgitate facts and formulas. Not anymore. As Seth Godin writes, “If there’s information that can be recorded, widespread digital access now means that just about anyone can look it up. We don’t need a human being standing next to us to lecture us on how to find the square root of a number.”

Given this argument, many entrepreneurs see a disruptive opportunity to “democratize” education, meaning that everyone now has a platform from which to teach, and anyone can learn anything anywhere anytime. Ventures like Udacity, ShowMe, LearnZillion, and Skillshare increase the efficiency of the learning market by lowering barriers to knowledge acquisition.

Yet there is an inherent bias in the promise of these new platforms that favors extraordinarily self-directed learners.

But by itself, this “any thing/place/time” learning won’t lead to the revolution we seek. We also have the responsibility of unlocking the potential of every student because the world needs more leaders, problem-finders, and rule-breakers. Teachers are perfectly positioned to take on this challenge.

The primary purpose of teaching can now shift away from “stand and deliver” and becomes this: to be relentless about making sure every student graduates ready to tinker, create, and take initiative.

Sarah Beth Greenberg, a visionary elementary school principal in New Orleans, describes this as the balance between the art and science within teaching. The art is in the relationships you build with kids, and the science is purposeful assessment that generates real evidence of student growth. This only validates the arguments I have had with people about the three “R’s” and how the third R — relationships is the most important.

Which brings me back to my original point. Accountability is a good thing, but only when you are measuring what matters.

Dan Meyer is right when he describes today’s curriculum as “paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them.” Imagine a world where the math textbook was replaced with open-ended, thought-provoking opportunities to question the world around us. In these classrooms, students would learn how to think, how to find problems, not just plug in numbers to solve them. What if quizzes measured kids’ ability to question, not answer?

Our schools should be producing kids who tinker, make, experiment, collaborate, question, and embrace failure as an opportunity to learn. Our schools must be staffed with passionate teachers who are not just prepared to foster creativity, perseverance, and empathy, but are responsible for ensuring kids develop these skills.

Most importantly, in these schools, old-fashioned gradebooks and multiple-choice tests aren’t good enough. Teachers need better tools to track several dimensions of student progress. Kids are more than just test scores. The narrative is important, and teaching demands a new type of CRM (classroom/relationship/management) to capture anecdotal notes and evidence of student growth. Teachers must become disciplined and analytical about identifying students’ strengths and skill gaps, continuously turning classroom data into a plan of action.

Schools like this exist in the dozens, but we need them in the hundreds of thousands:

  • Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia uses a project-based learning model, where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes. Chris is a personal friend and does GREAT work!!!
  • High schoolers who want to design software that changes lives can do so at the Academy for Software Engineering in New York City when it opens this August. Let’s see how this goes…they open in September 2012?

The school to which I’ll send my own kids hasn’t opened yet either. Why not because I am currently working on the plan and funding to open this school and then the model to replicate it around the world because I recognize that technology and increasing diversity/experiences in creativity and innovation will continue to influence our society in unpredictable ways and thus, a school must continually adapt so that students are prepared for the world they will enter as adults.
But we’re shortchanging kids if we aren’t relentless about measuring outcomes in these new models. Teachers are the linchpins here. They’re much more than just motivational coaches, they must become results-oriented diagnosticians of student learning.

Imagine a world in which all teachers were relentless about fostering that same creativity in all of their students.