Is there a problem?

Everybody hates to be tested – especially in public.

But almost anyone loves to solve a problem. That is why some of us spend so much time over the Sunday crossword puzzle (or the game of choice on your tablet). But when the problems we tackle are relevant, when the solutions we reach actually improve our life or somebody else’s, then the feeling of accomplishment is tenfold.

Schools were first designed as places where learning “for tomorrow” would happen. Tests were needed to make sure that the students had really acquired the knowledge that was being transferred into them. Once teachers could acknowledge, via the evidence of the written test, that students could at least reproduce on paper the concepts that had been drilled on their brains, their work was done.

It didn’t really mattered if just a couple of days later all those “learnings” had been utterly forgotten or disregarded.

In life, we learn by doing. We find out what works and what doesn’t. We need knowledge, of course, but we know that data must be used to be valuable. Unused knowledge is like unspoken words: they might be there but they need to get out to do their work.

If you want to play the violin, it is useful to get a hold on concepts and techniques – but unless you put your hands to the instrument, you will never produce music.

Problem (or project) based learning is much more like learning to play an instrument, only that it contemplates you as a part of an orchestra from the very beginning. You need to do your part but you must also work with others to create magic.

PBL takes its time, and, because it’s centered in the students and their interests, it can many times move away from the curriculum we are required to teach – which is not necessarily a bad thing.  PBL requires careful planning and lots of flexibility.

Recently, at our school, Colegio Valle de Filadelfia in Aguascalientes, México, we began to teach our students about the SDGs – the UN Sustainable Development Goals. When talking about goal #12, “Responsible consumption and production”, we challenged 7thto 9thgrade students to think about the things they use and consume every day and how they could be improved in a way that benefits the planet.  Students worked in groups to identify possible problematic products and to brainstorm for solutions.

Our team at the National Science and Technology week

One group looked closely at something each one of them used everyday, most of the day: a pencil.  They wondered how many trees were cut to produce the pencils they were using (about 82,000 a year, in the US alone). They wondered, could there be a better way? After trial and error, they came up with a pencil made with crushed, fallen tree leaves and other natural components. They submitted their project to a science contest and eventually the team was invited by the government of our state to present their idea at the National Science and Technology week. They spent five days presenting to authorities and visitors alike. Previously, one of the team members, a seventh grader called Natalia, spoke about their project in a TEDx talk – which of course was a new challenge on its own, one that required honing of other set of knowledge and skills, such as writing (for her script) and public speaking.

Our students had a stand where they presented their project to visitors

Not every day is a PBL day, but many are, in some way or another.

Here are the things you should keep in mind when working global project based learning in your classroom or school

  1. Kids should be part of identifying the problem – that way it will be relevant for them and will not feel like a script they must follow. Give the students some context, of course. When we asked our kids to identify things in everyday use that could be improved to benefit the planet, we gave them a very specific context from where to start. We did not just tell them, “Think about any problem you might want to solve”.
  2. Students should work in groups. PBL is mostly a collaborative model – being able to pick from many brains makes it much more engaging and productive. And of course, kids develop social skills as well.
  3. There should always be an outcome –even if it is just an idea that still needs to be implemented. It is OK if the problem is not entirely solved, but we should feel one step closer to finding solutions. Sometimes, just creating awareness about an issue is an improvement.

PBL is an opportunity to use knowledge and skills and put them in action towards a goal. Note that the key word here is “opportunity”, as opposed to obligation. PBL is not a test. It might very well be used to qualitatively evaluate how kids apply and create knowledge, but it is, above all, a new and engaging learning experience.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What does a high quality, global PBL program look like in your classroom?

MEXICO: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

Mexican students are beaming with happiness.

Well, at least that’s what OECD’s PISA found. In fact, in their report for Student Well Being, Mexico ranks at the top of OECD countries, with 58.5% of them claiming they are “very satisfied with life”.

But at the same time, Mexico has consistently ranked at the very bottomof academic achievement among OECD countries. In all three domains (Reading, Math and Science) less than 1% of students are top performers. There’s nothing here to be happy about.

Could Mexicans improve their education outcomes by lengthening the amount of time students spend learning, in and out of school? It is not likely.

We are already devoting a larger share of time studying, well above OECD’s average of 44 hours a week, but significatively below top performers like Korea.

Eduardo Andere, a Mexican researcher specializing in comparative education, strongly disagrees with making school days longer in order to improve performance.  What good could it come from increasing the dosage of bad education? That, by itself, will not turn a deficient education into a good one. In fact, it could be even worse.

Even more time of a good education will not necessarily result in better academic achievement. According to the OECD, “increasing learning time alone, such as by making school days or years longer, or shortening lunch breaks, is not enough to improve student outcomes. The question is whether more time leads to fatigue, boredom and burnout, or to productive and effective learning”(p. 2)

If more time spent at school is not the answer, then what to do? Every country is different, of course, but in the case of Mexico, poverty and inequity play a major role in academic achievement. Andere (2014) states that for too long we have believed that education will solve the problem of poverty, but it seems more likely to be the other way around. At the very least, it is a two-way road.

Erradicating poverty and inequity are goals well beyond the reach of any school teacher. Changing the education system to allow for better opportunites is too high a task for the everyday educator. But we have our classrooms and our students, and, at least there, we can make a difference.

At Colegio Valle de Filadelfia, where I teach, school days are longer that the Mexican average by about 7 hours per week. However, this time is not all spent in academic activities. We have a wide array of learning opportunities that range from music and art to coding, genius time and Maker Space. Students develop different skills and interact with peers and kids of other ages. And yes, they score well above the national average in standardized tests. Although we could not pinpoint the exact causes, I am sure they are not necessarily related to more time spent in school. I suspect it could have much more to do with how we spend that time and where do our students come from.

Let’s make the most of the time (however big or little) that we have at school. If we are able to promote joyous, engaging learning in (almost) every minute, our kids will fare much better – not only in PISA, but, most importantly, in life.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How much time should K-12 students spend at school during a calendar year?

 

References:

Andere, E. (2014) La Escuela Rota: Sistema y Política en contra del Aprendizaje en México. Siglo XXI Editores.

OECD (2017), PISA 2015 Results (Volume III): Students’Well-Being, PISA, OECD Publishing, Paris. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264273856-en

OECD (2017) PISA Country Note, México. Retrieved on September 1st, 2018, from https://www.oecd.org/pisa/PISA-2015-Mexico.pdf

OECD (2017) Pisa in Focus #73 Do students spend enough time learning?

http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/744d881a-en

 

A Holistic Learning Approach in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: The best, the worst, and the future

“Strong academic skills alone are not enough for young people to become successful adults”, states a recent publication from the University of Chicago. The report, entitled “Foundatons for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework”, then goes to stress what is important: “experiences combining action and reflection (to) help children develop a set of critical skills, attitudes, and behaviors”  and “supportive relationships and an abundance of these developmental experiences through activities inside and outside of school.” (2015, Nagaoka et al)

Fair enough. But, how can these findings translate to real ife in classrooms around the planet? How are the world’s teachers helping their students face the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution? And why are most educational systems still focusing on accountability measures when research clearly shows a different pathway to success?

The accelerated pace of technological advancement implies a choking pressure on education. Now schools must have a lab were students can experiment with drones and virtual reality, or else they are declared outdated and unmodern. But, in truth and honesty, how many schools, public or private, can afford such labs? Very, very few. And for the many others left to watch from the verge of modernity, what is left?

There is hope. “Even in environments devoid of technology, excellent pedagogy is still leading to astonishing student learning outcomes”. (Guerra, in Doucet et al, 2018, p. 40) Just as academics are not enough and everything to achieve student success, technology is neither the magic answer for education.

Last month, our book “Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the precipice” was launched at the Global Education & Skills Forum in Dubai.  Among the many questions lurking around education today, we wanted to explore how are we preparing our youth for 2030 and beyond – with or without technology, and above academics and accountability. For my chapter, “Education Today: A collection of snapshots”, I interviewed experts, researchers and teachers from around the globe, and ended up with a collection of “best and worst educational practices” in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The worst

As reported in our book, there is a consensus on “the dark side”:

  • Static learning vs. engaged learning,
  • Treating schools as factories or bussinesses
  • Too much “curriculum- oriented instruction”
  • One-size-fits-all teaching
  • Teaching to the test

The Best

  • Balance of cognitive and non cognitive learning
  • Focusing in teachers’ quality as opossed to teachers’ perfomance
  • Empowering students
  • Using a wide inventory of teaching strategies – with, or without, technology
  • Building strong relationships with students

The future

“What, then, should students learn to be better equipped for the challenges of our times and for the future? A whole new world opens. Teachers’ responses were as enthusiastic as theywere diverse: global citizenship, soft skills, environmental awareness, digital literacy, critical thinking, relationships, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and even meditation!” (Guerra, in Doucet et al, 2018, p.39)

Koen Timmers and Armand Doucet sum it up nicely:

“As the world continues to become more globalized and interconnected, the ability to understand diverse perspectives and work with those that have divergent worldviews will become increasingly important.

Without great pedagogy, technology integration is worthless.”

 

References:

Doucet, A., Evers, J.,  Guerra, E., Lopez, N., Soskil, M.,  & Timmers, K. (2018) Teaching in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Standing at the precipice. London, Routledge Education.

Nagaoka et al (2015) Foundatons for Young Adult Success: A Developmental Framework. University of Chicago. Retrieved on April 24th, 2018 from https://consortium.uchicago.edu/publications/foundations-young-adult-success-developmental-framework

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: What should a holistic approach to learning look like and how do we shift the focus from the accountability measures in existence now to ones that are relevant for all students in a changing world? 

Normalizing Struggle: Building our better self

Her fists were clenched. She tried to tame the tears that were so close from storming out. Maybe disguising her anguish as indifference would do the trick.

It didn’t.

She was staring at her unfinished work, drowning at the task at hand. What the task was doesn’t matter. How she felt does.

– “I just can’t do this” – she whispered to me as I approached her desk. “It’s too hard. I’m not smart enough”

– “Nobody gets it perfect the first time”, I said. But it did not convince her.

– “Oh, yes they do. Most of them. Just not me. I don’t want to do this anymore”

What was she afraid of? You name it. The giggles. The shame. The flunk. Maybe the biggest fear was to face, once more, the perceived confirmation that she was not good enough. Failure is painful, and we naturally reject what hurts.

How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

You have not failed until you give up

The first step in preserving a risk-taking mentality in our students is to take the “failure” out of the “struggle”. The world’s greatest scientists, inventors and artists reached the skies after years of sustained effort. However, they have been romanticized by history and media as born-that-way geniuses. The truth is, every child has the seed of genius within – dedication and hard work is what eventually will make them fly.

A supportive environment to thrive

You would not jump into the void without some sort of a safety net: that is called calculated risk. Our students will weigh in the possible outcomes for being daring and bold in their academic pursuits. If there is a big chance that they will fall prey to ridicule, most likely they will not go for it. Let’s promote a supportive school environment that values trying as well as achieving, and process as well as results.

We should also recognize and even cherish our own struggles: If, instead, we run away and hide them from our students, we are strengthening the idea that struggling is a shameful deviation from achievement, instead of a powerful opportunity for growth.

Yidan Prize winner Carol Dweck has extensive research showing that intelligent people are not just born smart: kids can identify their current achievements and then work towards improving, actually getting smarter.

When you teach about the great characters from history, science and art, be sure to portray the whole stories: the pains as well as the gains, the human side entwined with the brilliance, the challenges along with the glory.

It’s not about minimizing struggle, it’s about normalizing it. When we take failure out of the equation and embrace struggling as part of the journey, learning becomes again the joyous, stimulating gift it was always meant to be.

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: How do we better instill an idea of risk taking and struggle in students? How can we better humanize success and show that it’s a matter of diligence rather than talent?

Helping our students embrace diversity

The first step to accept and embrace diversity is knowledge.

We human beings are wired to detect and act upon whatever could threaten our existence. This comes as part of our survival instinct. If we hear a sudden, loud noise, we jump in fear. For a split second, we don’t know if the sound comes from a firing gun or worse – and our whole body prepares for flight or fight. Then we realize it was just a truck exhaust and we sigh in relief, our heart still pounding furiously inside or chests. But knowledge rises above instinct, and as we know it’s highly unlikely that this particular truck is set to kill us (unless of course we are to find ourselves crushed under its wheels), we disregard the threat and keep on to our business.

DiversityAnything that we don’t know well could be a potential risk – not just for our lives but also for our ways of living. Human beings are cautious or even up-front reluctant about whatever is unknown or different. Including other people!

So, How can you help students accept and work well with people of different beliefs, cultures, languages, socio-economic statuses, education backgrounds, and learning styles? Here are some ideas.

Open their world – and you will open their minds. Get them to know and ultimately respect as many different cultures as possible. Don’t neglect to explore your own community as well.

Create the environment. Even in very homogeneous schools, some diversity will always arise. But our school environment could be one that crushes it down – for example, presenting one single viewpoint as the truth, discouraging open discussion about certain issues or favoring just one approach to learning. Be open, inclusive and caring.

Set the example. If you have a preference for working with certain type of students, if you loose your patience with the slower kid in your class, if you openly dislike a colleague or parent, if you are biased in any way, even if you don’t say a word, it will show.

Don’t force it. Don’t think that you are doing a favor to the odd kid in class by forcing his classmates to work with him. It might be even worse. Instead, plan projects in which students can either work alone, in pairs or small groups. Offer incentives to those collaborating and creating new alliances: Bonus points if they team up with different classmates every project!

Act it up. Drama and storybooks are wonderful to create awareness for diversity. Cast your students in roles that are different and challenging. Encourage them to try to “become” the personage by actively exploring the feelings and beliefs behind the costume.Diversity flags

Empathy is an art. I like Harvard’s Artful Thinking Tools from Project Zero. The protocol called “Circle of viewpoints” specifically promotes exploring multiple perspectives to a problem by actively analyzing a work of art.

Above all, engage in caring relationships with your students. This will make them feel accepted and safe – which in turn will give them the confidence to venture outside of their own limits and work well with others – no matter how different they might be.

 

This is my answer to this month’s question for The Global Search for Education: Top Global Teacher Bloggers.

How do we inspire the best and the brightest (BB) to become educators?

Aprendizaje, motivación y políticas públicas

By Eduardo Andere M. PhD.

“The Package”

Nuevos maestrosTeachers from around the world, including those from the US, in public or private schools, think that the advantages of being a teacher clearly outweigh the disadvantages, that if they could decide again they would still choose to work as teachers, that they wouldn’t like to change to another school if that were possible, that they don’t regret that they decided to become teachers, that they enjoy working in the school they are currently working, that they don’t think they would have been better had they decided to choose another profession, that they would recommend their current school as a good place to work, that they are satisfied with the performance in their schools, and that all in all they are satisfied with their job. The only negative thing they agree with is that the teaching profession is not valued in their society

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La Organización Mundial para el Potencial Humano

En este mes de Mayo 2015 se celebró el 60 aniversario de The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential. En este marco, y dentro de las actividades de la reunión anual de la Organización para el Potencial Humano, fui honrada con la Medalla Raymundo Veras de Humanidad y Ciencia.

Los Institutos para el Logro del Potencial Humano

60 years IAHPEl 6 de Mayo, Los Institutos para el Logro del Potencial Humano comenzaron la celebración de seis décadas de trabajo en el campo del desarrollo cerebral infantil. Se colgaron banderas alrededor del campus de Los Institutos conmemorando al staff que ayudó a establecer a Los Institutos como los conocemos hoy.

La Ceremonia de las banderas marca el comienzo de la Reunión Anual de la Organización Mundial para el Potencial Humano La Ceremonia de las banderas marca el comienzo de la Reunión Anual de la Organización Mundial para el Potencial Humano

El Dr. Adolfo Panfili hace una presentación práctica con el Dr. Ferruccio Guidi y con nuestro esqueleto como asistente El Dr. Adolfo Panfili hace una presentación práctica con el Dr. Ferruccio Guidi y con nuestro esqueleto como asistente

La semana pasada se reunieron desarrolladores del cerebro infantil, educadores y científicos a la 60a Reunión de la Organización Mundial para el Potencial Humano. Esta Organización existe para acelerar el progreso de los niños del mundo hacia el logro de su potencial, para condenar las costumbre y prácticas que son claramente dañinas para el progreso de los niños del mundo…

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