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Posts Tagged ‘TEDxWestVancouverED’

What is Smart  A TEDx West VanccouverED presentation.

I have been tasked with answering this question, “What is Smart?” for my short TEDxWestVancouverED talk today.  The essay that is a basis for the talk is a final collaboration I wrote with my dad this past July.  The slides are at the bottom and I am sure the video will be up in a couple of weeks.  

‘Smart’ just isn’t what it used to be.  It is actually becoming passé.

In a world of knowledge scarcity, being smart was very important. Those who were smart were the people with knowledge. Others would seek out those who were smart. Smartness was in the hands of the few.  This is not just the world of centuries ago, but this was the world I grew up in.

We know who the smart people were:

  • Political leaders
  • Professors
  • Doctors, Lawyers and Teachers
  • And Jeopardy Champions – I am sure “Who is Ken Jennings” is the answer many would have given when asked about someone who was smart

Largely, these were the people who were the keeper of the facts, the smart ones with the information who would share it with others.

In school, it was those who could recall the facts, and particularly those who could recall them quickly.  If you could memorize your multiplication tables you were quickly labelled as “smart”.  Smart was a product of a system based on sorting – some kids were smart, and the other kids were . . . well, we didn’t really call them anything aloud, but the implication was that they were less than smart. And in the traditional school smart hierarchy – the matching of provinces and capital cities along with the ability to memorize weekly spelling words was the apex of smartness.

Of course, the last 20 years have moved us away from a world of knowledge scarcity to knowledge abundance; now, all manner of information is available to everyone. For better or worse, we no longer look to our political and intellectual leaders for their all-knowing guidance, we quickly check what they have said with what we read on Wikipedia, Web Doctor MD or other online information available to us.

And even our leader of smarts, Ken Jennings, was outsmarted by a computer. . . . Damn you Watson!

Really, the value of smart is not only about the move from a world of knowledge being scarce to it being abundant . . . . we are devaluing the word ourselves.  We have:

  • Smart phones
  • Smart cars
  • Smart Meters
  • And even a Smart Planet.

The word “smart” was reserved for the few, for the special, and now we attach it to the objects in our pockets.  When we say someone is smart it ends a conversation, it doesn’t start one.  The word has become greasy.  Smart has become fast food.

We are actually at a turning point in the history of smart. We either need to abandon the word for newer, more apt descriptions of the qualities and traits we value, or come to a new understanding of the word that is reflective of what we now value as smart.

And, in our schools, especially if we listen to Psychology Professor Carol Dweck, we need to get away from so often using the word, to rather encourage effort, continual improvement and a growth mindset and abandon ranking and sorting.

So, there is a good question – what is smart?  But there is also another good question, Is being smart relevant and does it still matter?

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QUestu

I often hear feedback like “I really like what is happening with inquiry and project based learning, but my kids need to be prepared for university, and university is never going to change.”

Well,  last week we loaded up the bus with all of our school principals and vice-principals and headed up the highway to Quest University in Squamish.  Quest has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately and here is why.

Quest University is a private, non-profit liberal arts and sciences university which opened in 2007.  From an initial enrollment of about 70 students, it now boasts a population of about 700 (it is fully subscribed). But what is grabbing the attention of students and parents is how different the university structures its programs.

Students take one course at a time. For three-and-a-half weeks students focus on a single course with at least five hours of class time per day. The benefit around this set up is that it makes it easy to take field trips local or abroad — there is nothing else to worry about.  Students are in classes of 20, and walking through the school one sees tables of 21 — one for the professor and student to sit at for their discussions.

In their second year, students spend an entire block with 15 students and a tutor to figure out what question they are going to think about and focus on for the next two years. We heard  Quest’s President, David J. Helfand, speak about one of the questions a student came up with, “What’s the best way to educate a child?” The student then spent their third and fourth year focusing on this one question. In this example, the student read Maria Montessori and spent a month in a Montessori school; they also read Rudolph Steiner, and spent a month in a Waldorf School; then read John Dewey, and spent a month in a public school.

Students take a series of courses around their passion with a huge emphasis on experiential learning.  To date, the majority of students also study abroad and Helfand sees it as a goal that all students spend some time studying elsewhere as part of their study program.

Even the application is very different with students having to submit an original creation (some sort of passion project), along with an essay. Students who are successful in this stage of their application then move on to an interview process and final decisions are made on students acceptance.

Helfand knows a good deal about the traditional university having come to Quest from 34 years of teaching at Columbia University.  He joked during his talk that he was not all that fond of nature and looked forward to returning to the concrete of New York. He also said that he wouldn’t go back to a world of semester-long courses and individual departments.

The vision he has helped realize gives emphasis to the words of Sir Ken Robinson and his much-loved TEDx presentations.

When a small group of individuals gets together and pools their talents to work on a difficult problem and comes up with an innovative solution, in university, it’s called cheating. In life, it is called collaboration and is highly valued, but in class, it’s forbidden. (Sir Ken Robinson as quoted by David Helfand)

While acknowledging that although it is happening slowly, Helfand envisions what is happening at Quest spreading.  More universities are curious about what is going on. Student reviews at Quest are off the charts — clearly, something is going on.

The work that Helfand and Quest are heading sends an interesting message to those in K-12.  We often shy away from making some of these bold changes in our system; hiding behind a belief that since universities are not changing, we also need to stay the same. Of course, as we see with Quest, those questioning the structures of learning are not limited to K-12 or higher education; there is opportunity for growth in both systems. We are now part of a larger learning transformation not governed by any particular age or school level.

To see and learn more about David Helfand and Quest, below is a TEDx presentation he gave in West Vancouver just over a year ago:

 

 

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Photo Credit:  Nutmeg Designs

Photo Credit: Nutmeg Designs

Dean Shareski shared a very thoughtful talk at TEDxWestVancouverED  last spring, arguing the need to include more joy in our schools and in our lives.

He also argues that in our standards-focused world, we need to take time for joy within the curriculum, and because it is a great thing to do even if it is not part of required learning.  He shares five pieces of advice:

1)  Be mindful

2)  Create something

3)  Commit regular random acts of kindness

4) Turn pseudo learning into real learning

5)  Be silly and laugh everyday

I have known Dean for a few years and regularly follow him online, and it is great that he lives this life full of joy. He is often approached by others who wonder how he can find the time to do some of the things he does — it is all a matter of priorities and what is important.

I was recently reminded of his talk when reading Anchorboy – True Tales From the World of Sportscasting (when you have a brother who works at SportsNet you get gifts like these) by Jay Onrait.  Jay is an anchor on FOX Sports 1’s FOX Sports Live out of Los Angeles, having recently started there after a successful career in Canada.  The book is a collection of essays tracking his career at Global TV in Saskatoon, to a very successful decade plus-long run at TSN.  The essays give an insider’s view to the media business and a look behind the scenes of television in Canada.  So, just how does this link to joy, education and Dean Shareski’s TEDx Talk?

Jay, clearly understood that people could easily obtain sports highlights from the Internet anytime they wanted.  He says of his early work at TSN, “For whatever reason, even though I knew we would alienate a large part of the audience with our shenanigans, I was utterly convinced we were taking the show in the right direction. Streaming videos on the Web was starting to take off.  Soon people would have access to highlights on their tablets and phones whenever and wherever they wanted.  No need to wait until 1:00 a.m. eastern time for your day’s sports highlights anymore.  We needed to deliver something more, give the viewers another reason to tune in.”

People would tune in to watch Jay because the show was far more than a sports highlights show — it was a show about people who loved what they were doing, who were informed, but who were also trying to bring a smile and a laugh to their audience. He recognized that the current sports highlights format needed to change, and that meant he needed to reinvent his work to stay relevant.

I think there are some parallels to what Jay says about covering sports, to what Dean argues about joy, to teaching and learning in our schools. Not that we need to turn our schools into edu-tainment, a mix of education and entertainment, but just as Jay realized sports highlights shows needed to offer something more and different from what viewers could get on the Internet, we need to have the same view of our schools.  If our classes are the same as what students can find in a video on YouTube, or a lesson from Kahn Academy, they will become increasingly less relevant. And, at least part of the answer is “joy”.  Dean illustrated this in some of his examples of real-world, hands-on learning kids were engaged in.

The power of young people coming together to learn needs to be fun; it doesn’t need to be fun all the time, but it does need a good dose of joy — not only joy for the students, but fun for staff as well. Show me a school that is doing well, and I will show you staff who enjoy having fun in their class, and with each other.  Mark Twain said, “To get the full value of  joy you must have someone to divide it with.” This is definitely part of what we are trying to do in our schools.

One of the nicest compliments I have ever received was from my first principal, Gail Sumanik.  In a reference letter she described me as “a serious thinker who doesn’t take himself too seriously.”  I know I stray from this description from time to time, but it is something for me to continue to aspire to, and to more joy.

Here is to a 2014 filled with more joy.

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TOP3

Welcome to my final blog post of 2013 – My “Top 3″ lists for the year.  This has become a tradition with previous Top 3 lists for 2012 (here), 2011 (here) and 2010 (here).  I know we are abandoning ranking and sorting in our education system, so this is more about highlighting some of the blogs, videos and ideas that have engaged me over the last 12 months. As always with these kind of lists hopefully it will start some discussion and debate as well.

Top 3 “Culture of Yes” Blog Posts which have Generated the most Traffic this Year:

1.  What About Final Exams?

2. Dr. Shanker and Self-Regulation – Continuing the Conversation

3.  Hopes and Dreams for my Kids’ Schooling

Top 3 Used (and often overused) Quotes in Education for the Year (some are past winners):

1. We need to focus on the learning

2. It’s not about the technology

3. The 21st Century is more than 10% over (YES – people are STILL using versions of this one!)

Top 3 Growing Trends I See Continuing in the Next Year:

1. Embedding Aboriginal teachings across the curriculum — BC’s new draft curriculum is a great example

2. Devices becoming invisible — more and more kids have devices, and I am noticing them less and less

3. Rethinking of report cards — we are in the midst of a dramatic shift in reporting

Top 3 Books I have Read this Year that have Influenced My Thinking:

1.  Spirals of Inquiry by Linda Kaiser and Judy Halbert

2.  Calm, Alert, and Learning – Stuart Shanker

3.  Communicating the New – Kim Erwin

Top 3 Professional Development Events I have Attended:

1.  TEDxWestVancouverED — it has been so great to have a TEDx event in our community with so many of our staff and students involved

2.  Connect 2013 — a wonderful chance to see so many Canadians present who I have met over time through Twitter and our blogs

3.  Barbara Coloroso — the Guru of parent education was hosted by our District Parent Advisory Council

Top 3 BC Superintendent Blogs You Should Follow:

1. Jordan Tinney — Surrey

2. Steve Cardwell –Vancouver

3. Kevin Godden — Abbotsford

Top 3 Non-education New Twitter Follows:

1.  Roberto Luongo (Canucks)

2.  Gerry Dee (from Mr. D)

3.  Mr. T (of pity the fool fame)

Top 3 Jurisdictions We Are Going to Turn Into the Next Finland:

1.  British Columbia — high achievement, high diversity, high equity – lots to interest people

2.  Quebec – Just what are they doing different than the rest of Canada in math?

3. Shanghai, China — We are concerned about their methods but their results are stunning

Top 3 TEDx Videos from WestVancouverED (that I bet you haven’t seen):

I earlier wrote a post here that highlighted some of my West Vancouver colleagues, so these are some of my favourite from the non-West Vancouver staff

1.  Katy Hutchinson — an extremely powerful personal story of restorative justice

2.  David Helfand — a new approach to university leadership

3.  Dean Shareski — he has a wonderful perspective and a great way to connect with people

 

Top 3 Fun and Interesting Educational Videos:

1.   What Came First — the chicken or the egg?

2.  Canada and the United States — Bizarre Borders

3.  What Does Your Body Do in 30 Seconds?

Thanks to everyone who continues to engage with me on my blog and push my learning. Some of my greatest professional joy is writing, reading, engaging and learning through my blog and with all of you.   I look forward to continuing to grow and learn together in 2014.

Chris Kennedy

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tedimage

IF YOU ARE RECEIVING THIS POST VIA EMAIL YOU MAY HAVE TO OPEN THE POST IN YOUR BROWSER TO VIEW THE EMBEDDED VIDEOS.

In April, I wrote about TEDxMania sweeping West Vancouver when we hosted two amazing events, TEDxWestVancouverED and TEDxKids@Ambleside. What has become so powerful about the TED and TEDx presentations is that they take on a life of their own on the Internet. Full credit and thanks to the teachers and administrators who organized the first event and to the elementary school students who organized the second one. Also, a huge “Thanks” to so many students who assisted with the video production — a great example of “real-real” learning.

I have previously written about my experiences – Hopes and Dreams for My Kids Schooling, but I would also like to highlight some of the other presentations from both events. Each one (presentations were a few minutes to 20 minutes) is well worth watching and sharing.
Here are a few presentation highlights by West Vancouver School District Staff at TEDxWestVancouverED:

Provoking thoughts from Gary Kern on what he wanted for his grandson, Jackson:

Scott Slater reflects on the process of change and the implementation of Outside45:

Kelly Skehill gives a changing perspective of math:

Zoltan Virag shares his passion around music education:

Other videos from the day include (click on the link to open the video):

Lauren Bauman (WVSD student) – Accidental Learning
Bruce Beairsto – A Framework for Professional Learning
Qayam Devji (WVSD student) – How Teachers Can Help Students Achieve Big Ideas
Tracy Dignum (West Vancouver parent) –Rethinking Memory & Retention of Learning: Tips for Parents
David Helfand – Designing a University for the New Millennium
Ron Hoffart – Environments for 21st Century Learning
Katy Hutchinson – Restorative Practices to Resolve Conflict and Build Relationships
Dean Shareski – Whatever Happened to Joy in Education?
Shelley Wright – The Power of Student-Driven Learning

Turning to TEDxKids@Ambleside, a couple of videos I would like to highlight:

Kevin Breel – his presentation: Confessions of a Depressed Comic has already be viewed more than 100,000 times at the time of publishing this post:

Alex Halme gives a first hand account — from a student’s view — of the differences between the Canadian and Finnish School Systems:

And again, there are so many wonderful videos worth watching and sharing, and you can see them all from the day here.

Once again, congratulations to all those involved, particularly Craig Cantlie and Qayam Devji. I know people are already excited about TEDx returning to West Vancouver next spring.

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TEDx

Being a part of a TEDx event feels like being invited to an exclusive party, in a room full of smart people and the kind of place I look around and feel ridiculously inadequate.  I did have the opportunity in the fall of 2010 to be part of TEDxUBC and speak about my experiences working with students during the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.   This past month I had a second opportunity to speak at a TEDx event, this time TEDxWestVancouverED,  an event organized by four of my colleagues from West Vancouver, Craig Cantlie, Cari Wilson, Brooke Moore and Garth Thomson.  It was a particularly great experience to hear from some of the interesting and passionate people I work with in a format that lends itself to telling a story — stories we don’t often get to tell in our busy day-to-day routines.  When  I first spoke at a TEDx event I highlighted some of what makes these events unique and special:

- the format forces presenters to be concise

- the discussions between presentations are valued

- there is a great mix of people attending from a variety of professions

- the presentations live on through the web

- it is all about ideas

My presentation was based on a blog post I wrote last fall, Some of My Parenting Wishes for My Kids where I shared some personal stories of my own hopes for my kids’ learning.  Here is the video of my TEDx Talk:

And you can also see all the slides I used here:

Thanks again to all of the organizers and volunteers (including our West Van students who helped edit and publish the videos) and, in particular, Craig Cantlie who took the lead.  In the coming weeks other videos will be posted, and I will blog more about this event — there are several must-see presentations.  I will also share the ideas from TEDxKids@Ambleside – another great TED event that will have its videos posted shortly.

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iwonI want to share a struggle.

I have written before about ‘candy for rewards’ in the classroom – A Candy for Your Thoughts?, and my challenge with this is on a couple of levels: first, unhealthy, sugar-filled treats are seen as a reward for doing things correctly, being good, or essentially is giving prizes for (good) behaviour.  I have also written a piece on my struggles with book clubs rewarding students based on the volume of books they read – I Blame You Twitter. I have seen students (and my own children)  intentionally select easy books to ‘win’ and perpetuate the notion that reading is something that needs to be incentivized.  I have been well  indoctrinated by Alfie Kohn, Daniel Pink and others who raise the concern flag over rewards, and passionate Canadian edu-bloggers like Joe Bower and Chris Wejr who have regularly challenged the use of rewards in school.

I can remember rewards working for me in school.  I struggled with reading, but I recall a reading-fundraiser to raise funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society where family and friends sponsored me to read books and if I hit a certain number (I think it was 20 books) I got a certificate — I read for those months like I have never read before.  I also can remember engaging in social responsibility initiatives like raising money for prominent and worthy charities, knowing that if I reached a certain level I would get a free Frisbee or Yo-Yo.  But, shouldn’t I have read because of the pleasure of reading? Shouldn’t I have engaged in charity to support the community?  I’m not entirely sure I would have done either with such fervor if it were not for the incentives.  And, I’m also not sure if I would have studied so diligently every Thursday night for the Friday spelling test if I didn’t know a star on the board, at the front of the class, was on the line each week.

I am currently pulling together a presentation for the upcoming TEDxWestVancouverED around my parenting wishes for my own kids’ schooling.  I keep coming back to this idea that I want learning to be the prize for them.

I wish that I could say that I was more intrinsically motivated.  And, keeping the learning as the prize makes perfect sense in theory, and is a worthy goal, but for me it has always been an ongoing struggle.

Are others sharing this same challenge?

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