Monday, December 1, 2008

American Students Going Overseas for their Degrees?

Here is an interesting trend that was reported in the Herald Tribune today. More and more American students are opting to study overseas--not just a semester abroad as in the past, but for all 4 years.

One of the biggest draws is the price. Even as a foreign student the cost for an American to attend a school in Canada or the UK is well below the cost of a private university in the US.

The foreign universities benefit as well because tuition from foreign students means more revenue for them. Schools like St. Andrews in Scotland which is cited in this article are now heavily recruiting in the US market.

It will be interesting to see how further commoditization of post-secondary education impacts the US Education system in the future! To read the full article click here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Distance Learning, Cyber Schools, and the Future of Education?

In a paper written in 1999, Roger C. Schank and Kemi Jona make some interesting predictions about the impact that online learning will have on our education system. It's suprising to me how relevant these predictions seem now, almost 10 years later.

Here's an excerpt that really gets to the heart of this vision:

"...traditional academic courses are no longer going to be taught by local teachers. The computer will allow the creation of learn by doing courses rather than learn by telling courses. The computer will allow the designers of these courses to be the best and the brightest in any given field. Moreover, these courses will be very engaging, non threatening, diverse, and fun. Once the very best physicists in the world sit down and create a physics course, there will be little use for local physics teachers....The same will be true for every academic subject and for many subjects that are not now seen as academically relevant. Companies will create courses and guarantee employment to those who pass them. Quality universities will put their names on these courses. This will create tremendous change for everyone involved in the education system, from students to teachers to administrators to government education agencies." [Full Article: Schank, R.C. & Jona, K. (1999). Extracurriculars as the Curriculum: A Vision of Education for the 21st Century. Forum on Technology in Education: Envisioning the Future, Office of Educational Technology.]

The basic premise here is that teacher's roles will shift from teaching academic subject to focusing more on social and interpersonal skills. Their role will become more of a "learning facilitator" than a direct conduit of information and facts. The role of school will also change in this scenario to become more of a social center where students participate in group projects and activities.

It's interesting to see the prevalance of distance learning options for secondary students that are popping up lately. For example, has just launched a video-based learning portal.

The courses are delivered like t.v. shows in a very fun and engaging way. Each course is $49 for a 12 month subscription and all sorts of academic and non-academic topics are available. The site also offers student networking and the ability to apply creativity and technology skills to variety of student "challenges".

It definitely feels like a shift is on the horizon!

Monday, October 20, 2008

CHAD (Charter High School for Architecture & Design)

The Charter High School for Architecture and Design in Philadelphia (CHAD) has an innovative way to approach Education through a curriculum that emphasizes the design process.

What's really interesting is that objective is not to offer professional architectural education. Rather, the design process is used as a vehicle for instilling creative and analytical thinking and to engage students who are more visually-oriented.

Important to this process are studio activities that involve structured investigation, self-reflection, critique, aesthetics, historical context, and multiculturalism. Students also take a very hands on approach to learning. For example, in geometry they might make physical models. In Environmental studies they will go out and observe what they are discussing.

CHAD opened in 1999 and serves approximately 400 students in grades 9-12. The school has partnered with the General Building Contractors Association (GBCA) and over 80 architectural firms. The Industrial Designers Society of America and The American Institute of Arts have also officially endorsed the school.

Friday, October 17, 2008

What are 21st Century Skills?

There is a lot of talk about 21st century skills, but what exactly is meant by that? What are the specific skills that students need to be learning?

Here is my representration of the 21st Century Skills framework developed by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (click image for a larger view).

Traditional core subjects such as math and science still form the base of the 21st century skill set. However, additional important 21st century themes such as global awareness and entrepreneurial literacy are added to these core subjects.

As much as students need to learn academic content, they also need to know how to keep learning — and make effective and innovative use of what they know — throughout their lives. This is where the additional skills such as creativity, innovation, media and technology literacy, communication and problem-solving become important. These skills should be taught in the approach to all academic subjects.

Finally, there are life skills which need to be incorporated more broadly across the school's curriculum such as personal responsibility, ethics, self-direction and adaptability. These skills are important to life-long success in today's world.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Innovative Learning Conference 2008

Today was the last day of the Innovative Learning Conference 2008 at the San Jose Convention Center. Unfortunately I learned of this event too late to attend, but definitely an event I want to check out next year.

There were some many interesting sessions on technology integration and using technology in new ways to engage and enrich the learning experinece.

Would have liked to catch the session on "Immersive, Collaborative Simulations and Neomillennial Learning Styles" by Harvard school of Education professor Chris Dede. The session on "Learning in Multi-User Virtual Games" also looked very interesting.

If anyone out there attended I would be interested to hear your impressions!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Go Ask Alice

Alice 2.0 is an innovative 3D programming environment developed by Carnegie Mellon that makes it easy to create an animation for telling a story, playing an interactive game, or a video to share on the web. It uses 3D graphics and a drag-and-drop interface to facilitate a more engaging, less frustrating first programming experience. This is not only a great way to teach math and programming skills to kids, but is also a digital storytelling tool that can be used to augment any type of curriculum.

Alice 2.0 is designed for High School and college students, but there is also a stortytelling version for Middle School Students. My daughter (age 11) downloaded the regular version, watched the tutorials and within a couple hours and created a couple short animations. I decided to try my hand at this as well and put together this short animation in about 15 minutes (okay maybe it shows!):

A new version of Alice is in development now in collaboration with Electronic Arts. This new version will utlize characters and models from the popular Sims 2 game. Hopefully it will also come with better export capabilities. With the current version there is no easy way to save out animations to post or share.

I did download the beta version (2.2) which supposedly saves out .mov files, but could not get it to work. I had to utilize a third party screen capture utility to create the avi example above.

I would love to hear from educators that have succesfully utilized Alice in their classrooms at the secondary school level.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Visual Literacy: The Story of Movies

Visual literacy is an increasingly important compentency in today's digital and highly visual society. This is the ability to see, to understand, and ultimately to think, create, and communicate graphically. Visual literacy incorporates several of the skills indentified by the Parternship for 21st Century Skills including critical thinking, media literacy and communication.

I just happened upon a fantastic Middle School Curriculum that is designed to teach students to "read" the visual language of Film. The curriculum (entitled "The Story of Movies") is a project of the Film Foundation, established in 1990 by Martin Scorcese and fellow film directors Woody Allen, Robert Altman, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas, Sydney Pollack, Robert Redford, and Steven Spielberg.

There are three curricula each based on a different film: To Kill a Mockingbird, The Day the Earth Stood Still and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Students learn the language of film, the composition of a shot, the collaborative process of film and the connection between history and culture (among other topics).

The Story of Movies curriculum is available for free to teachers by completing a simple Web registration.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Trends in Post-Secondary Degrees

In his book "A Whole New Mind", Daniel Pink talks about how "a master of fine arts, an MFA, is now one of the hottest credentials". In fact he goes so far as to call the MFA the new MBA.

Data from the U.S. National Center for Education's Digest of Education Statistics does show a dramatic increase of Visual and Performing Art Bachelor degrees (top blue line) between 1980 and 2005.

Computer Science (green line) appears to be levelling since 2002 and engineering and architecture degrees have remained fairly flat over time.

In looking at trends in MBA and MFA degrees it does not look like Pink's claims have impacted the number of degrees granted in these fields to date. As of 2005, MBA degrees still far outnumber MFA degrees. However, it may be too soon to see the changes that Pink is talking about.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Designing the Sustainable School

In his book "Designing the Sustainable School" Alan Ford provides numerous examples of innovative school building designs that apply the latest stardards in green building design and construction.

Obviously green buildings are better for the environment, but they also tend to be better for the occupants with reduced levels of toxins and chemicals that can cause allergies and asthma. Even more than that I like the idea that Alan proposes in his intro that, "Green schools are also wonderful educational tools in and of themselvers, serving as living laboratories to engage kids in the sciences, building arts, and environmental stewardship".

In addition to sustainability, the designs in this collection employ innovative use of color, light and improving acoustical and visual quality--all elements that have been shown to be more condusive to learning. In fact, in a study done by CABE on the "Value of Good Design", they site research from Georgetown University that improving a school's physical environment had an average increase of 10.9% on overall test scores.

Interestingly, many of the schools in this collection are located in Oregon, Washington and Colorado. There are a few examples from California such as the Berkeley Montessori School and this school design (at left) for L.A. School of the Arts which I like more from the standpoint of interesting and futuristic design than sustainability.

On the sustainability front, I particularly like this design for the Chum Creek Outdoor Education Centre in Australia. Designed for "Earth Education" the centre focuses on hands-on learning and students control the building's heading, cooling and ventilation systems by closing louvers, pulling out awnings, etc. Waste disposal is minimized by on-site treatment that includes composting and a worm farm. This design definitely incorporates the idea of the school as a living laboratory.

Friday, September 26, 2008

The Digital Storytelling Challenge

Digital storytelling is a great way for students to gain experience with 21st century skills such as creativity, innovation, communication, critical thinking, media literacy, and technology literacy among others. It is the art of weaving together digital content such as still images, video, voice over and music to create a narrative movie.

In the Davis Digital Storytelling Challenge students create and submit their own digital stories with the chance to win cash prizes of $500, $300, and $100, and also have their work published online at in May 2009.

Participating students sign up for a workshop to get more information about the requirements and process and also need a teacher or parent to sponsor them. The goal is to tell a personal story about an object, a person, an event, or a place that profoundly impacted you or someone you know. The final submissions can be no longer than two minutes total.

This competition is open to K-12 students with three different age levels of competition. Deadline for submission is April 15, 2009. For more information visit the website. For examples, view the the winning digital stories from last year's challenge here.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

What Video Games Can Teach Us About Learning

This video clip is a great interview with Professor James Paul Gee about the the need for education to focus on creativity and innovation, and collaborative problem-solving.

What's really interesting is the example of video games as a learning mechanism and what we could take from that experience to apply to other disciplines. Paul explains that video games come with a built-in assessment mechanism where you get feedback immediately on how you are doing. Playing the game and wanting to improve your ability to play can inspire you to consult the reference guide and the game also provides you with "just in time" learning along the way that you are able to employ immediately.

What Paul proposes in this clip is that we need to look at subjects like chemistry as the "game of chemistry" with rules and a reference guide (a text book) that you use after you've established that you are interested in the topic.

For more on this topic check out his book, "What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy" available from

No Child Left Behind is Leaving Kids Behind

There was an article in Tuesday's San Francisco Chronicle about the dismal progress of the No Child Left Behind initiative.

What's shocking is that California now has more than 1,000 schools persistently failing to meet these standards. That's more than any other state!

Schools in this category are now forced to undergo drastic restructuring. However, the study released by the Center for Education Policy, found that there have been few positive results so far from the schools that have gone through the restructuring process. In fact, in many cases there have been negative consequences such as the inability to find new teachers once a school restructures and eliminates existing staff.

It's seems that what's not getting addressed by NCLB is the need for more school funding and more and better-skilled teachers. Without these elements can restructuring be effective? Personally I'm not very optimistic.

For the complete report go to:

Books on my reading list

  • A Whole New Mind
  • Designing the Sustainable School
  • Digital Storytelling in the Classroom: New Media Pathways to Literacy, Learning & Creativity
  • Digital Storytelling: A Creator's Guide to Interactive Entertainment
  • How to Grow a School
  • No Homework & Recess All Day
  • The World is Flat