Innovations in Teaching and Learning: Top Down or Bottom Up?


Head to the vendor area of an educational conference and you'll see a "top-down" vision of innovation in schools – expensive stuff that delivers information – lots of flashy equipment like display systems, interactive whiteboards, etc. They might give the illusion of modern, but in fact they're just a glitzy versions of the old standby – teaching as telling. Does anyone really think there's an instructional ROI in jazzing up test prep with a "Jeopardy-style game" delivered by "cutting-edge display technology?" 

In fact, the best innovation in instructional practice is coming from the "bottom up" – from teachers who find effective ways to harness the creative energy of their students. These teachers don't simply deliver information to kids, they craft lessons where students can research, collaborate, and reflect on what they're learning. They harness a flood of new platforms that enable students "see" information in new ways and support a more self-directed style of learning. Unlike the expensive wares being hawked by the convention vendors, most of these web tools are free. 

Want to find out more about instructional innovation in action? That won't cost you a thing either. Just jump on my Twitter feed and you find superb teachers willing to share their latest student projects. And that free flow of information contrasts with a second "top-down" approach to innovation in schools – the professional learning committee. Imagine being told that, "teachers will now attend PLC meetings.. and don't forget to fill out the PLC report form and turn it in to your administrator." No one at the top seems to notice that teachers who want to network have already created their own "bottom-up" support systems via the social web.

Most kids have a "bottom-up" expectation of curating their own information and creating something with it. The barriers to producing content (music, art, books, etc) have all but disappeared. Schools should be helping students develop better skills at critically evaluating information and using it in responsible ways. But many schools cloister students behind internet filters. And instead of finding innovative ways to take advantage of the student's personal smart phone, they ban them. "Susie put your iTouch away and please focus your attention on the output from our classroom's expensive new wireless document camera."

Corporate music, publishing and film were transformed from below. Do we expect education (another legacy information gatekeeper) to be spared the forces of the digital revolution? Unlike the vanishing local newspaper, schools won't disappear entirely. After all, someone has to watch the kids. While it may be difficult to replace the custodial function of schools, I suspect that education's "top-down" approach will eventually be breached. Or perhaps life will just become an "open book test" and we'll no longer notice how our information moves through it. 

As Matt Ridley noted in a piece about the evolution of the social web,  "The very notion that we once discussed the relative merits of text, email, social-network messaging and tweeting will seem quaint. In the future, my part of the cloud will get a message to a friend's part of the cloud by whichever method works best, and I will not even know which way it went. The distinction between a newspaper column and a blog will dissolve, as will the difference between a book and an e-book."  ~ Microchips Are Old Hat. Can Tweets Be Far Behind? Wall Street Journal  March 5, 2011

Image credit flickr/visualpanic  

Use Storify To Tell Your Story and Document the Social Web

Storify-header Storify is a new platform that allows users to quickly tell a story using material from the social web. Yesterday I received an invitation to try out their beta.

Just as I began exploring it, my Twitter feed alerted me to the tragic events in Japan. Without much planning, I began using Storify to collect material about the earthquake / tsunami from Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr  and other news feeds.

While I kept my narrative to just a few sentences, users can add additional comments to each element. My finished story appeared on the Storify site and I used the embed code to also post it on my blog

As an advocate of document based instruction, I realized that Storify has great potential in the classroom. It's a easy tool for teachers and students to gather a variety of social media and web content. It would be especially useful way for students to critically evaluate web and social media content.  As a historian I also think if it as a first, rough draft of history – a social document for future generations.

~ I regret that my first use of Storify was to document such a tragic event. My prayers go out to all those impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. I hope to be able to tell happier stories in the future.  

Storify Overview from Storify on Vimeo.


Earthquake and Tsunami Devastate Northern Japan

This Storify essay is a first, rough draft of history – a social document for future historians. Text, image, video and tweets from the initial reaction to the event. (March 10, 2011 GMT-8)  ~ I regret that my first use of Storify was to document such a tragic event. My prayers go out to all those impacted by the earthquake and tsunami. I hope to be able to tell happier stories in the future.

Kids Explain 4 Strategies for Making Math Come Alive

During this summer program students entering eighth grade were coached by an intern in ways to investigate and talk about the math in their lives.  Here's the 4 strategies the students used: 

Math-alive 1. Look for math in real life – Nic ponders the permutations in picking out his clothes. 
2. Frame your experiences as word problems – Shanice eagerly monitors price changes in a coat she wants to buy. (Spoiler alert: she gets it!)
3. Try out different ways to solve problems. Nik crafts a way to determine his baseball batting average.
4. Explain and share your thinking. Shaniece describes what they do when one them gets stuck on a problem.

Watch the video to hear what they discovered in their own words. "I see math when I'm walking down the street…. I see math in myself."

For more information on the project click here.

Hat tip to Matt Karlsen

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