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Tinkering With Teaching

Today we had the Leadership Conference in our overly-large school district, the annual August gathering for all of us above a certain pay grade, designed to provide an inspirational kickoff for the new school year.

Our keynote speaker this time around was Tony Wagner from the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of The Global Achievement Gap (which I haven’t read yet).

Wagner spent most of his time telling us about how our kids have changed, how the world they’ll be working in has changed, and about how educators need to change what we do in school to better serve our students.

In effect, he was telling us to radically change our curriculum, our teaching process, and so much more about what we do.

Ok, certainly a lot to think about going into lunch.

For the afternoon, however, we broke into smaller groups (if you can call 40 – 100 “smaller”) to hear about a new district program entitled Best Practices for Teaching and Learning.


I thought Tony Wagner just told us that we need to do things differently, to adapt what we do to those different kids who are constantly connected and multitasking, and want to create and communicate.

Instead of making them adapt to the curriculum and traditional school structure (none of which is changing).

And we must prepare them for a world that wants them to be adaptable and to understand how to network and collaborate.

“Best practice”, especially as it was presented to us, is all about a recipe approach to teaching. We provide the ingredients and the teacher mixes everything according to directions.

The afternoon reminded me of a session I attended at last week’s Building Learning Communities conference with the wonderful title of “Scratch Best Practices: It’s All About The Beta, Baby!“.

Darren Kuropatwa and Clarence Fisher offered the premise that teachers should be encouraged to tinker with their professional practice.

That good teaching has more in common with Maker Faire and tinkering school than with the Betty Crocker Cookbook.

In both concepts, talented people offer instructions for putting together all kinds of unusual stuff and then help and encourage others to take their ideas and play with them to make something unique and useful to them.

Nothing in this rant is intended to say that we should just tell teachers to do whatever they want in their classrooms.

Certainly we should provide them with great examples and access to a selection of excellent materials to work with.

But not a database full of classic recipes, most of which are designed to produce a standardized, and very, very bland result.

Playing With Numbers

Yesterday at the Building Learning Communities conference, one of the speakers offered up an interesting statistic.

75% of college graduates never read another book in their lifetime.



That’s an incredible statement, although it must be true since he put it on a slide projected on a big screen in front of nearly a thousand people.

Anyway, it’s also the kind of number that just didn’t sit well with my crap detector.

A little bit of Googling turned up similar statements (like the one in this collection of book stats) with different (smaller) numbers.

And the speaker did qualify his statement with something about that 75% including people who started reading books but never completed them.

Still, three quarters of the college educated population not reading even one book after graduation strikes me as awfully high.

Did the researchers include audio books? Books parents read to their kids? Graphic novels?*

As with the results of so many polls, surveys, and studies, you really can’t understand the results without knowing the source and the method used to assemble the numbers.

However, we have a large part of the population in the US (and possibly elsewhere in the world) who often accept the statistical numbers handed to them almost daily as fact.

Unless, of course, they come into major conflict with their own beliefs. And even then, they don’t question the numbers as much as they outright reject them.

Wherever the 75% number came from (and I have no doubt some pollster somewhere did get it), it’s just one more example of why we need to do a better job of teaching students to understand probability and statistics before they become adults.

After all, they need to know that 67% percent of all statistics are simply made up. Right? :-)

[The picture is of some books from my bookshelf. And yes I’ve read them all since college. Well… except for Harry Potter #7.]

*Don’t laugh, some of them have very complex stories!

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