The Power of Computational Thinking: Unlocking Innovation and Problem-Solving Skills

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Introduction

At [OurCompany], we believe in the transformative power of computational thinking. In an increasingly digital world, this structured approach to problem-solving and logical reasoning has become an essential skill set for individuals and organizations alike. In this article, we will explore the concept of computational thinking, its benefits, and how it can empower you to unlock innovation and solve complex problems effectively.

Understanding Computational Thinking

Computational thinking is a problem-solving methodology inspired by the processes involved in computer science and programming. It encompasses a set of skills and strategies that enable individuals to break down complex problems into smaller, more manageable parts. By applying logical reasoning and algorithmic thinking, computational thinking helps us develop innovative solutions and make informed decisions.

The Core Components of Computational Thinking

1. Decomposition

Decomposition involves breaking down a complex problem into smaller, more manageable sub-problems. By doing so, we gain a better understanding of the problem’s structure and can tackle each component individually. This process allows us to focus on specific aspects, identify patterns, and develop targeted solutions.

2. Pattern Recognition

Pattern recognition refers to the ability to identify similarities, trends, or regularities within a given problem or data set. Recognizing patterns enables us to make connections, extract meaningful insights, and apply them to other contexts. It forms the basis for developing generalized solutions and finding efficiencies.

3. Abstraction

Abstraction involves filtering out unnecessary details and focusing on the essential aspects of a problem. It allows us to create simplified models and representations that capture the core elements and relationships. By abstracting away complexities, we gain a clearer perspective, facilitating the development of scalable and adaptable solutions.

4. Algorithmic Thinking

Algorithmic thinking involves designing step-by-step procedures or algorithms to solve problems systematically. It requires logical reasoning and the ability to devise efficient strategies for accomplishing specific tasks. By breaking down a problem into a series of well-defined steps, algorithmic thinking provides a roadmap to problem-solving success.

Benefits of Computational Thinking

Computational thinking offers numerous benefits to individuals and organizations, transcending the boundaries of computer science. Let’s explore how adopting this approach can positively impact various domains:

1. Enhanced Problem-Solving Skills

By applying computational thinking techniques, individuals become more adept at breaking down complex problems into manageable components. This enables them to analyze and solve problems with a systematic and structured approach, fostering critical thinking and creativity.

2. Promotes Innovation and Creativity

Computational thinking encourages individuals to think outside the box and explore novel approaches to problem-solving. By leveraging patterns, abstractions, and algorithmic thinking, new solutions and ideas can emerge. This mindset fuels innovation and drives continuous improvement across diverse fields.

3. Empowers Effective Decision Making

The ability to analyze data, recognize patterns, and abstract key information plays a vital role in making informed decisions. Computational thinking equips individuals with the skills to interpret and draw meaningful insights from complex data sets, leading to more accurate and informed decision-making processes.

4. Transdisciplinary Applications

Computational thinking is not limited to computer science alone. Its principles and techniques can be applied across various domains, including education, healthcare, engineering, finance, and many more. By embracing computational thinking, professionals from different backgrounds can leverage its power to solve domain-specific challenges effectively.

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Computational Thinking Meets Student Learning: Extending the ISTE Standards
  • Prottsman, Kiki (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 24 Pages – 01/28/2019 (Publication Date) – International Society for Technology in Education (Publisher)

Incorporating Computational Thinking into Education

Recognizing the significance of computational thinking, educational institutions worldwide are integrating it into their curriculum. By introducing computational thinking from an early age, students develop a solid foundation in problem-solving and logical reasoning, preparing them for the demands of the digital era.

1. Computational Thinking in Mathematics

Computational thinking aligns naturally with mathematical concepts, enhancing students’ ability to approach mathematical problems systematically. It enables them to identify patterns, devise algorithms, and make connections between mathematical concepts, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject.

2. Computational Thinking in Science

In the scientific realm, computational thinking enables students to analyze complex phenomena, formulate hypotheses, and design experiments. By applying computational thinking, students gain a structured framework for conducting scientific investigations and exploring the intricacies of the natural world.

3. Computational Thinking in Language Arts

Incorporating computational thinking in language arts education fosters critical thinking and communication skills. Students can analyze literature, identify patterns in writing styles, and develop algorithms to express ideas effectively. Computational thinking enhances their ability to comprehend and articulate complex ideas.

4. Computational Thinking in Social Sciences

Computational thinking can also be leveraged in social sciences to analyze large datasets, identify trends, and draw insights. By integrating computational thinking methodologies, students can explore social phenomena, conduct data-driven research, and make evidence-based conclusions.

Conclusion

Computational thinking is a powerful problem-solving approach that empowers individuals to tackle complex challenges with confidence. By embracing the core components of computational thinking—decomposition, pattern recognition, abstraction, and algorithmic thinking—you can unlock innovation, enhance problem-solving skills, and make informed decisions in various domains.

Remember, computational thinking is not limited to computer science alone. It is a mindset and skill set that can be developed and applied by individuals from diverse backgrounds. Embrace the power of computational thinking and embark on a journey of limitless possibilities.


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It Takes Practice to Become an Expert

"Whether professionals have a chance to develop intuitive expertise depends essentially on the quality and speed of feedback, as well as on sufficient opportunity to practice." (Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow)
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

To become an expert at something, you have to practice that something.

Doctors and lawyers often use the term “practice” to describe their daily work.

Educators are the same. We practice every day. And we get a little better every day.

So do our students. Provided we allow them to practice.

This idea is at the heart of student-centered instruction. We serve to guide them along their path; they choose the path.

And they choose how long they stay on that path. The more passion they have, the longer and harder they will work.

The more we walk all over their practice time with test prep and meaningless teacher talk designed to keep us in control, the less engaged our students will be.

Less engagement means they practice other things. And so begins the cycle.

Let them practice; let them learn.



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Using Multiple Tools for Content Creation in the Classroom

We’re wrapping up the 2022-2023 school year, and several teachers in my district are continuing their journeys into deeper learning.

Rather than freaking out and focusing on end-of-year testing that means nothing (you know I’m right), I’m working with several 8th-grade classes on worthwhile projects.

One class is designing tourism resources for Bardstown. If you’re not familiar, the tourism industry is HUGE in this area thanks to two things: history and bourbon. Kentucky tourists spent $5.9 billion in 2020, and many of those dollars can be traced to bourbon tourism.

Students are working in groups to create materials for different tourist destinations in Bardstown. They got to choose the location, the format for their materials, and how they will ultimately present them.

Let’s connect this work back to the 4 Shifts and how we’re using it to foster deeper learning in classrooms:

Deeper Thinking and Learning

  • Students are researching famous local places. Some of them are taking tours after school hours, conducting interviews, and doing independent research
  • Students are discussing what information needs to be included in their information. What should be in a brochure? What do we need to mention in a video?

Authentic Work

  • Students are using design tools that are used in the real world to create and publish their work: Canva, YouTube, CapCut, etc.
  • Could these projects be used as part of a tourism promotion? Perhaps. This work will likely be a “first draft” of a potential business or tourism department collaboration.

Student Agency & Personalization

  • Students chose the format and tools.
  • Students chose the topic

Technology Infusion

  • Any technology usage is secondary to the research and information presented. Technology is merely the tool conveying the message, not the message itself.

I could go on, but I’ll save a further discussion for the project completion. Suffice it to say the kids are very interested in these projects and what they are learning about their hometown.

Student working on a brochure for a local restaurant
Student work on a brochure for a local restaurant

I came in to assist in the combination of technology with content. Students are creating on different platforms and need to tie the information together. Several have made videos that we’ve uploaded to YouTube. We created QR codes and added them to the brochures. We’ve used royalty-free music for the videos. Some students even used AI (yep) to help write the script before recording voiceovers.

My point for sharing this work is this: diving into deeper learning can be fun for you and your students. Will some resist? Yes. Will some still find ways to disengage and not really accomplish anything? Yes.

But it’s all part of the adventure of learning. For them, and for us.



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The Reading List for February 2023

Two things came to mind as I began compiling this month’s reading list: deeper learning in schools and the power of embracing your authentic self. The first one is, of course, on my mind pretty much every day. Any work that I have done in education has ultimately been centered on creating deeper learning experiences for students.

Second, the idea of embracing your authentic self is important to me since I spent the majority of my life not being my authentic self. Growing up in an environment in which I was expected to do “the right thing”—a pretty subjective idea—and what I wanted to do wasn’t easy. I’m getting there, but there haven’t been many of my 46 years on this planet that have been guided by my own passions and thoughts.

Now, on to this month’s book recommendations:

Failure to Disrupt

If there was ever a book that arrived at the perfect time in the education world, it’s this one.

In this book, Justin Reich argues against the idea that technology can completely change schools and how students learn. He does this by describing and analyzing different educational technologies in a realistic way. Reich draws on his positions at Harvard and MIT to provide unparalleled insight into the progress of these trends and their limitations in practice.

This book sheds light on the issues with educational technologies, such as the various approaches and tools developed by technologists. It offers valuable insights into what to consider when adopting, utilizing, and implementing technologies in different educational settings, especially during the era of virtual learning and social distancing.

In Failure to Disrupt: Why Technology Alone Can’t Transform Education, the author questions the ability of educational technologies to bring transformative changes to education. Despite the promises of affordable, accessible, effective, and engaging education for all students, the author points out the inconsistencies in enrollment and completion of online courses and the limited benefits for students from low socioeconomic statuses. The author also highlights four challenges: the Curse of the familiar, the trap of routine assessments, the EdTech Matthew effect, and the toxic power of data and experiments.

The book’s last chapter, “Conclusion: Preparing for the Next Learning-at-Scale Hype Cycle,” is key. The author urges readers, including educators, administrators, policymakers, and technologists, to carefully evaluate educational technologies and be cautious of tools that claim to be transformative. To do so, he poses the following questions: 1) What’s new? 2) Who guides the learning experience? 3) Is the pedagogy trying to fill pails or kindle flames? 4) What existing technologies does it adopt? He also emphasizes the need to examine how and when technological tools can be incorporated into students’ learning processes and warns against factors that could hinder learners’ abilities to achieve desired results.

Failure to Disrupt offers compelling arguments on educational technology, examining the hype and laying the foundations for a promising future in the field.

Leadership for Deeper Learning

Full disclosure on this one: I am lucky to call all three of the authors who collaborated on this project friends. Even if I didn’t have that connection, I’d still recommend this book to you. It’s a fantastic look at innovative schools and what they are doing to create deeper learning experiences for students.

This book examines how leaders have introduced, maintained, and advanced innovative, deeper learning opportunities in their schools.

Schools are changing to be more action-oriented, focused on performance, digitally relevant, and democratic. This book highlights innovative practices across seven categories: vision, agency in learning, trust in teachers, openness to new ideas, over-communicating change, equity-mindedness, and courage to live outside norms.

Leadership for Deeper Learning explores how school leaders can create new learning environments for students and teachers, with practical strategies and stories to inspire change and innovation.

Most Likely to Succeed

While this book has been around for a bit, the message is no less relevant today than it was in 2015, perhaps more so in the wake of COVID-19

Most Likely to Succeed looks at the problems with the US education system and suggests ways to better prepare future generations for the age of innovation, such as changing the way we teach and what we teach.

According to Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith, schools are not equipping students with the skills they need to succeed as ethical citizens and productive employees, and they are also forcing them to learn useless information superficially. Wagner and Dintersmith say that this makes it harder for students to follow their passions and get real-world experience. They also say that it makes teachers unhappy and keeps society divided along class lines.

The key message of Most Likely to Succeed is this: although society is advancing at an astonishing speed, our education system is stuck in the nineteenth century. Consequently, we’re educating our children to succeed in a bygone era. To give our kids the opportunity to succeed, we must creatively reimagine education for the innovation era.

What Schools Could Be

In What Schools Could Be, Ted Dintersmith shares solutions he discovered while traveling to 50 states, 200 schools, over a hundred community forums, and a thousand meetings. The book talks about innovation in K–12 education, online learning, colleges and universities, and short-term immersive experiences. It’s a great way to learn about the American educational innovation landscape.

In Dintersmith’s model, a great school has four parts (PEAK):

  • Purpose: Where students do actual important work.
  • Essentials: There’s a backbone to what they’re learning that they’ll need in the future.
  • Agency: Students are in charge of their learning and are intrinsically motivated.
  • Knowledge: Everything learned is deep and retained, they are creators and teach others what they know

Kitchen Confidential

I miss Anthony Bourdain almost as much as I miss Tom Petty, which is a lot. I’m sure as you reach this section you’re asking yourself, “What the hell is a book about line cooks doing amongst books about education?”

Allow me to try and explain…

The book takes the form of a biography chronicling Bourdain’s time in the culinary industry. Interspersed with cooking advice, it covers the love between a chef and sous-chef, as well as the chef’s relationship with delusional owners. The biography takes you through Bourdain’s childhood and his realization, while in France, of the importance of food. It then follows his journey from his start in the culinary industry, through culinary college, and up the ranks of various chef positions until he eventually runs his own kitchen with, as he puts it, “brigades of pirates, degenerates, and thieves.” Filled with wild anecdotes of kitchen misbehavior, drugs, sex, rock and roll, more drugs, and truffle oil, the book illustrates the hardships of the industry, including long hours, injuries, and sexual harassment, and how people still choose to do it. One particularly powerful chapter towards the end of the book goes blow-by-blow through an average day in the life of a chef.

While the life of an educator doesn’t have nearly the entertainment value of the life of a chef, there are certain parts of the job that are difficult, frustrating, and perhaps even maddening. The relationships between teachers and students, the demands on teachers’ time, meaningless mandates from far-away misguided legislators, and the never-ending grind of the school year can have many teachers feel like they are on the line. And maybe they are.

But in the relentless pursuit of making something great, there are always obstacles. There are always trying times. There will always be something to improve, whether that is a 7th-grade math lesson or an exclusive dish at a Michelin-star restaurant.

Maybe I’m crazy, but I thoroughly enjoyed this inside look at a madcap world that so many of us will never experience or understand. It’s all fun stuff. The anecdotes, characters, and asides are crazy enough that Bourdain wouldn’t need to be a great writer to make them work. But he is a good writer with a unique voice and a dry sense of humor that makes his TV shows stand out. Together, these elements make the book not only an interesting read but also a real pleasure. I laughed out loud numerous times throughout.

Honorable Mentions

I can’t talk about being your authentic self and driving for what you really want in life without mentioning The War of Art, the modern classic on overcoming Resistance and becoming the creative genius you were meant to become. And if you’re wanting to dive deeper into discovering your authentic self, you should add Daring Greatly and The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown to your list, along with Victor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning. I’d also recommend Flow as a way to get the most out of your creativity and reach your fullest potential.

I hope you enjoyed this month’s reading list! Remember, reading is a great way to expand your knowledge and understanding of the world. Whether you’re interested in education, leadership, or just looking for a good memoir, there’s something on this list for everyone. So, grab a book and start reading!

Rethinking Student Work Amid AI Advances

Seth Godin has a point (as usual):

When AI is smart enough to write an essay, then what happens?

GPT3 is back in the news, because, as expected, it’s getting better and better. Using a simple chat interface, you can easily ask it a wide range of questions (write a 1,000 word essay about Clara Barton) that certainly feels like a diligent high school student wrote it.

Of course, this changes things, just as the camera, the typewriter and the internet changed things.

It means that creating huge amounts of mediocre material is easier than ever before. You can write a bad Seinfeld script in about six minutes.

It means that assigning rudimentary essays in school or average copywriting at work is now a waste of time.

But mostly it reminds us that attention and trust don’t scale.

If your work isn’t more useful or insightful or urgent than GPT can create in 12 seconds, don’t interrupt people with it.

Technology begins by making old work easier, but then it requires that new work be better.

Seth Godin

I think it’s always important to consider the work we ask students to do in our schools. As my teacher cohort works through implementing the 4 Shifts protocol, we ask questions around deeper learning and authentic work like:

  • Is student work deeply rooted in discipline-specific and -relevant knowledge, skills, and dispositions?
  • Do learning activities and assessments allow students to engage in deep critical thinking and analysis?
  • Do students have the opportunity to design, create, make, or otherwise add value that is unique to them?
  • Is student work authentic and reflective of that done by experts outside of school? 
  • Are students utilizing authentic, discipline-specific practices and processes?
  • Are students creating real-world products or performances for authentic audiences?

Of course, not every lesson or activity can be (nor should it be) an exercise in critical thinking and authentic, real-world application. But if our biggest concern about AI is whether or not students will use it to cheat, perhaps we have work to do on our classroom plans.

Harnessing Technology for Deeper Learning (A Quick Guide to Educational Technology Integration and Digital Learning Spaces) (Solutions for Creating the Learning Spaces Students Deserve)
  • Scott McLeod (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 80 Pages – 09/21/2018 (Publication Date) – Solution Tree Press (Publisher)
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Teaching for Deeper Learning: Tools to Engage Students in Meaning Making
  • McTighe, Jay (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 130 Pages – 01/22/2020 (Publication Date) – ASCD (Publisher)

Small Moves: The Key To Digital Leadership

This post was first published in August 2014, so please forgive any outdated references. I began my student teaching and carried many dreams and plans in my mind. Looking back on these words, I still carry many of these ideas with me eight years later. Maybe I was on to something…


I’m a huge movie fan. Many of my favorite films are science fiction, which, if you know me, is probably a foregone conclusion.

I love Star Wars, Star Trek, The Last Starfighter, Dune… the list goes on for days.

One of my favorite sci-fi films is Contact, based on the book by Carl Sagan. If you’re unfamiliar with the book or film, the plot revolves around what might happen if the human race received a message from another world.

Spoiler alerts ahead if you haven’t seen this nearly 20-year-old movie yet…

In the film’s climax, the main character speaks with a member of an alien race in the guise of her dead father. He explains a bit about how they were able to contact our planet and how things will progress in the future.

Our fearless heroine wants all of her questions answered at once, excited at what this incredible discovery could mean for science and the human race. However, she doesn’t get her wish.

The alien explains to her that progress and communication will come slowly over time. He tells her…

“Small moves, Ellie. Small moves.”

Change is a good but incredibly difficult thing. Especially in education. No matter how great we think some new technology or process is or how much we will benefit from it, the implementation will not come quickly. Not will it come free of pain, problems, and complaints.

Learning Transformed: 8 Keys to Designing Tomorrow’s Schools, Today

Small moves.

Writing this post, I’m in my second full week of student teaching. Of course, I bring with me a fairly large amount of tech experience with a boatload of tools that teachers can use in the classroom. I am not, however, an experienced classroom teacher.

But, I can still show other teachers a few small ways that technology can make their lives easier, engage students, and bring some 21st-century methods into their classrooms.

But it has to start small. A friend of mine introduced Plickers in his classroom as a way to perform formative assessments. He called me over to see the trial run.

Of course, the students loved it. It was cool to see this app grade their responses instantly rather than waiting for their answers to be graded. I knew the kids would love it, and I knew my friend would love it, as we’ve been talking about using it since long before school began.

What I didn’t know would happen was the response from other teachers around his classroom. The buzz in the hallways after school about this little app was astounding. One of the guys from the district IT department even came over to see what we were doing.

Small moves.

Sometimes as tech evangelists, we forget that not everyone is as comfortable with tech as we are. There are teachers in your building right now that have been teaching long enough that they can remember a time when the only computers in the school were in a computer lab, and no teacher had a school email address.

And now we’re asking them to implement tools like GAFE, Microsoft LYNC, iPads, laptops, Chromebooks, and tablets….

Small moves.

If we really want to be great digital leaders, we have to be willing to meet others where they are with tech. Too often, we get carried away with the latest and greatest shiny app that will “revolutionize” our classrooms. We don’t understand why EVERYONE doesn’t use it the day it becomes available.

It’s not about beating other teachers and administrators over the head with new technology. It’s about showing them how one tool can improve or help them. How one tool can ignite a student’s interest in a new way.

It’s about small moves, not giant leaps.

We must be ready to make those small moves quickly and guide others to do the same. When that happens, teachers, administrators, and students win.

Sure, there will always be those asking, “Well, why are you doing this? What’s your motivation? What do you want to get out of it?” They balk at every suggestion and idea made.

But if we’re making small moves, those people will soon be drowned out by the gathering crowd of people making their small moves toward a better system for us all.

And soon, that gathering crowd will no longer be the minority that wants change; they will be the overwhelming majority that drives change and sends our education system in a new and exciting direction.

But it all starts with small moves.

Small moves, Ellie.

As leaders, that’s what we have to do.


Thanks for taking a stroll down memory lane with me.

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Real-World Learning – Content is Nothing Without Context And Application

Do a Google search for Real World Learning. Then take a look at the number of search results.

Depending on where you are in the world and what day you perform this particular search, you will likely get a different answer, but you should still come to the same conclusion I have:

Real-World Learning is a popular topic, with many people contributing ideas as to exactly what it should be and how it should be accomplished.

But what is real-world learning? What does it look like in a classroom? Is it a goal that can only be reached by the most progressive teachers and schools? Can you actually cover content standards while engaging students in authentic, real-world tasks that involve more than just giving them a “scenario” that mimics a real-world situation?

Giving Context and Application to Content Standards

Real-world learning is a topic that educators have discussed for many years. Research on the topic of integrating social, interactive processes into learning stretches back to 1938 (Maxwell, Stobaugh, and Tassell, 2015) and carry into today with schools offering internships and even job shadowing as part of their curriculum.

But, can real-world learning incorporate standards that students will be tested over on the all-too-emphasized standardized tests taken at the end of every school year for most public school students?

The answer is: yes.

Standards for math, science, ELA, and social studies are not prescriptive in the methods used to teach the standards, only in the content that should be covered. This flexibility provides ample opportunity for educators to design and implement programs that meet the required content standards while providing students with real-world activities that reach beyond the classroom walls.

By doing so, students can see how the content they learn in class has practical applications in the real world and is not just information that must be stored in their brain cells for a year-end dump on a standardized test.

According to Maxwell, Stobaugh, and Tassell (2015), “When a student learns from, interacts with, and has an impact on the real world, higher retention of learning will occur” (p. 21).

Clearly, when a student can move from solving problems or answering questions on a worksheet to solving problems that could have an impact on their community, region, country, or the world, the likelihood that they will work harder, engage in deeper thinking, and ultimately learn more from the problem then we, as educators, must move to more of this learning in our classrooms and schools.

Let’s look briefly at each content area and see how real-world learning can occur around content standards.

ELA Standards and Real-World Learning

In the ELA Literacy standard for 7th graders W.7.1.A, students are tasked with introducing claims, acknowledging other claims, and organizing thoughts and evidence logically (English, n.d.).

From reading just the standard, there is no detailed method for teaching this standard to students, nor an evaluation of any type that can measure student mastery of this topic. Teachers must be able to create or find lessons or projects that can address this standard, leaving much room for introducing real-world learning.

I looked for a sample lesson that might give an example of real-world learning for this standard and found this lesson that tasks students with tracing an argument on whether or not schools should get rid of sports (Doolin, n.d.).

While this lesson does incorporate some real-world learning, I believe it would attain a Level 3 on the Create Excellence Framework (Maxwell et al., 2015, p.19).

Students are engaged in a real-world activity that could have possible consequences but is not asked to create their own argument, and the task is guided by the teacher rather than allowing students to take the lead through inquiry.

However, a project like this could be easily modified to a more real-world task that could be presented to a school-based committee or school board.

Math Standards and Real-World Learning

Applying real-world learning to standards in mathematics is a task I am involved in every day. I teach math to 6th & 7th graders and am always looking for ways to bring real-world learning into the classroom. However, after reading several articles, I now understand that many of my efforts are far from meeting true real-world learning standards.

In the video Individualized Real-World Learning (Teaching, n.d.), we see a senior that is working in a veterinarian clinic as part of an internship program.

While a great many life skills are incorporated into this experience, the student does reference using math to complete tasks such as calculating correct dosages of medicine for animals.

In this example, the math standards are not the focus of the learning but are an integrated part of the entire learning experience, along with many other subjects. As Maxwell et al. (p.29) noted, Real World Learning “is integrated across subject areas” and takes place not necessarily in a classroom but in the real world.

I am beginning to see how the math standards allow for much flexibility in teaching the necessary content while providing rich and meaningful tasks to students that incorporate ideas and standards from other subject areas to make the learning more meaningful.

Social Studies Standards and Real-World Learning

Social Studies standards have direct tie-ins to real-world learning. The guiding principles for the standards give direction for the standards and how they should work with other standards and benefit students. Principles include “Inquiry is at the heart of social studies” and “Social studies prepares the nation’s young people for college, careers, and civic life” (College, n.d.)

Science Standards and Real-World Learning

As with every other content standard area, the Next Generation Science Standards allow for ample real-world learning opportunities for students. Amy Abbott created a project for her class involving analyzing environmental controls in factories that produce clothing and how the dyes are disposed of (Abbott, 2016).

Students were asked to investigate the impact of chemicals being dumped into water sources and draft a portfolio for submission to the United Nations. Included in the lesson are not only standards for science but also standards for ELA (Abbott, 2016). Certainly, this lesson is a fine example of real-world learning with applied content standards.

Conclusion

From the evidence above, we can clearly see that standards for many academic content areas in public schools can be taught using real-world learning.

The opportunity exists for teachers, both current and future, to create programs that are more concerned with creating experiences and authentic learning for students than simply ensuring that content standards are covered at a basic level.

As educators, we should focus on teaching students in environments that mimic or are based on the environments they will have when they are finished with their formal education.

In the video Taylor Mali: In My Middle School (Mali, n.d.), Taylor Mali provides an overview of what he thinks middle school based on real-world learning might look like. Perhaps more educators must work towards creating an ideal environment for our students.

References:

Abbott, A. A. (2016, March). Chemical Connections A Problem-Based Learning, STEM Experience. Science Scope, 39(7), 33-42.

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.socialstudies.org/c3

Doolin, K. (n.d.). Should Your School Get Rid of Sports? Retrieved September 11, 2016, from http://betterlesson.com/lesson/559859/should-your-school-get-rid-of-sports

English Language Arts Standards » Writing » Grade 7. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/ELA-Literacy/W/7/

Mali, T. (n.d.). Taylor Mali: In My Middle School. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/the-perfect-middle-school

Maxwell, M., Stobaugh, R., & Tassell, J. H. (2015). Chapter 1: Real-world learning. In Real-world learning for secondary schools: Digital tools and practical strategies for successful implementation. Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree. ISBN: 9781935249443.

Teaching channel. (n.d.). Individualized Real-World Learning. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.teachingchannel.org/videos/high-school-internships-bpl

Thinking about Lesson Redesign for Deeper Learning

There’s a project that I’ve wanted to begin for a few years. I thought I’d have the chance during my first year as a full-time digital learning coach, but then COVID happened, and things went off the rails.

Now, my project is running. I’m working with a group of teachers in my district; the Future Shift Fellowship. The teachers represent grade levels from K-12 and several different content areas. Our focus is on redesigning lessons to create deeper learning experiences for students.

In case you weren’t aware, this process isn’t easy. But, with the right outlook and tools to help, we’re making some headway on this journey.

The Right Tool for Framing Conversations

We’re using the wonderful 4 Shifts Protocol as our guiding light during all our conversations. If you’re not familiar with this protocol, here’s an overview:

The 4 Shifts Protocol is a questioning protocol that focuses on redesigning lessons in four areas: deeper thinking & learning, authentic work, student agency & personalization, and technology infusion.

It’s a simple tool to begin using, but it opens the door to much deeper conversations about what we ask students to do and how those tasks align with meaningful work in settings beyond the classroom.

purple and black computer keyboard
Photo by Syed Ali on Unsplash

Before this week’s meeting, I asked the fellows to read through the 4 Shifts handbook to guide our discussions. From the group, here are some of the thoughts they shared and their takeaways from the book:

The 4 Shifts Takeaways

My fellows know that one of my rallying cries about any change we undertake in our classrooms is to “embrace the suck.” It’s a military term used by trainers to get their trainees to understand that you have to lean into being uncomfortable and push through difficulties. I use it to encourage teachers and students to keep going despite whatever difficulty they face with technology usage, rethinking lessons, or anything that “sucks” about change in education.

The fellows agreed that this book and protocol give them some support and encouragement to embrace the suck. And to know that things won’t always suck.

Next, they realized that lesson redesign will look different for different people because of the protocol’s flexibility. The 4 Shifts protocol respects teachers as professionals and masters of their craft. There is no dictation to use certain tools or methods in any of the shifts, merely yes/no/maybe questions to start conversations about how to change. It’s up to each teacher to determine how to best change each no to a yes.

people sitting down near table with assorted laptop computers
Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

One fellow brought up how, when used properly, infusing technology into lessons can give students greater control over their learning. Good technology integration should provide students with greater agency and provide them with opportunities to present their work to an authentic audience and setting. Thinking about lesson redesign with deeper learning in mind makes this possible.

It Doesn’t Have to Be Hard

We talked about our overachiever desire to do something spectacular with our students. If we’re going to redesign a lesson, we thought, we need to do something that’s never been done before and end the lesson or unit with some impressive technology project to show off to as many people as possible.

Of course, that’s not the point of this process. And the redesign doesn’t have to be difficult to implement or require huge changes to lead to deeper learning. Even small tweaks to your existing lessons can open new doors for students. Changing one small part of your lesson can give students a greater opportunity to think more deeply or, if appropriate, lead them down the path of becoming creators of content rather than consumers.

Ultimately, our goal in lesson redesign is moving students from inert learning to active learning, getting away from simple test prep to acquiring knowledge that sets them up for success in the world beyond our school walls.

What Happens Next

Our journey is just beginning with this fellowship. We’re starting small to spread this work across our school district. We will learn much along the way, and I’ll be sharing our work with all of you as we go. It’s an adventure for us and, we hope, for our students, too.

Change does not happen quickly, especially in education. However, our students are worth whatever changes we can make to help them be successful and live the life of their dreams, whatever that may be. The struggle is worth it because our kids are worth it.

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Why Do We Spend So Much Time on Inert Learning in Our Classrooms?

How much time do we spend on inert learning daily in our classrooms?

I’ve been asking that myself a lot lately as we’ve had more and more discussions in my schools and across the country about deeper learning and what our students are learning in schools. I’m watchful of any inert learning happening in classrooms I visit and in my own practice as I work with teachers.

Before we can determine exactly how much time we spend on inert learning, we must define inert learning.

With inert learning, the student learns and remembers facts or procedures without understanding or being able to use them. So, they can regurgitate the information back to you on a test or quiz, but after the fact, they’ve forgotten it and moved on. We can also think about inert learning as surface-level learning.

There are two types of inert learning- declarative and procedural.

Declarative inert learning is when students learn and remember facts without understanding them. For example, rote memorization of vocabulary words without being able to use them in context wouldn’t be considered deeper learning.

Procedural inert learning is when students learn procedures without understanding why or when to use them. A great example of this is students who can solve a math problem one way, but if you ask them to explain how they did it or why that particular method works, they can’t because they don’t understand the concept, they just know the steps to get the answer.

So, how much time are we spending on inert learning in our classrooms?

The answer may depend on what level you teach. To support younger learners, elementary teachers will spend more time on inert learning to empower their students with the knowledge to make deeper connections. In later grades, teachers can more easily move students to deeper learning opportunities, applying that surface-level knowledge to more practical applications.

This is an important shift. Certainly, before any deeper learning can occur, the facts and information from any surface-level learning must be in place. John Hattie speaks about the transition from surface-level learning to deeper learning in this video and how vital both are to students.

As educators, we can consciously make decisions about the content we’re teaching and the instructional methods we use to ensure that our students engage in deeper learning.

Here are some things to consider as you reflect on your own practice:

  • Do my students have opportunities to construct meaning or create something new?
  • Do my students have opportunities to apply their knowledge in authentic ways?
  • Do my students have opportunities to think deeply about their learning content?

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you’re likely doing more than just teaching inert knowledge. Keep up the good work!

Too often, students are taught inert knowledge- facts and procedures without understanding or being able to use them. This type of learning results in surface-level understanding at best and leads students to forget what they learn shortly after the fact.

On the other hand, deeper learning is when students learn and remember facts with understanding. They can use the information they learned in various contexts and see how it connects to other ideas. Deeper learning also allows for critical thinking and creativity.

It’s important for educators to make a conscious effort to move away from teaching inert knowledge and toward deeper learning. We can do this by providing opportunities for our students to construct meaning, apply their knowledge in authentic ways, and think deeply about their learning content. If we do this, we’ll be setting our students up for success in college and beyond.

Can you remember a time in your own educational past when you learned something new, and then, as soon as you took the test, you forgot what it was you learned?

How often does that happen in your classroom with your students?

I don’t want to ask myself that question because I’m afraid of what the answer might be. You might feel the same way. I know how many times it happened to me during my own time walking through the hallowed halls of public K-12 education.

Those facts you forgot, the ones that had no practical application to anything you were doing at the time? That’s inert learning.

Inert knowledge is “learning that was superficially acquired, never really understood, and promptly forgotten” (McTighe & Silver, Harvey F., 2020). Standardized tests are built on inert knowledge. As a matter of fact, most forms of assessment I can think of are specifically designed to measure inert knowledge.

The problem with inert knowledge is that it’s, well, inert. It doesn’t do anything. It can’t be applied to solve problems or create new understanding. It’s just there, taking up space in our heads until we forget it and move on.

On the other hand, deeper learning is learning that sticks with you, that you can apply in different contexts, and that helps you build new understanding.

It’s the kind of learning that allows you to take what you know and use it to solve problems, think creatively, and communicate effectively. Deeper learning is active; inert learning is passive.

There are a few reasons why inert knowledge assessments still exist. For one, they’re easy to grade and don’t require as much engagement from the student as deeper learning assessments. Additionally, inert knowledge is often seen as a precursor to deeper learning, so educators may use these assessments to identify students who need more support to move on to deeper levels of understanding. Finally, there’s a tendency for people (educators and policymakers included) to value things that can be easily measured, like grades or test scores. And because inert knowledge can be assessed fairly easily and objectively, it has become a staple in our educational system.

Now, let’s go back to the question I opened: How much time do we spend on inert learning daily in our classrooms?

Is there a better use of our time?

If you’re looking for more ways to move away from inert learning and toward deeper learning in your classroom, be sure to sign up for my free newsletter. I’ll update you weekly on the latest deeper learning strategies supported by technology integration. I’ll also include links to helpful resources and provide tips for making the most of your teaching time. Sign up now and start moving your classroom in the right direction!

References:

McTighe, J., & Silver, Harvey F. (2020). Teaching for deeper learning: Tools to engage students in meaning making (Kindle). ASCD.