Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Learning and Leading - February 2012 - Page 22-23

The @40ishoracle is famous! Before BYOT got off the ground, she integrated the school's teaching method and the NETS. Mission based decision making at its finest!

(now if only we could cut 250 more words from the Book Chapter That Wouldn't End!)

Learning and Leading - February 2012 - Page 22-23:

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Relationships: Rethinking Efficiency in the #edtech paradigm

Imagine a school where the decisions about technology were not justified by claims to increase test scores?

Last night I was invited to a supper club sponsored by Ice Miller about the topic of "Technology in Education." There was a phenomenal mix of vendors, technology software producers ranging from App developers to major players in the LMS game, foundations, and even some educators. It was a great night with fantastic food and conversation.

While a few topics seemed blog-worthy and might get some time later (I am gearing up a MathNinja rant), I think it would be more useful to start at the conclusion. One of the challenges that was identified early on was the need for EFFICIENCY. Efficiency and Technology are like peanut butter and...well, peanuts. Sure you can do other things with them, but why would you want to? We all know that peanuts exist to make peanut butter. Ask my three year old.

If Technology does not yield efficiency, it is not worth the investment. This has been true in almost all areas of business. And yet, for the most part, it is not true in education. While there have been incremental time savers such as electronic gradebooks (no more calculators and pencil scratches) and longer term time-savers (Make a PowerPoint and revise rather than constantly writing on the board), none of these have led to the great hallmark of business efficiency: a reduction in labor. No principal ever made the connection "now that our teachers have saved so much time on grade entry, we can increase class size and reduce one teacher."

(Rant Drumroll)

So, it should not be surprising that movements like robo-graders and distance learning lectures to virtual lecture halls full of plugged-in students get traction. If one teacher can lecture one time and that lecture can be broadcast to thousands of students over the next five years, you can start to see less need for a lecturer in-building. If that lecture can be assessed, scored, and recorded through an automatic test, than you reduce the need for a in-building grader as well.

But (and its a big one)

School aren't factories. Students aren't widgets. Teachers aren't cogs in the industrial wheel.

And (this too, large)

Everybody knows this.

Take away the politics that has warped the image of teachers into summer-lazing fat cats in an effort to reduce the strength of the union vote and every politician will call to mind that one special teacher, the one who did not grade by rote, who did not stand at the front of the room and lecture all the time. That one teacher who cared. Inevitably this is a teacher with whom the student had a strong connection.

(Rant Concludes)

Back to the dinner.

One of the most impressive educators around the table is the head of the Oaks Academy here in Indianapolis. He pointed out that his school (an iPad school, but not until the eighth grade) had the same impressive results with the same underserved populations that some newtech schools had reported without the gadgets in the lower levels. His claim was that the relationships between the students and teachers were the key to success.

And the table fell silent, because he had named, at a crowded table full of technologists, the secret to good education and maybe the key to that elusive measure of efficiency.

If we measure efficiency as the most number of widgets (students) produced uniformly by the fewest number of line workers (teachers), we, and i mean the big inclusive social "we", all lose. But if we re-frame efficiency to be that which gives teachers and students more time to build relationships with each other, that could be magic:

  • Flipclass increases the one-on-one time between student and teacher. Check
  • BYOT creates an environment where students and teachers discover and apply technology and learning together. Check.
  • Social Media supplements the live-time relationship and humanizes the teacher while providing another positive influence in a new social environment. Check
  • Interactive white boards...never mind.

St. Ignatius, early in the founding of the Jesuit schools, wrote that the connection between the teacher and learner was a fundamental key to the discovery of truth.

If the technology purchase does not fundamentally increase the ability for the teacher and student to form a stronger relationship, and thereby increase the opportunity for real and substantial learning,  it is not directed toward efficiency.

Imagine a world where every technology vendor had to justify the purchase based on improving the Student-Teacher Relationship?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Cross Post "BYOT: Update - Brebeuf Arrow"

You have heard a lot from myself and @40ishoracle about the Brebeuf Jesuit BYOT program. Thought we would give you a chance to read what the students are saying as well. This article was released in this week's THE ARROW. There were also articles about SOPA, the new library design, and Cyber-baiting. It was a good tech issue :)

BYOT: update - Brebeuf Arrow

A #flipclass diary: Adding a little BYOT Goodness

Someone on FB asked me about this line from the #flipclass diary 
blog, so i thought i would make it into an entry: “spent the next day refining skills and learning the practicalities of codecs and embedding video”

I am not sure how to classify this one. It is a little bit of constructivist education, it was made possible by the #flipclass format that allowed students to move at a faster pace in the classroom, and it is a great shot of #BYOT in action.

The students were using the Microsoft Training Courses to learn some of the features of Office 2010. We have started using these as supplemental material since it allows students to self-pace and gives them another learning option. Almost all of the students skipped the first few lessons (create a slide, add text, etc.). At one point, midway through the class, almost every student was working on adding videos.

Student A: Where do I get some videos to add? You Tube?

Student B: No, youtube is different you need a file.

Student A: Mr. Ferries-Rowe, where could we get video?

Me: I don’t know. Where could you get video from? If only there were some device in this classroom that could take video. What a wonderful world that would be.

Student C: (picking up on my sarcasm): Ooh! my phone can capture video!
Student D: Mine too!
Student E: Oh Yeah!
Student F: Siri, can you take video? [editor’s note: there is no student F]

(pause for film goodness)

Student A: ok, now what?

Me: you tell me.

Student A: I have video but it has to be on this computer in order to put it in the PowerPoint.

Me: True.

Student A: I don’t have my cord

Me: If only there were  a convenient way to transfer files from one device to another...as if through a cloud.

Student C: You could email it.
Student G: No, the flip video. He talked about Dropbox

Student A: I have that app on my phone!

Student H: there is an app?
Student I: Yeah, I have it to...

(Pause for App downloading, account registration, etc.)
(Pause for Transferring files to dropbox and retrieving it from the web)
(Pause while student inserts video to power point)

[Editor’s note: see how much pausing there is? it’s awesome]

Student H: it worked!
Student K: mine too!

Student A (poor student A): Mine says there is a codec error

Me: What’s a codec?

Student I-don’t-remember: Instructions. Like a language. (someone watched the flip)

Student C: We need a program to translate it. I use AVI
Me: but the mean techs at school won’t let you install programs. Next?
Student C: is there a web-based translator?

By the end of the class, students had real-world problem solving experience. Understood (to some degree) the issues presented by different codecs and (to a greater degree) how to work around them. They had used a variety of tools, cloud-based and personal, to enhance presentations, and worked collaboratively to solve problems.

That’s a good day.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#flipclass diary: a form-follows-function story

Abstract: Flipped Classrooms rock.

Been taking a week or so off of the blog to finish a #BYOT book chapter with @40ishoracle, get the debate tournament season started and teach a class. It is that class that i wanted to write about today...more of a gush than a rant, so pull out the handkerchiefs, i may get sappy...nah. File this under a continuation of form-follows-function: Designing classes that meet the learning needs of the students.

Brebeuf Jesuit is a private secondary school that follows the Ignatian Pedagogical Paradigm (you can read a lot more about technology in the context of the IPP in @40ishoracle’s article that was in LEARNING AND LEADING WITH TECHNOLOGY “Give your old-school curriculum a NETS makeover” -- shameless plug...link not available yet).

In this system of education, the emphasis of learning is in...
Reflection (careful consideration and thought) on
Experience (actual activities that the student in which the student has engaged) within a
Context that includes both the student and the subject matter as a foundation.

One of the struggles I have had as an Ignatian educator is balancing a whole lot of foundational context about technology and a wide variety of foundational context from students.
  • Have you had the student who sits in your class bored over the lecture because they already know the material (and you know that they know)?
  • Have you, at the same time, attempted to teach other students who struggle with the material because they have no frame of reference in which it makes sense?
  • Felt hampered by the sheer amount of material you had to cover to get students ready to do an activity?
  • Felt inadequate to the task because all of the really good questions that had to be set aside because it was time to move on to the next lesson?
This was my experience as I prepared to teach a revised computer science curriculum that would emphasize the skills and characteristics of a “Digital Citizen” and de-emphasize the push-button Microsoft curriculum. I decided that the best way to do this was a flipped classroom.

"The History of Computers" was often a lesson that I presented traditionally. While I created an excellent and engaging lesson (of course) about the history of computers I often found it to be a bore. It was built around "themes" which provided the students a framework other than the passage of time: “Smaller, Faster, but not all that different”; “Getting Connected”, etc. I incorporated activities like making each student a “member” of the original Arpanet so they could experience delivering messages in the early internet. It was about as good a lesson as I could manage given the subject.

As I began to evaluate activities that required live interaction between the teacher and student, I also distinguished between what was necessary content and skills that i would evaluate and what was “fluff” -- I began to re-think the entire lesson. The “themes” were the important content takeaway, not the dates or the terminology. This general ideal could be combined with an introduction to research-as-a-skill and making-effective-presentations-as-a-skill, two subjects on which high school students can always use practice. The lesson began to form and I made the flip:

Introduction of the “themes”LectureVideo Homework
Examples of the themes in historyLecture
  • Keywords given in flip video and on Presentation notes as homework
  • Examples and evidence generated by students in class
Research for PresentationHomework (or “extra” periods of classtime)Classwork the day after the flip
How to make a PresentationLecture with Guided DemonstrationVideo Homework with hands-on experiment module in class
AssessmentMake-a-presentation HomeworkMake-a-presentation in class
In-Class PresentationIn ClassIn Class
* Classtime is in green. Same number of days, different activities.

Students watched the flipped video lesson that night with only a few hiccups. There were “did-you-watch” action steps so that students, after a brief Q&A, began their research in groups (each group given a different time period) on the Themes from the lecture.

It is important to note two things: First, students were not given a full-blown history lecture as video. They were given the themes, a few general “things to look for” and some getting-started keywords. Second, prior to this year, I had never watched students research -- that was the homework AFTER the lecture.

A Few Examples:

Student A: Begins research by opening up internet explorer and Microsoft PowerPoint. After typing in keywords, clicks on the Wikipedia link (first one) and copies the first paragraph into a PowerPoint slide.
Me: Why did you open PowerPoint? that is an odd note-taking vehicle
Student A: you said we were going to do a presentation on this.
Me: What information did you just paste over?
Student A: I don’t know, I just copied it. It’s about one of the keywords you gave us.

Student B: Types into Google: “History of Computers Getting Connected”. Student is frustrated that this does not yield a wikipedia article. When asked to refer to the keywords that she was given as part of the lecture or questions she had developed, she sighs over the difficulty of the assignment.

Student C: Can I use wikipedia?
Me: I don’t know. Is it a valid source?
Student C: Lot’s of teachers hate it. It’s OK, I can use something else (turns around).

Reflection: What a difference a FLIP makes.
My first reaction was just sheer amazement over their (lack of) research skills. But the more i thought about it (multiple sending schools, young students, a class that is not typically research oriented, etc.), this should have been expected. More importantly, it was likely what has always happened, but the traditional format did not afford me the opportunity to see research-in-action. In a flash, I was not frustrated with the poor quality of work from "these kids today...ugh". I was given a clear indication of learning deficiencies that could be illustrated and which could improve research for the long term.

I made a list of what I had noticed and what proper research techniques would be necessary to address the areas of concern. The next two days were set (they watched a FLIP video preparing for PowerPoint and spent the next day refining skills and learning the practicalities of codecs and embedding video). That night, I assigned another FLIP video.

Their assignment the next day was to try again, with a more focused topic (depth beats breadth on everything except standardized tests). The results were amazing: More focused research, Questions that came from research instead of from the teacher, collaboration in discovery and answering -- all from a ten minute video that addressed the common mistakes that were being made by the class as a whole.

The flipped demo featured a split-screen browser and OneNote
Students watched a live demonstration, starting at a keyword (i used the Commodore 64). They watched as I moved in-demonstration from making questions, doing preliminary research, copying links and pictures, taking notes, forming more questions. Along the way, I was able to address the importance of linking evidence and claim, using notes during research instead of bypassing directly to the presentation, and taking time to think and reformulate new questions.

This is an extension of the form-follow-function in education argument. If I believe in the premise that reflection-on-experience is the place were learning occurs, than it is essential that the teacher be present during the experience for observation, guidance, etc. The passive part (lectures, videos, and to a lesser extent note-taking) is contextual foundation for the learning. The important part to watch is when the neurons are firing in the learner's brain. That is when teaching, even if it is just a nudge in the right direction, is fundamental.
If I were not a fan before, the ability that the #flipclass format affords the teacher in giving a window into the work habits and processes of the students is enough to justify the extra time and effort. The strange thing though, is there is not much more of either.

More on that later...

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Questions and Cold Chills: A BYOT Advocate's Initial Reaction to iBooks2

I am hesitant to write this blog entry so early with so many unanswered questions, particularly since the topic itself is going to potentially open me up to flamebait, but I figured that I would use what influence I have to start the ball rolling. As I have said before, it is time for educators to start demanding the tools we need to improved education through technology. (thanks to my fellow debate coach, no-twitter kantz, for encouraging me to get this one posted sooner rather than later).

Today Apple announced another foray into education with the release of iBooks2 and its related software iAuthor for OSX (Lion). With this announcement came a lot of promise and potential, but a lot of unanswered questions. Some of these questions need to be answered quickly before we as educators find ourselves with a potentially expensive and educationally unpleasant reality (netbooks, I am looking at you).

The announcement: Any iOS user will be able to download iBooks2 and access textbooks that have massive multimedia potential, replace the weight of gigantic textbooks, and cost...wait for it ...$14.99 or less. On the surface, this seems like a no-brainer boon to the educational world. Add the fact that educators can use the tools to create their own content, and this seems like gold. And yet, the more I think about it, the colder the concept leaves me.

Not the economic boon that it seems:
The first thing the twitter-feed began howling about (after the shiny and the pretty) was the price. While I agree that it would be refeshing to see the publishers forced to lower prices in the face of an ebook juggernaut, that is NOT what is happening here (in fact, the juggernaut that WAS doing that so well was Amazon Pre-iPad. It wasn’t until the “set your own price, we’ll take 30%” iBooks deal with publishers that you saw kindle books go over $9.99).

High School Textbooks (notice that the iBooks2 announcement was NOT college?) are by and large purchased by schools for multiple years. Students pay a rental fee on textbooks (sometimes subsidized by the government). Any guess on how much publishers make per year on a book? somewhere between 15 and 17 dollars. So, depending on the book, the publishers save money on printing, distribution, shipping, warehousing, etc. and just take the 70% of their cut of $14.99. Nice deal for them. Nice deal for Apple. No real loss for families.

But once we realize that this is not a gamechanger brought about by twisting the arms of the publishers to let go of profits, this whole model begins to look different.

In the world of books, Content is King
Did everyone catch the selection that was released today? somewhere between 8 and 12 books depending on how you count the DK publisher books that were announced and the oh-so-pretty-but-oh-so-incomplete LIFE ON EARTH. Forget about the financial savings, you cannot even run a single schedule on those books, let alone a school. How many books will be available by the beginning of the 2012-13 school year?

Will the supporting publishers, of which much was made that they are responsible for 90% of all textbooks, be making their entire catalog available? Not Likely.

Aside: When we began investigating ebooks for Brebeuf Jesuit, we were stone-walled by a publisher (who claimed they were “leading the way” in ebooks) because the textbook which our math teachers preferred would NEVER be digitized. It was just kept in circulation because a lot of teachers felt it was a high-quality book...They would much rather us buy one of two other options that would be digitized.

If schools and corporations go all-in with the iPad solution, imagine the pressure that will be brought to bear on teachers and departments to go with the book that does not create issues of inventory, storage, etc. Quality of the text, appropriateness for curriculum and pedagogy, etc. will take a backseat to “but its not available on the iPad.” This was already beginning and now it seems a lock.

The second selection issue that arises in my mind is the grey area between advanced high school texts and college textbooks. The book distributor that our school uses is working on a cross-platform (with android, iphone, and HTML5) e-reader that will have about 40% of our booklist available by the start of next school year. But these eBooks follow the more common college model of limited access licenses for less cost than a new paper-book. Those are two VERY different pricing models that do not necessarily coexist (remember, the college textbooks have single-user costs closer to the total cost of the high-school book model).

Content Creation vs. Intellectual Property
I am a huge advocate of flushing SOPA, ProtectIP, and the congressional sponsors who refuse to learn about the consequences of their blind actions away like bad refuse. But I also teach my students about the importance of copyright and intellectual property. I teach them to give credit to sources. I proclaim the harbor of educational fair use. I help teachers envision a virtual website (or wiki or blog or eBook) that collects public domain documents in an effort to increase primary source research AND kick the textbook habit. Teachers (not just students) violate the ethics of intellectual property knowingly and unknowingly all the time. iAuthor is powerful, but where is the corresponding responsibility to ensure accuracy, responsibility, and intellectual credit.

Further, I don’t think teachers have the time and space now to effectively curate the information available on the web and elsewhere with any kind of regularity. I cringe at the idea that this will be presented as an additional expectation of teachers, particularly if it exposes them to the kind of scrutiny that our government seems all to willing to pass into law.

Creating a Nurturing Environment for Competition
I don’t think we are getting a straight answer yet (admittedly, its only been like 10 hours) about the exclusivity agreement that Apple is making people sign. It is completely reasonable that if you use the iAuthor tool, that the book goes to iBooks. I am more disturbed by the possibility that presence in the iBooks store means exclusivity from all e-book alternatives. Based on information coming out now, although still with murky wording, the exclusivity agreement is locked to the files that are created by iAuthor (even if that file is distributed, maybe, through a different channel). Thus, a publisher can still choose to create a kindle edition of the book, a KNO version of the book, etc. Whether they will want to take this extra step is going to be up to educators and parents and students. If we roll over and let the publishers and the distribution channel decide format for us, then we have to be satisfied with the result. For my part, I want competition.

I want Kno and Kindle and iBooks to all have the same book competing in this marketplace. I have been  tremendously impressed with the early tests of MBS’s Direct Digital (formerly Explana): this cross-platform (HTML5, iOS, Android) system includes single swipe highlighting, multi color, notetaking, export of notes into Word orPDF format), and offline accessibility. I love the socialization features (collaborative underlining, tweeting out passages) that Kindle introduced last year. I want to see prices drop and cross-compatibility of platforms and other distinguishing selling points. I want each publisher and distributor constantly one-upping on features and not suing each other (I can dream). I want a student who prefers to read on a 7” tablet to have that option (note: my BYOT partner @40ishoracle downloaded the environmental science book -- not even iOS exclusive...it’s iPad only).

The digital textbook market is still in its infancy (heck, ebooks are really just now toddlers). We need systems that nurture competition so that the best and the brightest ideas are allowed to compete. If we allow book-exclusivity to force the choice of technology at the school, district, or individual level, we could end up with what a single company determines is best for us.

Heck, I’m not even sure I want that corporation to be Google, and they “give” stuff away.

There has been and will be a lot written about this development. Here are two that i have found helpful:

The Internet's Reactions to Students' Reactions to Wikipedia's Blackout

had to share this experience (before i tout the wonders of #flipclass tomorrow):

received a very polite email from a student last night.

"I missed class and have uploaded my assignment and watched the video [blogger's note: FLIPCLASS RULES]. I tried to do some more research but Wikipedia is blocked. Do you know why? I figured you would and I was just curious."

1. He was on the page.
2. The second to last line on the wikipedia blackout page was "LEARN MORE"
3. Who needs a "3"? Seriously? CLICK THE LINK!

In a world where some educators bemoan the use of wikipedia as making it too easy for students, I think it is important that we make sure, as educators, that we point out some of the obvious bad habits in our culture.

Part of our job is to create the informed citizenry of tomorrow. We owe it to them (and ourselves) to make sure they don't get to take the easy way out.

Audrey Watters has some great tweets posted here:
The Internet's Reactions to Students' Reactions to Wikipedia's Blackout:

'via Blog this'

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How Larry Page Changed Meetings At Google After Taking Over Last Spring (GOOG)

Crosspost with my G+ account. thx to @eecastro for the link

Imagine applying #flipclass principles to meetings as a whole. Most meetings, even decent ones (ha!) are a series of isolated info.dump with hesitant discussion as feelings are spared and people aren't really sure how others will react.

After the meeting, there is a flurry of one on one discussion, negotiation, opinion polling and ultimately a decision is made. In the worst of environments, this is made official at another meeting (in the absolute worst environments, the decision is "arrived at" during the second meeting -- nudge, wink.

#flipclass theory would seem to argue that the info.dump and initial position setting could be done asynchronously and that the negotiation, argumentation, and decision making would be better placed in-meeting.

How Larry Page Changed Meetings At Google After Taking Over Last Spring (GOOG):

'via Blog this'

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Ed Tech Reflections: Caught in the Middle of a Growing Trend

don't ever be fooled by my egotistical ranting. There is power in partnership. @40ishoracle reflects on BYOT:

Ed Tech Reflections: Caught in the Middle of a Growing Trend: Well, Bring Your Own Technology/Device movement is certainly picking up pace! JD and I were contacted by the second reporter in a month wri...

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Myth of Transforming Curriculum through Fancy Assessment Tools: A Rant in One Part

File this one solidly in the RANT category.
Enough so that I am taking a break from the “Form Follows Function” blog to do so.

My second grader got her report card yesterday. Improvements in a number of categories. A letter grade drop in math. The culprit? math-facts speed tests. She gets them right, but not enough of them in two minutes. The solution: electronic flashcard program for the tablet...Start memorizing, my dear. But while that is frustrating and not uncommon, it is not enough to warrant a rant.

I was reading through eschoolnews.com’s list of “Readers’ top ed-tech picks for 2012 and noticed a disturbing trend that leaves me cold. mixed in with some excellent choices (Google Apps for Education) and some interesting tools that warrant further investigation (PTC Wizard - online scheduling for parent teacher conferences) and a few jokes awaiting a punchline (need a tablet less useful than a Kindle Fire? buy Kineo) is a growing number of websites and software packages that claim to teach through assessment. They often use glowing buzzwords like value-add and gap-identification and talk about the seamless process of identifying and challenging students with problems as they are ready. The most complicated of these packages promise to aggregate data for use in teacher assessment so that schools and districts can engage in long-range planning.

(cue the music)

As teachers and professionals, we need to start calling foul.

Rather than rant about the problems with drill-and-kill apps or programs that address what Gary Stager refers to as the low-hanging fruit of education (see this excellent recent post), I want to focus on the claim that these tools will be transformative for education.

Even if I accept the premise that these value-add measuring tools give data to administrators that can be used to make decisions about teacher performance and effective learning (note: that is a HUGE “if”), the data that is given is almost useless in terms of educational reform. Here is why:

Teacher A and B both teach a class of similar students (yes, we have already entered the world of fantasy, just go with it).

Teacher A and B both use magic-corporate-out-of-the-box-assessment tool and finds that there are 500 super-duper assessment points of value add in Teacher A’s column. Teacher A gets the top-tier band bonus and a gold star. Teacher B gets and extra duty period and a remedial teacher app for his iPad.

In terms of long range pedagogical change, though, what did the assessment tool tell us?

Is teacher A a superstar lecturer?
Is she running a Montessori-based experiential program?
Does teacher B sit in the back of the classroom while students do worksheets -- i mean math apps?

Ultimately, the assessments give us no data on what actually works and what doesn’t. It gives a mystic aura to the individual teacher but does nothing to guide schools on pedagogy or curriculum redesign in a broader sense. What is ironic is that the same political schools-of-thought that encourage the die-by-assessment measurement of teachers end up glorifying certain teachers and rebuking others without clear explanation about what was done wrong or right by either educator.

Assessments are about measuring ends.

Effective educators can interpret these assessments to create new learning experiences and opportunities for students to improve their knowledge and skill base. They focus on creating new and significant means by which students achieve. That is difficult to quantify and takes practice and patience to replicate in any true way.

Put another way, It’s like Education is an Art, not a Science.
-- and computers don’t do art

Monday, January 2, 2012

Form Follows Function in Education (Part I): Rearranging the Media Center

It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic,Of all things physical and metaphysical,Of all things human and all things super-human,Of all true manifestations of the head,Of the heart, of the soul,That the life is recognizable in its expression,That form ever follows function. This is the law.[2]
     - Louis Sullivan, “The Tall Building Artistically Considered” (thx Wikipedia)

The above article was written at a time in architecture when the old rules were no longer providing adequate usefulness in the design of a building. Sullivan, inspired by his mentor Wright, adopted this maxim as universal, but in our everyday life, it is not being applied that way. In 1896, the challenge was to ask what would influence the design of a building if tradition was not the template to use? The answer was to shape the building so that it maximized its purpose:

FORM (the shape and design) follows FUNCTION (the purpose) as opposed to the tradition (what came before).

This has been going through my head A LOT this past year as I consider education on big scales and little ones. It has been combined with a corollary that I have, at least in my mind, always attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright: FORM can influence FUNCTION.

A simple illustration: my daughter finally got the skateboard that she had been asking for and spent an entire afternoon with her sisters wearing pads and learning the basics. One day later, after getting ready (a process when factoring in knee and elbow pads, wrist guards, and a helmet) and riding to the park that served as her practice rink (with baby-sister-in-wagon-in-tow) , she was finished in 10 minutes and asking to go home. What had changed her basic desire to skate, her FUNCTION? The weather (FORM) had dropped to near freezing. The structural design had changed so much that it quelled her desire.
Skateboarding: Day 1

I submit that the same is true in education:

Consideration One: The Media Center:

As we prepare to welcome students back from a long deserved break, they will be returning to a library that is the same in size, shape, and furnishing with a few significant differences. We switched the place that held the study carrels with the place that had tables more designed for quiet group work. We removed some of the seating to increase space between the tables.

Libraries are multi-use spaces. There is a need for quiet study and a need for collaboration which occurs amidst the traffic to find books and resources. The same space in which a librarian presents to a class the topic of effective information filtering techniques is being used by students on a break to find and begin reading HUNGER GAMES before the movie comes out. it is a place that is almost the definition of chaotic. And yet, effective libraries are places of order.

Compound this issue with library space that was designed for a school population of around 500 (the school currently has almost 800 students). Increase the pressure by making it a space that was built before collaborative learning was the norm (no small conference rooms) and has been adapted to hold computers and other technology (further reducing multi-use space and creating new traffic patterns). Tensions among students and the library staff had risen a point where neither group was happy and the gains in increasing library use and function in the school were threatened by the sheer number of patrons.

And so we took a step back. We watched how the library was being used. What sections of the library were most likely to become pockets of distraction. Where were students policing themselves and what was the difference?

Ultimately, the changes we made followed a few basic patterns and rules:

Increased space between tables, place away from "quiet zone"
Put places where students were likely to talk in areas that were already high traffic and less conducive to quiet study. In our case this mean placing the group study tables near the computer carts that constantly have a come-and-go traffic pattern. It also placed the laptops nearest to the tables where they were likely to be used the most.

Study carrels were moved farthest away from the entrance 
Keep the most quiet places (the study carrels away from the entrance of the library (it was fascinating to watch students speak at full-volume at the door to the library and gradually quiet down as they went deeper inside. We spent one day quieting students 20 feet from the entrance and watching the impact it made on the overall tone of the library: impressive).

The original "Collaborative Spaces" created in 2010
Separate areas of talking. Noise begets noise. If a group of four students are placed next to another group of four students, they will naturally increase the volume to talk over the white-noise of the other table. The result is dueling volume increases that destroys the collaboration of both tables and others. Putting a plant,a bookshelf or even enough space can keep each pocket isolated enough to continue whispering.

Will these efforts be successful? We are hopeful. We are working to communicate the reasons behind the changes openly and honestly and solicit feedback from the students, who are the main patrons of the space.

The biggest change of all though is one of mindset. We broke from tradition (those study carrels had been in the same place for over 15 years) and instead asked ourselves how the design of the library could best influence the multiple functions that happen within the space.

Had your own experience of FORM and FUNCTION? 
Feel free to drop a comment, share the page, or tweet me at @jdferries. 
Feedback is always appreciated. 

In the next post, I’m going to try to apply the same concept to some more abstract parts of education: Flipped classrooms and Social Media.