Category Archives: Motivation

Motivation

Counterproductive Extrinsic Motivation: Avoid Bribery Rewards

This is the fourth post in a series on Extrinsic Motivation. I ended the last suggesting that there are both productive and counterproductive extrinsic motivators. It would certainly help to explain the disparity between domains where there seems to be evidence they work (such as the right kind of token economy system for improving classroom behavior) and the strong rally against the use of punishments and rewards, such as those from Alfie Kohn. Rather than struggling to decide who is right, are extrinsic motivators good or bad, the much better question to ask is what kinds of extrinsic motivators are good (and in what conditions) and which kinds are bad?

Alfie Kohn is right about the kinds of punishments and rewards he writes about. Not only is he writing about only one kind of extrinsic motivation, he is writing about one specific kind of reward: the bribery reward. Those are the kinds of rewards where you promise students something if they do something in return, such as offering a pizza party for anyone who gets an A on a test. But recall that the research suggests that even if such a move generates A’s on the test, it probably won’t generate long-term learning. Students won’t remember it three week later, or they won’t be able to apply it to other projects or work. And this certainly goes against the goals of education.

But where bribery rewards do not work, random rewards do indeed seem to be powerful. Where it is counterproductive to declare before the test that there will be an ice cream party for all who do well on it, it is fine to occasionally say, “You guys did so awesome on yesterday’s test we’re going to have an ice cream party today!”

This differs from a bribery reward, because the students didn’t know the reward would be coming. It was unexpected. Praise works under similar conditions. Praise is technically a reward but works very well when it is offered at random (unpredictable) times, and is spontaneous, and connected directly to the work students are doing. Rewards that are unanticipated and random have a very high impact.

But keep in mind that even if you never use words to “promise” an incentive, your behavior can turn a random reward into a bribery reward. If over the next three tests, you show a movie, or have a pizza party, or do what ever, your students will start to expect some sort of prize for doing well. You will have turned your good deed into a bribery reward by setting a pattern that does promise the reward. It’s important to remember that random does mean random and that you avoid establishing a pattern of expectation.

So, effective use of extrinsic motivation means that educators must avoiding bribery rewards.

Even though we do learn when motivated both intrinsically and extrinsically, that is not license to rely too heavily on extrinsic motivations or to misuse extrinsic motivations. Alfie Kohn reports on one kind of punishments and rewards: one that that shuts down learning. But not only are random rewards productive, but deeper research shows that there is another kind of extrinsic motivation that supports learning (which I’ll address in my next post in the series!).

 

 

Will the iPad Save Schools? – The 4 Pillars of The Schools We Need

Student using an iPad

I’ve been interviewed a couple times over the last few weeks, mostly about our iPad research results.

One journalist asked me if I now thought that the iPad would be the secret to helping more students succeed in school.

I don’t think it is any secret that I am a big iPad fan, both personally and professionally. But I don’t think any piece of technology, by itself, will be responsible for creating the kinds of schools we need, if we are really going to develop the talent of every child. Technology can and should be a critical piece of that, and the iPad is a wonderful piece of technology for learning. But my experience working with schools that are striving to be successful with all students is that there are several key components to consider.

I told the journalist that I thought there were four pillars to the formula for successful schools.

Pillar 1: Customized Learning
Customized learning are the structures and practices that are built around two principles: people learn in different ways and in different timeframes. It might be called individualized/personalized learning, standards-based learning, or performance-based learning, and includes approaches such as RISC or Mass Customized Learning.

Pillar 2: Motivation
Motivation could be thought of as the conditions educators put into place that make it easier for learns to be self-motivated. These include strategies such as creating real world connections to the learning, providing students with voice and choice, insuring that our schools and classrooms are inviting places for students, emphasizing activities that focus on upper level Blooms and involve learning by doing.

Pillar 3: Technology for Learning
Computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones are the world’s modern tools for work, but they also have the potentinal to be our modern learning tools. But technology has to be looked at, not through the lens of the stuff, but rather through the lens of leveraging the stuff for learning. We need to look at how we use technology for various kinds of learning, as well as our leadership and policies around technology, and how we manage it.

Pillar 4: Leadership for School Change
Large-scale school change has a lot of moving parts that school leaders need to pay attention to and nurture if they wish the transition to be successful. How do we keep “the main thing the main thing”? What are the critical components and what are the supporting components that are still necessary to pay attention to? This is what is at the core of leadership for school change.

 

You won’t spend too much time thinking about each individual pillar before you realize that they overlap enormously and you can’t really think about one without thinking about aspects of the others. And you’ll realize that some pillars share components (or very similar components). In order to be successful, however, schools need to work on attending to all of four pillars simultaneously, so the fact that there is overlap is not a problem.

What I Did About It

That journalist interview and that question provided me with an aha! moment. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve been working on motivation, leadership, technology and other issues lated to student learning for a long time. But it was that conversation that helped me pull together and synthesize things that had been running around the back of my head.

So I just made a bunch of changes to both my website and my blog leveraging this new aha.

I spent the weekend rebuilding the McMEL (Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning) website so that it was organized around these four pillars. There is also a Projects & Programs menu with links to various exemplars of the kinds of educational programs we need and projects that are a direct result of the kinds of thinking that went into McMEL.

I also went through this blog, reorganizing the categories. There are now categories, not just for each of these four pillars but for each major component of each pillar. I also went through all the old posts and made sure that they were linked to the appropriate categories.

And I have made sure that each page on the McMEL site has links to the appropriate blog posts (at least by category) so that the blog can help populate the information at McMEL.

This might be a rather complicated way of simply saying that I want to help insure that educators have access to good information on these topics both from the McMEL site and the Multiple Pathways blog, and to make it easier as they are looking for guidance on their own initiatives.

iPad may be one of my favorite tools in the Technology for Learning category, but I think it is only one component of the answer to the question, what will help schools be more successful with students. For me, the answer is Meaningful Engaged Learning, including not only Technology for Learning, but Customized Learning, Motivation, and Leadership.

 

Will the iPad Save Schools? – The 4 Pillars of The Schools We Need

Student using an iPad

I’ve been interviewed a couple times over the last few weeks, mostly about our iPad research results.

One journalist asked me if I now thought that the iPad would be the secret to helping more students succeed in school.

I don’t think it is any secret that I am a big iPad fan, both personally and professionally. But I don’t think any piece of technology, by itself, will be responsible for creating the kinds of schools we need, if we are really going to develop the talent of every child. Technology can and should be a critical piece of that, and the iPad is a wonderful piece of technology for learning. But my experience working with schools that are striving to be successful with all students is that there are several key components to consider.

I told the journalist that I thought there were four pillars to the formula for successful schools.

Pillar 1: Customized Learning
Customized learning are the structures and practices that are built around two principles: people learn in different ways and in different timeframes. It might be called individualized/personalized learning, standards-based learning, or performance-based learning, and includes approaches such as RISC or Mass Customized Learning.

Pillar 2: Motivation
Motivation could be thought of as the conditions educators put into place that make it easier for learns to be self-motivated. These include strategies such as creating real world connections to the learning, providing students with voice and choice, insuring that our schools and classrooms are inviting places for students, emphasizing activities that focus on upper level Blooms and involve learning by doing.

Pillar 3: Technology for Learning
Computers, laptops, tablets, and smart phones are the world’s modern tools for work, but they also have the potentinal to be our modern learning tools. But technology has to be looked at, not through the lens of the stuff, but rather through the lens of leveraging the stuff for learning. We need to look at how we use technology for various kinds of learning, as well as our leadership and policies around technology, and how we manage it.

Pillar 4: Leadership for School Change
Large-scale school change has a lot of moving parts that school leaders need to pay attention to and nurture if they wish the transition to be successful. How do we keep “the main thing the main thing”? What are the critical components and what are the supporting components that are still necessary to pay attention to? This is what is at the core of leadership for school change.

 

You won’t spend too much time thinking about each individual pillar before you realize that they overlap enormously and you can’t really think about one without thinking about aspects of the others. And you’ll realize that some pillars share components (or very similar components). In order to be successful, however, schools need to work on attending to all of four pillars simultaneously, so the fact that there is overlap is not a problem.

What I Did About It

That journalist interview and that question provided me with an aha! moment. Those of you who know me, know that I’ve been working on motivation, leadership, technology and other issues lated to student learning for a long time. But it was that conversation that helped me pull together and synthesize things that had been running around the back of my head.

So I just made a bunch of changes to both my website and my blog leveraging this new aha.

I spent the weekend rebuilding the McMEL (Maine Center for Meaningful Engaged Learning) website so that it was organized around these four pillars. There is also a Projects & Programs menu with links to various exemplars of the kinds of educational programs we need and projects that are a direct result of the kinds of thinking that went into McMEL.

I also went through this blog, reorganizing the categories. There are now categories, not just for each of these four pillars but for each major component of each pillar. I also went through all the old posts and made sure that they were linked to the appropriate categories.

And I have made sure that each page on the McMEL site has links to the appropriate blog posts (at least by category) so that the blog can help populate the information at McMEL.

This might be a rather complicated way of simply saying that I want to help insure that educators have access to good information on these topics both from the McMEL site and the Multiple Pathways blog, and to make it easier as they are looking for guidance on their own initiatives.

iPad may be one of my favorite tools in the Technology for Learning category, but I think it is only one component of the answer to the question, what will help schools be more successful with students. For me, the answer is Meaningful Engaged Learning, including not only Technology for Learning, but Customized Learning, Motivation, and Leadership.

 

4 Reasons We (Try To) Use Extrinsic Motivators

I just blogged about 5 reasons we should avoid extrinsic motivators such as punishments and rewards. If there is so much evidence against punishments and rewards, why are they used so widely in schools?

Here are 4 reasons I think we do it.

Reason 1 – They Are Widely Used:
Part of the answer may be precisely that, because they are used widely, we believe that they are fine to use. Often a practice is implemented because of its legitimacy rather than its proven effectiveness. This may be especially true since teachers are so challenged to find ways to reach underachieving students and extrinsic motivators are more widely implemented and accepted than some of the other approaches to motivating students described in this book.

Reason 2 – They Tend To Have a Temporary Effect:
A third reason we may rely on punishments and rewards is, as I mentioned in the previous post, that they do tend to have a temporary desired effect. Have you ever had an itch? Perhaps Poison Ivy, or your arm was in a cast and the skin dry underneath? Rewards are a lot like itches. What about when you scratch it. How does it feel for the first five second? Wonderful! And every moment after that, how does it feel? It hurts. Even when you leave it alone for a few minutes and then you go back to scratch it, it hurts. But what do we do? Continue to scratch it over and over, trying to get those really good five seconds back from the beginning. That’s rewards. We have a really good initial positive effect and then it shuts down learning (but we keep doing it, trying to get that initial response back).

Reason 3 – Education’s Long Relationship With Behaviorism:
Another reason we might be quick to use extrinsic motivation is because of the long history of behaviorism in education. Skinner’s behaviorism maintains that all learning is actually only behavior and that all behavior can be conditioned and shaped through attention just to the behavior, through the pattern of stimulus-response-reinforcement. Although Skinner’s behaviorism has strongly impacted the world of education, his minimization of the role of thought and the mind brought about fiery responses from other educators and learning theorists. Perkins (1992, p. 59) responds by saying, “by ignoring human thinking as an invalid ‘folk theory,’ behaviorism discouraged some people from interacting with students in ways that made plain the workings of the mind.”

Prior to the advent of behaviorism, it was accepted that thought and mental processes play a crucial role in determining human action. But behaviorism buried this belief, with its conception of humans as robots, or machines with input—output connections. However, behaviorism no longer plays a dominant role in psychology, clearly because we are not robots, machines, or hydraulic pumps. A broad array of mental processes, including information search and retrieval, attention, memory, categorization, judgment, and decision-making play essential roles in determining why students behave as they do. (Weiner 1984, p. 16)

Perhaps the central problem with behaviorism is that it is presented as a general (comprehensive?) learning theory, instead of as a well developed, but small, piece of the puzzle. It has explanatory power for certain aspects of learning (such as appropriate behavior or recall of simple, disassociated facts) but lacks it for others (intrinsic interests, creativity, higher order thinking, anything related to the inner workings of the mind). This said, don’t think of behaviorism as incompatible with the cognitive theories. The “anti-cognitive” dimension grows from how behaviorism is sometimes applied. The theory, instead, simply describes an aspect of learning complementary to cognitive theories. Even Lepper, et al. (1973) and Weiner (1984) admit that behaviorist approaches, such as token economy systems, are effective at maintaining appropriate behavior in the classroom, an important precursor to learning.

Reason 4 – We’re Not Aware There Are Productive and Counterproductive Motivators:
Perhaps the largest reason that punishments and rewards are misused in schools is that teachers are not fully aware that there are both productive and counterproductive extrinsic motivators and which work and which do not.

It is this idea of counterproductive extrinsic motivators that I will explore in my next post in this series.

References:

Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the “over-justification” hypothesis. Journal of personality and social psychology, 28, 129-137.

Perkins, D. (1992). Smart schools: Better thinking and learning for every child. NY, NY. The Free Press.

Weiner, B. (1984). Principles of a theory of student motivation and their application within an attributional framework. In R. Ames and C. Ames (Eds.), Research on motivation in education (Vol. 1): Student motivation (pp. 15-38). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Motivating Students: Focus on 5 Strategies

There are many children who are undermotivated, disengaged, and underachieving. One of the most persistent questions facing individual teachers is, “How do I motivate all children to learn?” And you are Probably one of the ones wondering how to reach them. You aren’t alone.

One approach to reaching all students is Meaningful Engaged Learning (MEL), based on my research. Schools working to improve student motivation, engagement, and achievement concentrate on balancing five focus areas

  • Inviting Schools
  • Learning by Doing
  • Higher Order Thinking
  • Student Voice & Choice
  • Real World Connections

Here’s a brief overview of each strategy.

Inviting Schools
Sometimes, it may seem like this has nothing to do with academics or engaging students in learning, but positive relationships and a warm, inviting school climate are perhaps the most important element to implement if you are to reach hard to teach students. I heard over and over again from the students I studied that they won’t learn from a teacher who doesn’t like them (and it doesn’t take much for a student to think the teacher doesn’t like him or her!). It’s important for everyone in the school to think about how to connect with students and how to create a positive climate and an emotionally and physically safe environment. Adult enthusiasm and humor go a long way and teachers are well served to remember that one “ah-shucks!” often wipes out a thousand “at-a-boys!”

Learning by Doing
When you realize that people learn naturally from the life they experience every day, it won’t surprise you that the brain is set up to learn better with active, hands-on endeavors. Many students request less bookwork and more hands-on activities. The students I studied were more willing to do bookwork if there was a project or activity as part of the lesson. Building models and displays, fieldtrips and fieldwork, hands-on experiments, and craft activities are all strategies that help students learn.

Higher Order Thinking
It may seem counterintuitive, but focusing on memorizing facts actually makes it hard for students to recall the information later. That’s because the brain isn’t used to learning facts out of context. Higher order thinking (applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating, within the New Bloom’s Taxonomy) requires that learners make connections between new concepts, skills, and knowledge and previous concepts, skills, and knowledge. These connections are critical for building deep understanding and for facilitating recall and transfer, especially to new contexts. Remembering things is important and a significant goal of education, but remembering is the product of higher order thinking, not the other way around. Involving students in comparing and contrasting, drama, and using metaphors and examples are strategies to move quickly into higher order thinking.

Student Voice & Choice
Few people like being told what to do, but in reality, we all have things we have to do that may not be interesting to us or that we would choose to do on our own. Nowhere is this truer than for children in school. So, how can we entice people to do these things? We often resort to rewards or punishments when we don’t know what else to do, but these have been repeatedly shown to be counterproductive and highly ineffective (Kohn, 1993). Instead, provide students voice and choice. Let them decide how they will do those things. This doesn’t mean allowing students to do whatever they want, but it means giving them choices (“which of these three novels about the Great Depression would you like to read during this unit?”). Let students design learning activities, select resources, plan approaches to units, and make decisions about their learning.

Real World Connections
This focus area is often a missing motivator for students. Schools have long had the bad habit of teaching content out of context. Unfortunately, this approach produces isolated islands of learning, and often makes it easy to recall information learned only when they are in that particular classroom at that time of day; they are not as able to apply the information in day-to-day life. When learning is done in context, people can much more easily recall and apply knowledge in new situations (transfer). Making real world connections isn’t telling students how the content they are studying is used in the “outside world.” It’s about students using the knowledge the way people use the knowledge outside of school. Effective strategies include finding community connections, giving students real work to do, and finding authentic audiences for work.

 

This model isn’t new material; it is a synthesis of what we’ve known about good learning for a long time. The model is comprehensive, developed from education research, learning theories, teaching craft, and the voices of underachieving students.

But it is important to keep in mind that students need some critical mass of these strategies to be motivated. Teachers sometimes get discouraged when they introduce a single strategy and it doesn’t seem to impact their students’ motivation. The trick then isn’t to give up, but rather to introduce more of the strategies.

 

It’s Your Turn:

What are your best strategies for motivating students?

 

5 Reasons to Avoid Rewards and Other Extrinsic Motivators

This is Part Two in a series on the complex issues surrounding extrinsic motivation.

I ended the last post with this paragraph:

The concern over counter-productive extrinsic motivation is that although they may get a student to participate in classroom activities, certain types of extrinsic motivation can interfere with optimal learning. Essentially, when students perform for grades or other rewards, they no longer perceive that their learning has intrinsic value.

Here are the 5 reasons why we should avoid extrinsic rewards.

Reason 1: It Has a Temporary Effect – In one representative study (Birch et al., 1984), young children were introduced to an unfamiliar beverage called “kefir.” Some were just asked to drink it; others were praised lavishly for doing so; a third group was promised treats if they drank enough. Those children who received either verbal or tangible rewards consumed more of the beverage than other children, as one might predict. This reminds me of when you have dry skin and scratch it. It feels wonderful for the first few seconds. But remember, it then quickly starts to hurt and be uncomfortable (but we keep doing it anyway, trying to get that initial great feeling back!).

Reason 2: It Kills Any Interest That Was There – A week after the initial kefir study, the children who received either verbal or tangible rewards found the drink significantly less appealing than they did before, whereas children who were offered no rewards liked it just as much as, if not more than, they had earlier. Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) found that an over-reliance on extrinsic rewards can squelch any pre-existing intrinsic interest, and diminish interest in doing the activity once the rewards are removed.

Reason 3: The Goal Shifts to the Reward – Preexisting interest is killed because the goal shifts from the intrinsic enjoyment of the activity to the reward. In one study, children who enjoyed playing basketball were given rewards for playing. Soon, however, when the rewards were stopped, the children didn’t want to play anymore. The goal of playing basketball shifted from having fun to getting the reward.

Reason 4: People Will Do The Minimum to Get the Reward – Kohn (1993) indicates that at least ten studies have shown that people offered a reward generally choose the easiest possible task. In the absence of rewards, by contrast, children are inclined to pick tasks that are just beyond their current levels of ability.

Reason 5: It Shuts Down Learning – At least two dozen studies have shown that people expecting to receive a reward for completing a task (or for doing it successfully) simply do not perform as well as those who expect nothing (Kohn, 1993). This effect is evident for young children, older children, and adults; for males and females; for rewards of all kinds; and for tasks ranging from memorizing facts to designing collages to solving problems. Lepper, Greene, and Nisbett (1973) found that an over-reliance on extrinsic rewards can damage the quality of work, impede the ability to be creative or to accomplish non-routine tasks. In general, the more cognitive sophistication and open-ended thinking that is required for a task, the worse people tend to do when they have been led to perform that task for a reward (Kohn, 1994).

These five reasons have got to be sufficient reason to avoid rewards! Why then, do we do them anyway? That will be the focus of my next post in this series on Extrinsic Rewards.

References:

Birch, L.L., Marlin, D.W., & Rotter, J. (1984). Eating as the ‘Means’ Activity in a Contingency: Effects on Young Children’s Food Preference. Child development 55(2, Apr): 431-439. EJ 303 231.

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Kohn, A. (1994). The Risks of Rewards. ERIC digest. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

Lepper, M. R., Greene, D., & Nisbett, R. (1973). Undermining children’s intrinsic interest with extrinsic reward: A test of the “over-justification” hypothesis. Journal of personality and social psychology, 28, 129-137.

Extrinsic Rewards – Productive or Counter-Productive – Part 1

A friend and colleague contacted me recently about his son’s school’s use of extrinsic motivators. He had been thinking about rewards and motivation and how they might impede learning, and wanted to know my thoughts on the subject. He wrote, “Rewards seem like an easy thing that so many teachers gravitate to… pizza parties, special days, treats, etc…”

Actually, the issue of extrinsic motivation is a pretty complex one, and I had no quick answer for my friend (of course, my stepson says I don’t have a short answer for anything!). So I promised him that I would blog about the topic. This will be the first of several posts over the next week or so.

Let’s start with a quick review of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation and a little about why this is an involved topic.

Teachers can do many things to try to make learning more intrinsically motivating for students. Tying into student interests and goals, as well as making learning interesting are all approaches to leveraging intrinsic motivation. As you can imagine, it is probably not practical to do this for every child all the time.

When the motivation comes from outside the student, when the student is required to do something, driven by the desire to receive some reward or avoid some sort of punishment (such as grades, stickers, or teacher approval), the student is extrinsically motivated.

The use of rewards, prizes, incentives, consequences, and punishments are certainly common practice in schools. And the work people do in the real world is often regulated by both intrinsic and extrinsic factors. People need to learn and do things that they may not find interesting or aligned with their goals. Some of the master painters have said that they do better work when they had a commission rather than when they were just working on there own.

Take educators as an example. At conferences, I often ask how many of the participants do better work when they have a deadline and many hands go up. Also, teachers confirm that they went into teaching partly because there is something about the profession they like and enjoy (perhaps they really love the content in their discipline, or maybe they really love working with young people and want to make a difference in their lives). But they took the job also because they have bills to pay, and that there are courses or parts of courses that they teach because their principal asked them to, or the state requires them to, not because teachers necessarily wanted to or find it interesting.

Extrinsic motivation has received a lot of bad press in both the popular educational literature and research journals. There is certainly evidence that a focus on punishments and rewards can be counterproductive to learning (Kohn, 1993, 1994).

How can this is true at the same time that people are guided daily by both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, and incentives and consequences are in widespread use in schools? No wonder there is a lot of confusion over whether extrinsic motivation is productive or counter-productive.

The answer is actually both more complex and simpler than that. There are different kinds of extrinsic motivation and each can either improve learning or shut it down.

The concern over counter-productive extrinsic motivation is that although they may get a student to participate in classroom activities, certain types of extrinsic motivation can interfere with optimal learning. Essentially, when students perform for grades or other rewards, they no longer perceive that their learning has intrinsic value.

Coming next: the reasons to avoid rewards.

References

Kohn, A. (1993). Punished by rewards: the trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A’s, praise, and other bribes. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Kohn, A. (1994). The Risks of Rewards. ERIC digest. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education.

Remembering Gordon Vars, One of the Grandfathers of Middle Level Education

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a couple of the people I consider to be the modern founders of middle level education. One of those is Gordon Vars, professor emeritus at Kent State University.

How I knew him was through his decades long work on “Core Curriculum.” This isn’t the way we mean “core curriculum” now. In fact, the irony is that the “new” meaning of core curriculum is the four “core” subjects. But the historic meaning of Core Curriculum is something more akin to curriculum integration, teaching students through activities that blend content from the various subjects. (One of my favorite analogies is when you order a pizza, they don’t put just sauce on 2 slices, just cheese on 2 slices, just pepperoni on 2 slices and just mushrooms on 2 slices. They put it all on every slice.)

Core Curriculum was used quite a bit in the first half of the 20th Century. In fact, Core Curriculum was studied pretty closely in the 30s and early 40s and was found to be significantly more effective than the separate subject approach, including for things that we have always assumed separate subject approach was better at, such as college preparation. These results were published as The Eight Year Study.

I think of Gordon Vars as the shepherd of Core Curriculum. As others reinvented it as Integrative Curriculum (including James Beane and Maine’s own Gert Nesin), Gordon reminded us of the historical foundations on which that work was based. He was a gentle man who was always willing to share his expertise and empower others to succeed.

Gordon Vars died Tuesday night (1/31/12) after being hit by a car while walking home from choir practice. He was 88. I feel honored to have known him and to have had the opportunity to have collaborated with him in a couple small ways. Core Curriculum and Integrative Curriculum have contributed greatly to my interest in motivation and contributed to the kind of educator I try to be today. Gordon will be greatly missed for his contributions to Core Curriculum, and to the Association for Middle Level Education.

(Cross posted at the Bright Futures blog and the Multiple Pathways blog.)


It’s Your Turn:

How will you remember Gordon Vars?

“What Version of PBL Will We Be Doing?”

Recently, I reflected for the Project-Based Learning In Action newsletter, sponsored by Project Foundry, on the time a teacher asked me, “What version of PBL will we be doing?” The question was full of judgement, and smacked of the subtext, “What version is best?”

I’m not sure one is better than another.  I think each “version” shares a common set of characteristics and the recipe you use to mix those characteristics defines the version.  And I believe that each version (that includes a quality implementation of these characteristics) brings value to different goals, needs, and contexts.

Read my original post here.

It’s Your Turn:

What “versions” of PBL do you use and what do you like about them?

Apple’s “Textbooks” Potential: Product Creation Tools for Students

Recently, I reflected on Apple’s education announcement about textbooks and my opinion of textbooks in general and how they are often used in schools. Although I’m a fan of teachers who use textbooks as one educational resource, my concern is that in far too many places the textbook IS the curriculum, and that textbooks are inadequate at and insufficient for helping students create meaning from knowledge.

Despite my concerns about how textbooks are sometimes (mis)used, I stated that I saw tremendous potential in Apple’s announcement of the iBooks Author Mac app and the iTunes U iPad app.  One of those areas of potential is as a product creation tool for students.

As I have hinted here, I don’t think a person really learns until they get the opportunity to use knowledge (read: “upper level Blooms”).  So, for me, one of the exciting opportunities from yesterday’s announcement was not that there was now a tool so publishers could create interactive textbooks, but rather that there was now a tool that would allow ANYONE to create interactive BOOKS! (Someone has already used iBooks Author to publish their comics.)

Now, students and teachers have one more tool for project-based learning.  Students have another choice at their disposal when they stop to think about what kind of product would they like to create to show others what they have learned and give them a chance to learn it too!


Imagine a class where the teacher breaks down the class into teams, each team taking responsibility for one chapter of their book (animals in an ecosystem; countries in the European Union; time periods in your state’s history, themes in a novel, etc.).  And within those teams, not only would they be responsible for researching the topic of their chapter, but for deciding what was important for others to know about it, and thinking about how they could best help others learn about each aspect (text, videos, interviews, demonstrations, interactive models, illustrations).  Of course, all this under the coaching of their teacher.

Eventually, the students and teacher would compile all the components in an audience-friendly format, publish, and share.  It could even be published to the iBookstore for others to buy.  Students don’t only get a chance to use knowledge, but they would have a real audience for their product.


What might that do to the level of student engagement?

It’s Your Turn:

How might you use iBooks Author with your students?