Category Archives: Books

Trend Spotting: The Evolving Role of Museums in Education

On the Horizon, an international journal that explores emerging issues as technology changes the nature of education and learning, has released a concept paper titled, Museums and the Future of Education. Co-authored by Scott Kratz, vice president for education at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and Elizabeth Merritt, founding director of the Center for the Future of Museums, the paper explores the vibrant role that museums could play should education experience a profound shift from traditional teacher- and school-centered models to more informal, personalized, “passion-based” models.

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Quiet in the classroom

Vicki quiet in classroom blogImagine being 13 years old and having a social studies class in which you and your classmates learn cooperatively 100 percent of the time, and no one ever works alone… ever. Depending on your personality, this could be your favorite class or your worst nightmare.

This was the learning environment one teacher created for his students after attending a professional development seminar on the benefits of cooperative learning. Upon returning to the school, he physically made over his classroom, creating stations for small groups of students to work together every single day.

Perhaps he was so inspired by a dynamic instructor that he couldn’t resist converting to a new teaching approach; perhaps he viewed it as a way not to have to deal with the time-consuming planning that good teaching often requires; or he may have viewed it simply as a fail-proof way for students to learn. Whatever his instructional motivations, it most likely was the way he himself preferred to learn. However, it was not the preference of at least one of his students, who began to dread attending his class and, as a result, learned very little social studies that year.

An insight as to why and how some students choose to opt out of cooperative learning is revealed in Susan Cain’s book Quiet, which posits that our culture, in general, and our schools, in particular, undervalue certain types of individuals, specifically, introverts. She contends that the focus on group learning in schools ignores the needs of students who not only dislike working in group settings but actually don’t learn in them. Instead, they learn best when they work individually, usually through reading, writing, and reflecting.

In McREL’s Classroom Instruction That Works, Second Edition, the authors write that learning to collaborate and cooperate is a good foundation for future success in a world that demands high levels of social interaction. When used consistently (but not daily) and systematically (but not rigidly), cooperative learning structures provide opportunities for students to interact, take on specific roles, and listen actively to others’ ideas. But cooperative learning is not necessarily the basis for thinking or problem solving; that level of understanding often occurs when students are allowed to think and wonder on their own.

Cain writes that introverts represent one-third to one-half of all Americans; naturally, the same percentage exists in classrooms. For students possessing this personality trait, a steady stream of external stimuli is exactly the opposite of their ideal learning environment. And taken to the extreme—where students even take tests with a partner, possibly because teachers think it will reduce student anxiety (and new brain research suggests it sometimes does)—the practice gets in the way of learning.

More than two years ago, McREL Senior Researcher Charles Igel wrote on this blog that, while group learning had become as ubiquitous to modern instruction as rote recitation was during the last century,  many teachers were still confused about how to use it effectively. In a recent article, he explains that the early researchers of cooperative learning realized that just putting people into groups and having them learn together was not enough to improve learning. Cooperative learning is a subset of collaborative learning, and is different because it is highly structured and contains certain identifiable elements to foster the upside of social learning (i.e., engagement and high achievement) while avoiding the downside (i.e., uneven effort and outcomes). The research supports that when teachers use cooperative learning properly, they are more likely to reengage students who have become marginalized while preparing all students to be successful in their future endeavors.

Which brings us back to the over-zealous middle-school teacher, who, had he not taken his efforts to the extreme, might have created an environment where students learn to think on their own. We must acknowledge the possibility that when students seek solitude to “do their own thing,” they aren’t necessarily refusing to play well with others; rather, they may be following their natural tendencies to seek out an environment that frees them to learn their way.

Listen to Susan Cain’s TED Talk, “The Power of Introverts.

Saying no to fads—in dieting and education reform

Simply Better: What Matters Most to Change the Odds for Student Success offers not a new “fad diet” for education, but rather the education reform equivalent of a “healthy lifestyle”—those things that decades of research says are most likely to have a big effect on student achievement.

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McREL’s Elizabeth Hubbell on “critical uncertainties”

What does “school reform” mean to you? To some, it means complete reinvention of our school system; to others, it means taking what already works and building on that. What will actually unfold in the coming years is one of the “critical uncertainties” of the future of education, as Principal Consultant Elizabeth Hubbell, co-author of Using Technology with Classroom Instruction That Works and The Future of Schooling, explained to Solution Tree at the ISTE Conference in June.

The Future of Schooling looks at four possible scenarios for education in 2020, including school reform and the role of standards, and how those scenarios affect the role of teachers. Here, as part of Solution Tree’s AuthorSpeak series, Hubbell talks about the book and how McREL first became interested in scenario planning.


Get more information on The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020.

New review of McREL’s The Future of Schooling

Dave Orphal, over at the Learning 2030 blog, offers this nice review of McREL’s latest book, The Future of Schooling.

In his review, Orphal praises the book for its timeliness. He notes, for example, that one of the critical uncertainties identified in the book—whether the outcomes of education will be standardized or differentiated—is currently playing out in the “movement to national common core standards” being countered by critiques from “Sir Ken Robinson and Daniel Pink who argue that standardization is exactly the wrong direction to go.”

Orphal also praises the book for its balanced view on these issues, noting that the authors take “great pains to not reveal where they stand in some of the hottest educational debates raging the country.” He adds, “Neither pro-Rhee nor pro-union; neither pro-testing nor pro-authentic assessment; neither pro-charter nor anti-charter, there is plenty in this book to anger every side of our overly partisan educational reform circles.”

Our intent is not to anger anyone. Rather, it’s to provoke thinking about what the future may hold, to move people out of their comfort zones so that they can begin to prepare themselves for what may lie ahead. As we write in the book, “Some of these potential futures may capitvate and energize you; others may dishearten and frigthen you. Some may do all of the above. That’s the point.”

Read Orphal’s entire review here.

Move over technology, make room for liberal arts

Americans always have been obsessed with time. In his book, Faster: The Acceleration of Just about Everything, James Gleick wrote over a decades ago that American society was moving ever-faster forward toward a pace that is so accelerated, we can’t slow down enough to realize it isn’t working. We are not saving time, using time more wisely, or creating more leisure time (although we like to think we are); we are just doing everything faster. And as author Nicolas Carr asserts in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, technology and other advancements are now crowding out time we might otherwise spend in prolonged, focused concentration. Carr writes that our increased dexterity with technology comes at the loss of our ability to spend time in reflective thinking, thus producing a country of shallow thinkers, which is a very scary thought, when you really think about it.

And that is why this recent headline in The Denver Post was so striking: “It’s old school—and it’s the future.” The article profiles Thomas MacLaren School in Colorado Springs, where single-sex classes, Latin classes, and reading the classics are the norm. All of the school’s 110 students follow the same liberal arts curriculum, including learning how to play a stringed instrument. This is not an elite school, curriculum, or group of students. One-third of students are on free or reduced lunch, and one-third belongs to a minority group. School leaders say they simply aim to attract and keep students for whom the curriculum and approach is a good fit.

Similarly, educator Mike Schmoker’s new book, Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning, calls for a return to the essentials of providing students opportunities to engage in authentic literacy practices. This, too, sounds “old school,” but it’s hard to believe that today’s generation will be ready to lead globally until it has mastered the skills we most often need and use—not the ability to multi-task, but the ability to read widely, think deeply, and question courageously.

Read about China’s entry into the liberal arts arena here:

Can we predict the future of education?

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” ~ Yogi Berra.

Clearly, change is in the air these days in education, whether we’re Waiting for Superman, racing to the top, dotting our three i’s, or wondering how tea party politics may change the face of Washington.

In light of all these changes and uncertainties, the question on many minds is likely, where is it all leading?

The most truthful answer anyone can give to that question is this one: nobody knows for sure.

It’s simply not possible to predict how all of these various trends will come together to shape a new future. That doesn’t mean, though, that we can’t prepare ourselves for it. The trick is to consider multiple, alternative futures and begin to envision how we—or our districts, schools, or students—might flourish in each.

In a new book from McREL to be released this month by Solution Tree Press, we analyze current and emerging trends in a wide array of areas, including politics, the economy, technology, and society. After analyzing these trends, we offer, not a prediction of the future, but four, very different scenarios for what the future may hold.

The scenarios in the book, titled The Future of Schooling: Educating America in 2020, are designed to provoke readers to ponder many “what if,” questions, including:

  • What if the current, multibillion-dollar federal investment in education succeeds in identifying and scaling up numerous innovations that transform schooling as we know it?
  • What if, on the other hand, investing billions of new dollars fails to create dramatic improvements in education? Will the public continue to support public schools as we know them?
  • What if online learning becomes as commonplace in the schools of tomorrow as chalkboards were in the schools of yesterday?
  • What if technology allows students to proceed at their own pace along individualized pathways, measuring their progress in real time at each step of the way?
  • What if the world’s best teachers are able to broadcast their lessons to thousands of students each day?

The reality is that the world of education is changing rapidly. While we don’t know exactly what lies ahead, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the world standing still and education in 10 years looking exactly the same as it does today.

The good news is that when confronted with this uncertainty, we don’t have to throw up our hands in hopeless desperation (or stick our heads in the sand). Rather, we can begin preparing today for what tomorrow may bring.

Learn more or purchase a copy of the book on the McREL website here.

Bryan Goodwin is McREL’s Vice President of Communications and Marketing.