Monday, June 24, 2013

Kickstarter Campaign: Digital Badges for Afterschool & Summer

By Sam Piha

The Learning in Afterschool & Summer project is very excited about joining
Youtopia and Public Profit in developing a system that will allow afterschool and summer programs to recognize the advanced skills and valuable experiences that young people gain in their afterschool programs. This recognition can come using digital badges that young people can earn in their programs and share with peers, on college applications, and job resumes.

We created a Kickstarter campaign to help us raise money to develop and pilot a web-based badge system that others can use across California. You can learn more about our project and view our Kickstarter campaign by clicking here. Please help us spread the word by sharing this blog post with your networks! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

A Framework for Thinking and Learning

By Sam Piha

Sam Piha
Below, we have reposted an interview conducted by Marc Tucker with Kai-ming Cheng, Professor and Chair of Education and Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China. You can find the original post here. (This is an edited version of the full interview, which can be found here.) In this interview, Professor Cheng talks about the changing workplace and the needed change in how we educate children. His framework for thinking and learning is very much aligned with the Learning in Afterschool & Summer learning principles. 

Marc Tucker
Marc Tucker: In your essay, Learning and society in a post-industrial era, you describe the way the nature of work is changing in advanced industrial societies and how that is affecting the kinds of skills people now need.  How and when did that research begin? 

Kai-ming Cheng: I started my study of the workplace about 12 or 13 years ago by looking at the way work was organized at investment banks like Morgan Stanley in Hong Kong.  I found that the investment bankers work in small task forces and teams, just a few people — a one-stop shop.  In other organizations, these task forces are often called a deal team, an account team, a project team and so on.  These teams function semi-autonomously, with great freedom to respond to the quickly changing environment in which they work.  The team members bring different skills, knowledge and experience to the work and are expected to draw on one another constantly to get the work of the team done. 

Kai-ming Cheng
This is very different from the typical pyramidal structure in the traditional industrial company where you usually find a whole army of front line workers all of whom look upward in the pyramid, looking for close direction from their superiors.   In that structure, the expertise is above each worker in the pyramid, each worker operates only in a narrow sphere and the autonomy of each worker is very limited. 

The client is no longer expected to move around and be served by different department of the organization, nor is each department expected to face all clients.  Instead, the client is assigned a team whose job it is to meet that client's unique needs, needs that are constantly changing.  Those needs are often very complex and demand a holistic service by integrating all kinds of expertise on the part of the firm. This is happening more and more and in many workplace situations. 

MST: Tell us how this impacts the work that people do and what they have to know to do it.

KMC: In the pyramidal situation, typically the front line worker only needs to know how to follow instructions and what the procedures, rules or regulations are.  The workers don't have to design, run risks or face the clients directly, most of the time. They are protected by bureaucracy.  They are not liable for their mistakes as long as they follow procedures.  They are not at risk of facing any moral dilemmas or personality conflicts with clients.  But now, in small groups, even the frontline workers have to interact with clients, they have to solve problems and design, they have to run risks. 

MST: How are the changes in the workplace leading to the types of skills workers must have today?

KMC: Everybody has to share the same responsibilities such as brainstorming,
thinking of what to do next, working with others on a team, being creative all the time regardless of where you are and you have to constantly face ethical challenges and moral dilemmas, and you have to think outside the box, you have to run risks, you have to face changing networks and changing markets, and no one is doing the same thing all the time, you have to adapt to change on a daily basis. 

MST: Your paper presents a picture of an increasing distance between what educators are doing and what people actually need to function well in this world.  

KMC: Let me first give you the other story about the changes now taking place. Today, individuals may not do what they learn.  In [the past, people were] bound to organizations and occupations, in much the same way their predecessors were bound to the land and nature.  But now, that is all coming unglued.  Individuals are increasingly less bound to either organizations or occupations, but now they fall into insecurity and uncertainty.  More and more people in Hong Kong are freelancing and serving several companies at one time, or working in home offices.  A ballet dancer I know performs, teaches, designs for other people, invests in real estate, and joined an NGO to work on rural China.  So what kind of occupation is she really in?  More and more people will be working outside organizations and more and more people will have to create their own work. 

MST: What are the signs that the education system is still organized to produce people for a world that is actually disappearing before our eyes? 

KMC: The education system is trying to turn human beings into human resources according to the labor market pyramid, which unfortunately no longer exists.  We have to turn a system that has been organized to sort students out and instead organize it to make sure that virtually all students are very well educated.  Because of that, educators who are trained in the 20th century are perhaps not the best candidates for reformers.  They only know education as assisting a few instead of everybody.  This is the challenge.  If we think different people should be allowed to learn differently, how do we do it?

MST: You evidently believe that if we are going to enable people to cope with changes, we should focus less on the structure of the system and the resources it requires, and more on learning and the kinds of learning experiences people deserve.  Why is this true?  What does it mean to you? 

KMC: The system we have is based on credentials. What we do not focus on is what is actually learned at each stage of the structure, which brings about implications for life.  We need to move away from the focus on credentials.  It is certainly true that workers will have to have real expertise that is deep.  But that will no longer be enough.  There is no guarantee that what you have already learned will enable you to do well in the future.  At Morgan Stanley, they seldom appoint people in investment banking with financial, economic or accounting backgrounds.  Even the accounting companies like KPMG, are hiring people other than accountants.  Employers are looking at how well the candidates for their jobs will be able to cope with a very uncertain future, how fast they will be able to learn and what they will need to know. 

MST: You have developed a framework for thinking about learning.  Would you share it? 

KMC: I looked into the science of learning and realized there are five points that may summarize what learning is: 

  • Learning is meaning-making, that is, making sense of the world around us;
  • Learning is about construction of knowledge, rather than transmission of knowledge;
  • Learning is about experience, hence "learning by doing"—real life experience is the best learning;
  • Learning is about understanding and using knowledge—you can't claim understanding before you can successfully apply it in practice; and
  • People learn in groups.

I use these as guidelines to understand the education system.  It really matters whether we are giving students the kinds of learning experiences they deserve, whether the pedagogy is helping the student to be an active learner, and whether the assessments are helping students understand, experience and apply the knowledge, or whether we are simply testing how much students have stored in their brains.  I use these guidelines to determine which reforms are moving in the right direction and which ones are not. 

MST: What would schooling look like if it answered to that description?  What would a classroom look like? 

KMC: Central to this question is whether or not they are having real-life experiences.  If you put learning in context and make experiences central in the learning process, things would be very different, and students would learn not only more, but much more efficiently.

Marc S. Tucker (born 1939) is the president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. He is an internationally recognized expert on education reform and a leader in benchmarking the policies and practices of the countries with the best education systems in the world.

Kai-ming Cheng is Professor and Chair of Education and Senior Advisor to the Vice-Chancellor at the University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, China. As a member of China's State Advisory Committee on Curriculum Reform and of the Hong Kong Education Commission, Kai-ming has been instrumental in the education reforms taking place in Hong Kong and mainland China.  He is a member of the Center on Intentional Education Benchmarking (CIEB) advisory board. 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

16 Ways to Be Sure Your Kids Keep Learning Over Summer Break - A Recommended Article From One of Our Readers

We received the following message from one of our readers, Allen Miller. He stated:

"We at, wanted to let you know that we found your blog in one of our recent Google search & would love to share a recent published article '16 Ways to Be Sure Your Kids Keep Learning Over Summer Break' linked below and if liked by you, it could be a fun way to share this announcement with your readers.Either way, I hope you continue putting out great content through your blog. It has been a sincere pleasure to read."

Below is a portion of an article that Allen recommended. You can find the full article by clicking here.

16 Ways to Be Sure Your Kids Keep Learning Over Summer Break

Summer vacation is a time for fun in the sun and enjoying freedom from the drudgery of school in the minds of most children. Making sure that they retain some of the things they’ve learned over the school year and continuing to develop important skills during the dog days doesn’t have to be a chore, even though it can seem daunting. These 16 tips will ensure that your youngsters keep learning, even when they’re not in a classroom.

  1. Cook Together – Kids can make a mess in the kitchen, but they can also gain practical mathematic knowledge from the experience. Encourage your kids to handle the measurements when you prepare a favorite recipe, work on doubling or halving the yield and focus on the basic chemistry of baking.
  2. Shop as a Family – A trip to the store with all of your kids in tow might not be flirting with disaster, as long as you get them involved in the process. Compare prices, talk about unit pricing and how buying more of an item might be cheaper and work on the percentages during retail sales. When your kids are involved, there’s no room for the boredom that can lead to misbehavior.
  3. Take Advantage of Community Programs – Many community centers offer summer classes and workshops designed specifically to help kids retain knowledge over the break in fun, exciting ways. Do a bit of research to see what’s available in your area!
  4. Explore Animal Life – Visiting a full-size zoo, a petting zoo or even a local farm can put your kids in touch with animals, helping them learn more about the life sciences while keeping them entertained.
  5. Limit Screen Time – Educational videos and software might teach your kids a thing or two, but they also encourage the kind of sedentary lifestyle that leads to childhood obesity and all the related health problems. Video games and television with no educational merit steal time that your kids could be using to actively pursue new knowledge. Putting realistic limits on screen time will help you encourage kids to keep learning while also being active.
  6. Encourage Summer Reading – There’s a reason why so many schools used to have summer reading lists. Take advantage of your local library or make regular visits to the bookstore to keep your kids stocked with books so they can sharpen their reading and comprehension skills.
  7. Choose Vacation Destinations With Educational Value – Summer break is often a time for family vacations, which can be great learning opportunities if you choose the destination wisely. Instead of spending a week at an amusement park or resort, why not explore sites of historical significance?
  8. Put Kids in Charge of Navigation – In a world where technology is king, kids that have been raised with GPS systems in every pocket may not have the slightest idea of how to actually read a map. Invest in an atlas and plan an imaginary road trip with your child as the navigator. He’ll be so wrapped up in his fantasy vacation that he may not even realize that he’s learning something new!
  9. Spend Evenings Stargazing – If you live in an area with a relatively low level of light pollution, take advantage of the warm summer nights by stargazing as a family. Point out constellations and learn more about the stars together.
  10. Explore Nature – One great thing about the long, sunny days of summer is that going outside to get up close and personal with nature doesn’t require a heavy coat and mittens that can make little hands a bit clumsy. Slather on the sunscreen and reinforce natural science lessons by exploring the great outdoors.
To read the full article, click here.

Reed Larson’s Research on Youth Development

Source: Reed Larson, The Youth Development Experience Kate Walker By Guest Blogger Kate Walker, Extension Specialist, Youth Development, Uni...