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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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Education

It’s a Movement!

I am surrounded by a fantastic community of innovative teachers. All are looking for ways to innovate, excite, do things differently, connect and share. It is the most active community I have participated in, and we’re not looking at a single Facebook group – but several.
Here are some interesting discussions randomly picked from today’s Facebook feed:

“I would like to open the new school year with an activity based on a song, video clip or fun presentation – for EFL (English as a Foreign Language) for 7th-8th grade students. Recommendations?”

“This is my first year as a teacher in high school. I will be teaching Math. I am so excited and need help – where do I start? Where can I find relevant materials?”

“Hi guys  Can anyone recommend apps or websites to do online tests ??”

“Hi all! I’m starting a new job in a couple of weeks and am looking for any ice-breaker strategies you may have for Year 10 and Year 11 students? They were very loyal to their last teacher so I think I might have a struggle! Thanks all.”

“Teachers, here’s a guide for printing a full size poster on your home printer!” (Link in Hebrew).

“metacognition of writing skills : Using https://www.nomoremarking.com/…students compare each others’ work anonymously….some results are very surprising. All you do as a teacher is upload pieces of writing in the system. Students then judge 2 pieces of work at a time and choose which is the best one, and repeat for the next 2 pieces etc… you can add your own model text to ensure they are exposed to an excellent piece. The idea is they discuss what makes a good piece.. I used it with introductions when teaching essay writing, we were surprised to see that the best one didn’t come from our usual best students..you can analyse results, collect data to instruct following teaching…try it! it’s free! and very user friendly 

“Is “drilling” good practice in class? Teacher gives correct answer, pupils repeat as group, individuals repeat, group reinforces whenever the non verbal signal Is given. It was standard practice in Wales, when I trained, but does it aid progress because it helps more naturally inhibited pupils or is it too Pavlovian a practice? I don’t use it much, but significantly some pupils do It automatically. Comments?”

“Hi all, wondering whether anyone has put together a levels grid which encapsulates all 4 core skills? Trying to create something that we can work with effectively in department to replace in part the old national curriculum levels.”

This could go on and on… My point:

This international, cross border communications, advice, sharing, exchanging views and experience is giving a HUGE push to the profession of teaching. Teachers who participate are exposed not only to their own questions or findings, but to infinite amounts of unexpected knowledge and information.

This is SO exciting!!

Still, the majority of teachers in our schools are still left behind when it concerned online communications and social networks. While the connected teachers leap forward and bring the whole concept of teaching into a new era, those who don’t share, who play their cards close to their chest cannot see beyond and into the horizon.

I often meet educators who say “why should I share something I worked on?” – and the answer is simply the whole is bigger and better than its parts – share one and you will gain access to shared works of thousands. It will help you create better materials, it will empower your work and fire your inspiration.

Be a part of this movement to hack education, make it into a new living breathing creature of society.

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1st Teaching Year Ends

I had no idea I would feel this way. My first year as a teacher ended and I had to say goodbye to my students, my beloved students, because next year I will be teaching in another school. I waited until the very last day to tell them. Their reaction took me by surprise. Boys and girls, 7th grade who came to hug me, or at least shake my hand. Kids telling me they are sorry I won’t teach them next year, and students saying “thank you, you really helped me this year”. One of my students said to me: “Or-Tal, I can tell you this much: if you succeeded in teaching me, you will succeed in teaching anyone”. Which was really moving. I didn’t expect that.
Over the last couple of weeks of the school year it was getting harder and mostly pointless teaching regularly. So, like most teacher I used movies and games during class.

On the last lesson I decided to go for a “BreakoutEdu” concept.

I prepared my box, with 6 locks, with a “treasure” hidden inside, and the riddles and puzzles were a revision on a year’s learning. The students were thrilled to do it. I had them run for clues around the school and school yard and busy solving grammar exercises on their very last lesson of the year.
The treasure chest held mock “flight tickets”, from 7th grade to 8th grade, and a personal “what to pack” list I prepared for each of the students. Ranging from “your sense of humor” to “patience” and more.
I gave the students my email, saying they can always contact me for help, and I am happy to say that about 15% already did that. I just love my students!

Frustration: class contract breached

My greatest frustration is this group of 8th graders who suffer from various learning disabilities.

I know that they CAN learn. I have proved it to them by teaching them all sorts of little things. But here we are, 7 out of 10 months passed, and except for one student, nothing is built. No confidence is created. No motivation. Not a hint of belief that they can cope with learning English.

What do you do with such a group? frus

On the one hand, this group is their only chance. In a regular class they will disappear and won’t get a chance. But on the other hand, when in a group of under-motivated, students, who really don’t want to study and have a negative attitude, the group fortifies their behavior.

Personalized learning, which is an approach I like, cannot make it through such a negative attitude. This is not about how much they are willing to invest in their studies or which way of learning will suit them better. We are not there yet. The important preliminary step is to form the very basic agreement, without which learning cannot happen. It’s a contract between a learner and a teacher:

I am here to learn.

I am here to teach.

The fact is, those who are in my classroom to learn – do. And those who are not there to learn – are not learning. They might seem to be in it when we’re using the computer, but they are only there for a minimal fun and then switch to YouTube or other unauthorized activities and if caught, then immediately they have to go to the bathroom. Right?

It doesn’t really matter what their learning disability is. On my end I am willing to work with any difficulty. I invite them to share their frustration. To ask for help. I encourage them by observing their strong spots. Every child is unique, every child is a whole world of opportunities.

But despite my best efforts – the whole classroom environment doesn’t work. Not for them.

I feel humbled by an urgent need to learn. So much more to learn.

The Challenged Students Venture

Diagnosed or not, struggling students are a challenge and lucky for them I am an entrepreneur. What does one have to do with the other?

Good teachers are entrepreneurs, or at least they use entrepreneurial skills and thinking in their work.

Each lesson must include features that are aimed at recognizing a specific challenge, and hopefully discover a way towards a solution. Each lesson feels like a brand new entrepreneurial endeavor.

We teach a class of students, but each individual poses a different challenge. Very often you have to come up with solutions no one has ever thought about. Sometimes the solutions you reach have been reached by other teachers, somewhere around the world. Each solution may present a scalable feature in global terms. Unfortunately networking and knowledge of these ideas are not easily reached. Even in the online communities, information can hardly be searched for.

How about a startup, a platform gathering all this amazing knowledge and making it searchable by challenge? Having known the startup world quite well, I am sad to say, this is one startup that can really change the educational world, but this type of startups aren’t very popular, since the financial profitability is very questionable.

Not the social profitability. There’s no question there. So how should potential investors look at such a venture? Which type of investors should look at it? And through which lens?

invest-in-future

 

 

Classroom WIKI Review, or: The Startup Nation’s Tech Denial in School

When everybody around me complemented me on my ideas about technology and games in the classroom I thought they were exaggerating. Which kid wouldn’t just love to be able to use their cellphone in class?  Wouldn’t they prefer to get email reminders over forgetting their homework? Not to mention – online exercises, where you can immediately know if you got it right or not. And these are the simple ones.

To my great disappointment the 7th and 8th graders I am teaching, at least most of them, do not embrace technology at all. In fact, the whole “extra via technology” is perceived as a burden rather than a luxury.

These kids are heavy users of Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram and Youtube. Ask them to check their emails, yes, this tiny little envelope at the corner of their smartphone and they look at you as if you’re talking gibberish.

I found it amusing that they thought email was simply outdated. The old people’s way of communications. They refused to understand why I do not want to Whatsapp with them (one dad recently told the teachers at school that his daughter received 500 messages in 2 hours her phone was taken from her, most of them were variation on “ha ha”…).

So, there goes my super enthusiastic plan to award my students with a package of some new learning tools.

But that’s not all: I was looking for a platform to create a class wiki. A private online space where I can give assignments and the students can submit and also ask for help and get it. I got stuck at the passwords stage. Every week I needed to reset several passwords. In the cases where the students registered themselves and I couldn’t reset, I had to create new accounts… It was a mess.2
I have to admit, both platform I tried – PBWORKS
and WIKISPACES were problematic for other reasons too. PBWORKS page design is horrid. The navigation is troubling. The text editing is annoying (you have to use “save”). PBWORKS offers a great feature that shows when your students visited your wiki. I was happy about it until I realized it didn’t register the visits correctly. A students who only visited once at the very beginning showed up as logged in yesterday, while the one who logged in yesterday, or even now in class, didn’t register at all. Wikispaces doesn’t offer this feature at all.

1Wikispaces is nicer to look at. Less messy. I love that you can create project spaces for your students. However, it doesn’t support Hebrew well enough (right to left texts). And since I always have to translate my posts – it didn’t look good to write an RTL text when it is aligned to the left. Lines got mixed and texts misunderstood.

The students were reluctant to use the new tool. Some “got it”, like this student who missed class and asked if the lesson summary will be on the wiki later. But they were few. Realizing  this is a one-way tool, I switched to “WIX” and created a classroom website with a blog, in which I post my announcements and tools. Wix is currently the fastest and simplest platform for creating your website. It has plenty of really nice designs. I don’t like that you have to log in the website editor and from there to the blog, such a long and tedious way. If I notice a typo I can’t click “edit” like in wordpress and jump right into the blog post. The comments feature is also not the best. But, it still was the fastest to produce and simplest to maintain.

Still, going back to the headline: I teach in Herzliya, which holds perhaps the highest concentration of high tech companies in Israel. I would have thought tech in school would bring at least some interest if not satisfaction. I was surprised to discover how uneasy the kids are with learning a new technological tool (email, web browsing). But even more surprised to realize parents think it is more important to spare their kids the new task then to award them with new learning tools.

I can’t help wondering where is our little “startup nation” headed. Entrepreneurship flourished here when people had to cope with going out of their comfort zone. Keep the box padded, and no one will think out of it.

 

Building a Better Dinosaur, or: Trying too Hard

I might be over enthusiastic about my entry ticket into the classroom. I could hold really simple and predictable lessons using the text book, work book and teacher’s guide book. Go from page to page, give homework from the workbook and play around everybody’s comfort zone.
It’s either I am a “broken new teacher” or the system is much more broken than I had thought. dino

I want to innovate. I am there to teach English as a second language, but I insist on teaching my students the language of learning. A language that forces them to work with a variety of tools. All these 12-13 year old kids who think they know it all if the have an instagram account, but are having trouble composing an email, copying a URL, exercising log in. Am I trying too hard when I demand they use more than their notebooks to learn?

I know my fellow innovative teachers around the world might be wondering what is this all about. But the truth is, if these students get to middle school knowing only one kind of learning, and their parents know only one kind of learning, and most of the teachers in the middle school continue expertly in this one type of learning – then dragging my single class into “more than the text book” – is considered a harassment. An annoyance.

I need to ask myself am I trying too hard for my own good. If I only need to survive this year than I’d better stick with the simple tools. These lessons go very well. They are not confusing. They are not even boring. And I know I should master walking before starting to run, right? But, my main concern is that they don’t develop a learner. But perhaps this isn’t my job – to turn my students into learners. I am only expected and required to teach English.

I’ve been spending hours per week on maintaining a WIKI to support my ESL class. I add a class summary after every day I teach, and detailed homework assignments, with supporting links and files. Wouldn’t it be so much simpler to stick with the regular stuff?

I am also a great believer in the power of games in the classroom. Should I even bother with it? If all environment, including the students themselves and their parents, want to stick to the simple conventions, where is the place for innovation? Should I fight for the future of education, or let the past and present win?

Communications is KEY, in the classroom too

So I took this expertise I have – communications – and simply applied it to the classroom. We live in the “age of communications”. How we communicate is a big deal. I really wanted to speak about my  concept of education through communications at the conference this week in Boston, lead by The Communications Guy – Jeff Pulver. But I am teaching now. No time off.

Communications is key, yet in most classrooms it’s still the same hundreds-years-old model of one teacher “communicating to” many students. The blackboard was the first edtech which improved the communications in the classroom. Not to be confused with the 20th century’s whiteboard, or the later smart-board. Or so many other technology solutions aimed at marching the classroom communications forward.

But really, communications is first and foremost a listening-speaking-listening cycle. And while we often ask students to listen, we’re not coached to listen to the students (other then when they are tested). And there’s a lot to listen to.

I started this year with a “Getting to know you” questionnaire. It’s amazing how much head start you get when you open the year with this. I teach 7th and 8th graders English as a Second language. Being a country of immigrants, for some this is the 3rd or even 4th language – which was another important questions to answer. And that’s just one example.

I received information about the students from their homeroom teachers, and continued to take a look at those open and unprotected Facebook profiles. When the group of students who are into racing cars received from me an assignment about a teen racing driver they were surprised and pleased. When the artist was asked to use her special skills in designing flash cards she was thrilled that someone has noticed here talent. I learned that one of the students, who is a recent immigrant from Russia, has a dream: to learn programming. So I asked him and a classmate who also stated an interest in high tech to do the Codemonkey programming game in class. This got him totally devoted and also earned the respect of his classmates, who bothered for the first time to communicate with him.

It’s not easy to get through to all kids. Some are still a mystery to me. So I try to get them to talk with me for a minute or two in between classes or assignments. I will win them over eventually. I must. The thing is, what I need to teach them has nothing to do with the process I am into at this stage. This is all about communications. And it’s much deeper than the transfer of knowledge.

I think the main surprise so far was the shock of my students when I insisted on developing other digital communications channels in favor of learning. Other than Whatsapp that is.

My 7th graders seemed to think that email is old-fashioned and not needed. The class wiki, where I post the class summary, homework, links and files, is a burden to them. And while they all where extremely enthusiastic about joining the Classcraft game – only about a quarter of the students bothered to login and create their character in the past 10 days since they received their invitation. They don’t open their email, so they didn’t see the invitation. Only half of the class logged in the wiki to see the links and invitations there, the fact is not even all of those got into Classcraft. Several kids forgot their passwords – some of them learned the process of retrieving a password. Others didn’t get that idea. They seem over confident about their mastery of technology – yet this extremely simple actions are beyond them. And don’t even get me started on things like Google Docs…

I find that preparing them to properly communicate in all these channels is an essential part of their education. Since most tools are in English – I dared to add it to their English class. But then, what about the English curriculum? Looks like even these declared young innovators prefer the old ways when it comes to the classroom. The new is scary. I have a long long way to go.

 

First Steps in the Classroom

Bringing TONS of knowledge into the classroom the feeling I have today, after I have been teaching my middle schoolers for 2 weeks is of gratitude. I am grateful for the dialog created between me and my students. Needless to say I am grateful to the Principal for taking a chance on me. After all, teaching teachers isn’t the same as teaching kids.
Those are now “my kids”. I have 10 8th graders in a special educational needs group, and almost 40 7th graders in a regular heterogenic classroom.
These past 2 weeks, formally known as 16 periods per class, were dedicated to getting to know the students and developing what I consider the basis for further learning – their online communications skills.
I decided I need to make sure that every student has an email address first of all. There’s a general feeling among these young kids that they know everything about technology, and that they certainly know better, and that anything we teachers bring in – must be out dated. Well sorry: Whatsapp cannot replace email. Na ah.
And then – WIKIS – a class portal for them to catch up and follow on homework and never ever say that they didn’t have time to copy from the board or other lame excuses.
And opening a PDF in your mobile phone.
And registering to a service (well, the WIKI) and know how to confirm your registration.
Sure, when you go out your adult life you might go into a reality where all you have to do to access anything is scan your iris, but until then – know your environment and know how to learn to work with your environment, whatever it may be.
Learning how to learn is the core business of education. Or at least it should be.14-09-2016-20-08-12

But back to saying thanks today: Two of my quietest students in the special class shined today. They became involved and felt comfortable. Acceptance was in the air. And it felt great. And there’s no other way to describe this feeling: just that I think being a teacher is by far the most amazing job possible.

Baby steps towards the classroom

In 2 weeks I will begin a new career as an English teacher at a middle school in Hertzliya. That is ESL or English as a Second Language teaching. I am going to teach 7th and 8th grade and I’ve spent the past weeks and probably the coming 2 also in planning and preparing for this school year.

I started just collecting resources and recommendations into my bookmarks. As I received the books chosen by the school for these classes I started to study them hoping to get a better idea of what is expected of me: what am I supposed to achieve with my students.

The books, by the leading ESL publishing house in Israel, ECB, are designed well for teachers. I received the student’s practice book and the teacher’s guide and a CD with tests.

The books are divided in 6 units. Each unit provides reading segments, listening exercises, writing tasks, vocabulary enrichment and so on. The teacher’s guide is actually telling teachers what to do around the contents of the text books. Most teachers just love it. Why re-invent an original lesson plan when the book lays it out for free?

But I am actually struggling. This structural thinking simply doesn’t sit well with my entrepreneurial history, which goes back to my own days at school. I need to know what is the purpose, what is the goal, what is the knowledge we’re trying to gain here, skills and habits. And let me build the contents and class exercises according to the individuals I will meet in my class.

Obviously, being a brand new teacher (who’s only starting to study for her teaching degree) I am taking a huge risk by not following the safe path. Could a rebellious me be a teacher? Can I actually take the one less traveled by?

My T Club Membership

I’ve been accepted into this select club. I feel honored. This coming September I am officially one of the members of the Teachers’ Club. I felt like a guest over this past year, and just circled around before that. But this coming school year I am going to be the English teacher of 7th and 8th grade at a middle school in Herzlia. An official member.

It’s kind of hard to explain this to people from outside the education circle. Actually, some people who have been members of this club for years are not aware of how exclusive it is. How closed and powerful, or how empowering it can be.tclubt

I always thought that being a teacher is one of the most powerful jobs there are. But recently one of my business networking friend heard the news and commented: “What brought you down to teaching?”.

And I was shocked.

Brought me “down“?

Do you know how brave one should be to become a teacher? Do you realize how strong one should be to face a classroom full of students day after day? And for me, a long time entrepreneur, I will need all of my entrepreneurial skills to reach each and every student and help each one overcome their own challenge. So glad I am an entrepreneur.

But for my friend a “teacher” is scaled somewhere well below a manager or entrepreneur or a a business consultant or a journalist. All of these – I’ve done. And now, and only now, have I gathered enough confidence, bravery, experience and knowledge to dare step into a classroom.

Not going to be an easy journey. I still feel like my membership is pending. But am daily grateful for the new and exciting members I am connecting with in this club.

See you dare. And thank you, Taylor Mali, for putting it so eloquently!

 

 

An Education Being

Wow. It’s been a very long time since I last posted. Muses were too busy learning new things. If you’d ask me what is the most important factor in any place I am committed to, as a work place or any venture I am assisting – it’s definitely being able to learn. Facing the new horizons challenges.

For the past several months I have assumed the role of an educator, working with The Institute for Democratic Education (IDE) in several Tel Aviv high school on innovative education, specifically introducing PBL – project based learning. Apparently sharing my knowledge is yet another passion I have always had. Only it took various forms across a diversified career.

Now it’s time for the entrepreneurial bug to kick in again. Taking a long and hard look at several education systems I realize that one of the things they have in common is grades. And tests. And final exams, under various names and titles. The other things they share is a diversity of students. This usually includes a group of self motivated curious  and self learnering students who are being slowed down, almost suffocated, when forced into this frame of grades and tests.dumbdown

I believe a school can accommodate the self learning students, in a way that will allow them to acquire education in a social environment of their peers, but without the limits, constraints and waste of time required by tests and grades.

One of the main things this school should present is the connection to the real world, community, both business and academic, and allow the students to try many directions at this fantastic age of high school, well before they’re into a selected degree or career. This obviously has to include free access to universities and their willing participation.

I am still exploring various models that already exist around the world and will be happy to learn about more innovative school models. Let me know about them.

#EdGames : Where Ed Meet Games And Gamers meet Educators

I’ve been toying between the education and games worlds for ever. Really, it’s been years. At the risk of sounding ridiculous – I always played games. And I’ve always learned. Education is probably the later of them all. Had to become a parent to an education-system child to really get into it. But it wasn’t until I saw the conflict in my kids’ lives, between their own passionate interest in both learning and playing games that I realized – these two should go together.

It was about 7 or 8 years ago that my eldest child, a student today, played Maple Story with her classmates. The summer vacation brought it to new heights. They all used English of course, not their mother tongue, to chat with other players and trade goods – and I observed how much they have learned through this process. Maple Story was never designed with education in mind. No ESL thoughts.

During these years I’ve designed an MMO (massively multiplayer online game) twice. But before, during and after I spent tons of time just studying about both game design and education: innovation in education, technology in education, new methodologies, different pedagogic approaches, types of learners, learning disabilities and difficulties, challenging students, classes and learning environments,  different teachers – with teachers needs, abilities, limitations and dreams. I’ve connected with teachers all over the world: US, Canada, Brazil, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Romania, France, the UK, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Germany, Holland, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Greece, Spain – need I go on? There’s one thing in common to all the teachers in my constantly expanding network: they are teachers because they want to teach, and they do no settle for dreaming on improving or changing education – they are actually doing the change, pursuing innovation.

 

There’s an interesting thing that has happened to my game designer friends during the same several years. Lots of them have grown up and mainly became parents. Suddenly – they are also exposed to the urgent need to make something for it, to change, to affect.

I couldn’t be happier standing here right in the crossroad of these two innovative communities. Now I am doing my little thing: I founded #EdGames Meetup, which is designed to be the meeting place between teachers and game designers. Education professionals, and programmers, designers, animators and gamers. It’s an interesting cross and an important one. Too many game designers attempt to create games for education without understanding needs or constraints of the systems and audiences they design for. And too many educators convince themselves they are using games in the classroom when in fact they barely understand true gamification the way it works today. This conversation, this meeting place, is essential if we want to grow and expand the use of games in education and the surrounding industries. It is a challenge, however, to create a meeting place between communities who differ so much from each other. I am lucky to have partnered with the local Game Designers Association, GameIS, where I chair the education committee, and am looking for their support in bringing this new concept to Israel’s game designers.

I started it here, in Israel. I hope to grow it across the world and have more #EdGames meetups all over the world. In the meantime, I announce our monthly meetings here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/edtechIS/ and twit under #EdGames and #GBL. You are welcome to join the conversation.

What do you want to do when you grow up?

And how can I, your mother, help you achieve it?
I’ve been toying with this discussion for the past couple of weeks, after being approached by one of the TV networks, who’re doing a series of reports on the topic. Tying education to it all brought them to my doorstep.

So I asked my kids this very important question. The 16 year old said “I want to eat”. A very typical answer from a 16 year old, who just wants to… well, eat. The 12 year old said “I haven’t got a clue”. The 19 year old said what she has always said “I want to be a physicist” which in her case means a lot more than a single occupation.

So what’s my role in their future? To open as many options as possible before them.
2008Feb-whales-sharks
Going a little deeper into the conversation, the 12 year old admitted he wants to save whales and other endangered species. Something he has been talking about since he was 4 years old. The 16 year old expanded to “I want to be happy” and then said that currently the 3 most important and enjoyable areas in his life are music, games and food and “I’d like to develop some concept venture to put all those together into the best hanging out place in the world”. And my oldest, in between tests and studies she’s developing at least 2 startup ideas, following the previous venture, Globalvert, an organization to push forward the study of Algae as an alternative energy source.

What we all have in common is entrepreneurship. The urge to solve, innovate, create.

Several months ago I met with a wonderful entrepreneur and a business man. After sharing his rather apocalyptic view about the deterioration in entrepreneurship and number of entrepreneurs he shared a plan he has of adding a set of topics to pre-school classes, to train the minds of the 3-4-5 year old and develop them into our future entrepreneurs. “Entrepreneurship is at the very basis of sustaining the human race, with the ongoing depletion of resources on earth”, he explained, “We are dependent on those who will become entrepreneurs in 30 years and their breakthrough ventures”.

I strongly believe in entrepreneurship and the need in entrepreneurs. But while he’d start with external enrichment classes, I would much rather work with the teachers and educators first. With the correct state of mind and a basic set of tools they can achieve much more than any fantastic “thought shaping” “mind developing” external content that hosts an hour a week.

This state of mind is the one I’m struggling for at home. Trying to keep doors open, or at least within reach. Keeping the creative vibe going. Being attentive to my kids’ interests and passions, putting those well ahead of any concepts of “should and shouldn’t”, but not striking off rules. And, not ignoring society’s high road called “schooling” although sometimes I wish I could.

By now I have a 19 year old student at a university, a 16 year old in high school and a 12 year old in elementary school. I’m counting 28 years in the schooling system as a mother. I must admit that even though all three of my kids enjoy what constitutes the best to elite schooling in Israel, I’m generally dissatisfied with the education system. It’s the same disappointing system worldwide but it doesn’t make me happier. As a parent I am doing my best to offer the widest possibilities to my kids. However, the schooling system limits them.

What’s happening to my brilliant girl at the Nobel Prize winners’ academic institute reminds me of what happened to my wide eyed youngest in first grade. From the shining smile, sheer excitement and hopeful dreams of knowledge and exploration down to a thin reality of memorization and teachers’ mind-reading. She might be better equipped today to deal with it, looking at it as just a phase to go through, it still feels like a system putting you down.

And so does the whole testing system I’m going through, for the second time as a parent, with my high schooler. “Teaching? I wish I could teach”, one of his gifted teachers told me, a fantastic creative and beloved teacher, “I’m not teaching, I’m prepping for exams”.

So back to “what are we doing to help our kids prepare for a vague future we have no way of predicting?”. One thing is for sure, 3 years wasted on test preparations hardly contribute to it. Education must develop a stronger affinity to the entrepreneurship state of mind if we want it to contribute to our future. To be blunt, for a period in history lead by the workmen, the manufacturing line approach to education was fine. For an era lead by entrepreneurs – education needs to be recreated as something else, something different, some fertile ground for budding entrepreneurs.

What about the Team?

I started to write this blog post about team work. Then I restarted it. I wasn’t always a team player. When I started my career, a young and daring journalist at the age of 15, a journalist was in most cases a solo flyer. I was a journalist for 15 years. Most of the time it was indeed a solo performance. When I ejected from print journalism to the online technology world I started to discover team work.

Investors often tell you that when choosing whether or not to invest in a startup they look at the team harder than they look at the idea. Yea, showing off with a shiny new prototype is impressive, but if the team is a screeching machine, then no thank you. Better luck at your next meeting.

And team work is indeed key to success. In a good startup you’ll have several founders, each assuming responsibility on another domain. While in many cases each member of the team can probably do more than just his or her own job, and at the early stages – that’s what they have to do, it’s critical that every member of the team is the chief of another domain. Has the last word in this domain. Not the only word, the last word.chess-set

This distinction is important: early on the team all share the exciting notion of creating something new. They all pitch in. They all have a contribution to the production process from planning to execution. But in each area there’s supposed to be the top decision maker of the arena: one person decides over technology, one person deciding over design, one person over business strategy. Even if all team members have degrees in programming and business, each member must honestly acknowledge which is his or her area of expertise. Where they would be better than any other team member. And that’s your domain.

This mastery is of course accompanied by a lot of ego. Which makes it hard to listen to other people’s opinions or advice. But if you’re truly an expert – then you will embrace the fact that every input can enrich you and benefit the greater good of the venture you’re all producing.

Which takes me back to school. So the high school typical behavior I’ve encountered so far, through my kids mainly – is that in each group there’s one who does all the hard work. Well the easy work too. In fact, why bother, when there’s one in each group who really cares about the grade? Unfortunately I’ve seen this attitude drag into college, first degree studies. There are those who care about the grades, so why bother contributing to the shared project? In further studies I’ve also encountered the complete opposite behavior, with similar non-team-work results: condescending team members competing with each other on their status within a team, all in the name of credit and prestige.

Do education systems give it another thought? Do they know how important is the ability to work within a team? The whole deal: contributing, learning from each other, sharing ideas, feeding the team, respecting, communicating politely and efficiently, putting your ego aside. And enjoying it.

I sincerely believe that if tests where replaced by projects with correct guidance and supervision – we’d be looking at better chances for all those future team members. There’s a limit to how far you can fly solo and without wings.

Teachers: Innovate or Vegetate? (Or: Why teachers hold the key to society’s innovation)

On the road to innovation, success, evolution and generally doing good we have to go through the education systems. Where ever we are. Tomorrow’s innovators are being educated today. While Peter Thiel with his 20-under-20 Thiel Fellowship is doing a rescue operation to fish entrepreneurs out of the higher education system before is squashes their dreams and plans under frames and debts, I’m thinking that the only operation we can have for the younger students is recognizing that teachers today hold the key to innovation. I need to create a clear separation between innovation and entrepreneurship. There’s a factor of bravery, risk taking and daring in entrepreneurship that is not always present with pure innovation. Teachers can and must innovate all the time. They don’t have to assume the role of entrepreneurs. But it’s “innovate or vegetate” for them. Going out with my dear friend Miri to a bar the other night, we spoke about career choices. Miri loves being a teacher. It’s the only thing she has ever done and she’s one of the more innovative teachers I’ve had the pleasure to meet. Without innovation – how could she survive around 3 decades of teaching science to middle school students? Day in day out, year in year out, same curriculum approximately. But she’s a master in improvising. She knows how to read each unique group of students, as well as specific students, and how to raise the curiosity and tease their own inquisitive minds into the same thing she’s teaching. They keep surprising her, and she keeps surprising them. Yet, teachers’ professional development is extremely weak in Israel. To encourage it the government with the teachers unions created a framework that recognizes specific programs or institutions as an official supplier of professional development. Going through any of those a teacher is then compensated financially for the investment. This framework created a terrible situation in which most teachers limit their quest to develop professionally to only these programs or institutions that will “pay off”. There goes innovation. An enthusiastic participant at Twitter’s #edchat I’m learning so much about education and educators around the world. It’s a sheer joy even if I am just a listener and not participating. I am not a teacher, and nobody pays me to learn education. But all of the participants, who are teachers and educator by trade don’t spend that 1 hour (sometimes 2 hours) per week in a multi-national conversation about education because they are paid to do so. They do it because they are passionate about what they do and they want to innovate and grow. They don’t want to get tired and worn, they want to keep the enthusiasm going on in their lives and careers.

teacherscollage
Why I think teachers hold the key to society’s innovation

Here’s innovation for you. These teachers are in fact cultivating tomorrow great entrepreneurs. When their students will grow up, I hope they can appreciate it. Because we hear so much about the successful entrepreneurs and their grand startups, but we rarely hear about those who showed then the way.

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