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Or-Tal's Writings

entrepreneur/mother/education revolutionist/high tech addict

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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.

 

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?

Back in a Classroom

Last week I went into a classroom as a student for the first time in 20 years. Very important for an education innovator who isn’t a teacher. I am very proud of the fact that motherhood dragged me into the education innovation, but experiencing a classroom as a student isn’t experiencing it as a mother of a student, not even similar to experiencing it as a teacher, I am sure.

You can’t really comprehend the enormousness of the education crisis before you are sitting behind a desk totally dependent on someone else for the pearls of wisdom you’re supposed to get, without any say about how you’re going to get them or when, and then you’re graded for your grasp. Hmmm.

classroom I am an old fashioned schooled one. I grew up without any digital mobile instruments around me, not even a PC. I think that even a walkman was too much of a luxury, had to work and save before I could get one. And I started my journalistic career with my dad’s Hermes typewriter and working in the print house with lead letters.

So the technicality of sitting behind a desk, writing a summary of the class, doing exercises, performing to the rhythm of the conductor – all this should be well imprinted in me.

But it’s not. I’m was slowly and gradually spoiled by various forms of computers. I think it started in the early 90’s with a DOS computer, and grew exponentially until today I spend about 14 hours a day online. I have a desktop, a laptop, a netbook, an iPad and an iPhone. I rarely get disconnected. In fact I can say I am pretty addicted. Can’t go through a day with no connectivity at all. Can’t watch a movie without playing something on my iPhone\iPad at the same time. Ahmm. Yep, in the movies too.

Reading a book is one of the toughest tasks for me. When I was 14, 8th grade, I got the school’s annual award for reading the largest number of books which I borrowed from the school’s library. 400 books. Some days I finished 2+. I couldn’t get enough. Nowadays, give them to me in 140 characters chunks. I am sure if I’ll do the math I’m reading much more today than I have ever – in characters count. But I’m down from 400 books in 10 months, to 1 book in 800 days and the sad thing, I miss the relaxed experience.

This rhythm my life has adjusted to is an immediate rhythm. I’m at The State of Now.

Now think about the generation born into this reality and this rhythm. About the toddlers trying to swipe the photo in the frame on their grandparents’ mantle. How are they expected to take a break for 5-9 hours a day and go back from rockets to horse-and-carriage?

People, when talking about the education crisis, worldwide, know that what you’re seeing is just the tip of the iceberg and think Titanic.

Test All Mathematicians in Music Performance First

My boy is 15 years old, going on 10th grade next year, and he is one of those lucky people who have that mix of ADHD and Giftedness. So up to a certain point his giftedness got him through without drugs. Lately it’s not working that well.

He studies at the Jazz department of the lucrative National High School For the Arts here in Israel, plays the trumpet. Only unlike most accepted players, he joined with a little less experience… well, a lot less. One year less than the minimum usually required and no orchestra experience. He only decided he is into Jazz about 2-3 months before the audition. His trumpet teacher nearly had a fit when the kid announced he needed 2 pieces for the audition. Yet, somehow he got in.

High school is a lot different than what he had experienced before. Especially since he moved from the incubator called “a class for gifted” to a “high school for excellence in arts”. Those are the top of the top of young artists in Israel and the school has a reputation to maintain.

Now think ADHD.

It’s a struggle, and with drugs or without them, it’s still a struggle. Too many topics, too many demands, too many expectations. And, in a recent talk with the school the topic of Math came up. And I was asked what I think is the worst case scenario in terms of my son and his matriculation exams… hint hint … Math. I said, well matriculations exams don’t matter to me. Least of all math.

This is a reply that puzzles school officials. The school is first and foremost to provide the kids with the matriculation certificate, sort of a Baccalaureate, SATs or similar and parallels. This school throws in exams in arts topics too. And here I am saying all I really care about is that my kid gets to experience his arts, learn and develop with his chosen form of arts – Jazz music, and have fun with his friends – and really, honestly, I swear, I do not care one bit about his success in math.mathtrumpet

In fact, I care about math being removed from high school obligatory topics for matriculation. Remove it from high school graduation certificate altogether. I think math, in the level they require here (yes, I am talking about the minimal level) is just too much. I really don’t believe that solving equations is that important for the life of my son, whether he chooses to be a jazz musician, an illustrator, a chef, a game designer or any other profession he might be fantasizing on now or in the future when this profession will pop up. You know why?

Google.
You can solve your equations on Google. Or this app or the other. And if you want to test my son’s skills in coping with the demands of the real world, let him take the test at home, with Google access and a 24 hour time limit. That’s the only way to convince me there’s any point in testing this or any connection between the test and the real world these kids are growing into.
No? So leave him alone. If you can’t force the mathematicians to take tests in Trumpet playing, you shouldn’t force the trumpet players to test in math.

Say “Passion” instead of “Engagement”

“Engagement” seems to be the key word, the major buzz word, where educational technology is concerned. Ask an Edtech entrepreneur what their app or software is doing, and at least 90% of the time the word “engagement” pops up. The other 10% are administrative apps that do not presume to change any classroom or student experience.

Last week I attended several events, one of them was the Demo Day of the first wave of graduate startups from the MindCET incubator. MindCET is the first and currently only incubator for educational technology startups in Israel. Obviously, there wasn’t a single startup that skipped the word “engagement”. And there’s nothing unusual about it: Dozens of edtech startups I met during SXSWedu and SXSW also made sure they slip “engagement” into every pitch or presentation. At one moment during last week’s presentations I found myself trying to build an image to go along with “engagement”. That promise of engagement seems to be the main attractions teachers feel towards educational technology: something to keep their students wide-eyed, open-mouths, hung on the teacher’s every word. Something like hypnotized. With built-in recorders in their heads.engagedclass

And then today I read this wonderful blog post by Angela Maiers, “an Educator, Author, Speaker passionate about literacy, learning, and power of social media”. “The Passion Gap” is the title, and she tells that “As a teacher at the K-2 level for 14 years, I had the privilege of spending each day with children eager to learn and explore. Yet this begins to change somewhere around the fourth grade.”

She doesn’t mention the word “engagement”, but points out that in Education conferences “you are far more likely to hear the words “assessment,” “standardize,” “common core” and “pedagogy” than you are to hear the word “passion.”…” And let me add, as an edtech entrepreneur, that I am much more likely to hear the word “engagement” in tech solutions for the classroom, and I don’t think I heard the word “passion”.

So what is passion? I love her quote: “Passion is what you must do, even if you have to suffer to do it”. I should know, I experience passion in what I do and it is costing me every day. Because at some point I decided pursuing my passion is more important than getting a salary. Silly me?

Angela Maiers refers to the human teachers, not the tech they might use or not use, as the first circle needed for students to find their passion. Sir Ken Robinson is devoting his messages and books to this topic too; The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, is a New York Times bestseller and has been translated into 21 languages and Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life has just been published.” The Element is the point at which natural talent meets personal passion. When people arrive at the Element, they feel most themselves, most inspired and achieve at their highest levels”, is the introduction to his first book.

Yet, Edtech startups are still mostly concerned about engagement of students in the classroom. How does this contribute to helping students find their passion? Or element?

Education systems are so hung on educational technology to reform, change and modify. But obviously, no real revolution can be achieved without striking the personal passion fuse of each and every student.

Touching kids’ passion is what I’m doing with my new startup. More to come.

Schoolyear: A Good Start

Two whole months into the school year and I must say something. So here it comes. I have two boys in school this year, as my daughter has graduated high school last year. Now I have one son who has started high school this year (9th grade), and my youngest son, who is now in 5th grade.

The new high school is so different from the one I encountered with my daughter! There are some obvious reasons, but some are really a matter of choice. A management choice.

My 14 year old son is going to Thelma Yellin High National School of the Arts. By the looks of it you could not suspect that this is one of the most lucrative schools in Israel, or that it is private. It’s an old building with crumbling trailers as classrooms. But who cares? Certainly not the people who go there. The creative atmosphere is strongly felt through sounds and sights. But it’s also felt through the teachers, staff and management attitude.

The grading system is different. Grades will go up, for instance. Not something you see every day when they’re all doing average. “We want the students to be happy”, said to me one of the consultants, not a slogan. Really meant it. For a change I don’t feel like I am forced into a combat for my kid’s survival or dignity. It’s built into the system. There’s still a long way to go. I know. But at least it’s a good start.

My youngest is into his second year at the Waldorf Education school. It’s 5th grade and I am terribly impressed by the way they chose to introduce one of the more important learning skills. They have started this year with stories the teacher is telling from the mythologies of India, Persia & Babylon. He has been telling the story and the kids are to write the story in their notebooks and decorate them with illustrations. They can add descriptions and scenes that they come up with to enrich the stories, if they wish. But they have to listen, memorize, summarize, write and visualize. Not easy or simple. But the skill is so valuable and so well developed through these tasks.

Now to end this hard work the class has went on a 3 days field trip. Slept in tents, walked tens of kilometers, met with elders who shared their stories about the history of the country and the region. Learned discipline, nature, history and fraternity. Aren’t these skills as important to any child’s future?

Want or Don’t? That is the Question (To Learn or Not)

Last week I drove up to Jerusalem for the closing ceremony of the National Competition for Young Scientists in Israel, where my daughter was one of the finalists and winners. Her research paper dealt with some aspect of quantum computation. I think one of the reasons she chose this particular topic was because everybody kept telling her this is the most advanced and complicated topic in physics, and that at 16 she was too young to research it. Shaii Kiriati would only see such a phrase as a challenge.

Of the 3 topics she was offered, this field seemed to her the most exciting. Her research paper was a part of a doctorate work by Oded Zilberberg, a Weizmann Institute PhD student, who served as her guide and mentor. 11th-12th graders in Israel can choose to perform a research instead of taking a test in one of their expanded topics for the Bagrut (the Israeli Baccalaureate). Shaii’s choice was to do a research in physics instead of a test. Sure, she could have spit her physics books onto the test papers and get a perfect score, but that’s not learning, she explained to me. And learning is what she wanted to do.

During the year she worked on the research she learned and read and developed in a way not possible within the regular school walls. She has earned tools and abilities she wouldn’t have been able to get in a classroom.

~Research and the Program for the Gifted~
44 students reached the final stage at the Competition in Jerusalem. I was happy to discover not all research papers were pure science and math. Some papers dealt with history, anthropology, civics, sports, cinema and fashion. The one thing all participants have in common is their desire to learn.

My daughter has been studying in a special class for the gifted since the beginning of the program in 3rd grade. One of the things they told us when we were first introduced to it was that the kids who passed the tests and were invited to join all share a desire to learn and a high level of learning abilities and that the program aims to cultivate, support and encourage these qualities.

Yet of all students in the gifted program in our city only 1 reached the finals. Only 2 bothered to do a research. The rest of the kids couldn’t be bothered. Their main desire today is to be over and done with school. Learning? They couldn’t care less. I think from all finalists only one more student came from a special program for the gifted.

What does it mean? That even a special program for the gifted couldn’t rescue the desire to learn from being repressed in a school environment. On the other hand it takes some very unique students with their environments – school and home – to keep the learning fire on. There’s no stopping these learners now.

~The Education Revolution and the Learning Desire~
Yesterday I watched again a TED presentation by Sugata Mitra from 2010 where he presented the amazing learning abilities kids poses and how they can teach themselves. I also watch the lengthier and more detailed presentation here. One key phrase he repeats in both is actually a quote by Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction writer, saying “when learners have interest – education happens”.

It made me stop and reflect on all education reforms and revolutions and innovations I came across over the past several years I am so heavily into it. That is the key, isn’t it? The learners’ interest.

Sir Ken Robinson published an interview with teens about his dream school on his website and it hit me again – all these dreams are great for those who want to learn.

I went back to presentations I have watched before like the famous 2006 TED “Do Schools Kill Creativity” by Sir Ken Robinson, 2007 “21st century pedagogy” by Greg Whitby or the 2010 presentation by Jesse Schell “The Future is Beautiful”. Went  over conversations about technology, my own post about Waldorf education and the non-tech approach, it all comes down to one single assumption: that kids actually want to learn. That they have an interest.

~Learning: a Survival Instinct~
My daughter thinks learning is a survival instinct we are all born with. Very similar to our need to breath, eat and drink. “How else would a baby learn a language in 2 years?”, she wonders. And me, if I had to make a research, I would start with the young scientists and investigate what helped their learning crave survive 12 years of school. My guess is, that’s where the education revolution should start.

Toying with Words: Education, Learn, Teach, Hanukkah

A few months ago a young entrepreneur, as passionate as I am about education, approached me with an idea to create a TEDx conference or similar, dedicated to the education revolution, in Israel. I had just started to think of an education-revolution conference myself, but I didn’t think of doing it in Israel only. I want to create an event happening simultaneously around the world, in as many countries as possible. A revolution in education must happen globally and simultaneously to succeed. My friend had followed the TEDx education revolution conference in London. There were plenty of ideas worth spreading there, as usual, but not enough call for action in her view. I started to think of the “ignite” concept for our conference, since we want to ignite a change and let in many voices. But what is it that we want to change?

What the Words are Actually Saying

Being a professional namer I started to think about the words, the vocabulary of education. I don’t like the word “education”. I much prefer “learning”. Looking at it from the student’s point of view, education is something pushed to the students, while learning is something the students pull. With education students are passive, while in learning they are active. A mix is probably what we should be aiming at.

However, it is education we are referring to when we relate to the required “revolution”. These are “education systems” that are being criticized all over the world, and that are attempting reform one by one.
From Wikipedia: “Etymologically, the word education is derived from the Latin ēducātiō (“a breeding, a bringing up, a rearing) from ēdūcō (“I educate, I train”) which is related to the homonym ēdūcō (“I lead forth, I take out; I raise up, I erect”) from ē- (“from, out of”) and dūcō (“I lead, I conduct”).”

Looking at it from today’s perspective – education is only a part of what schooling should be about. Yes, it is about transferring accumulated knowledge from older generations to younger generations but that’s not all; it is about taking the younger generations from the place of not knowing and leading them to a new knowledgeable place. But that’s not enough. Certainly not when education systems are actually clogging the natural learning abilities of younger generations. Schooling should aim at enhancing natural curiosity and learning abilities with accumulated knowledge of the society. Enhancing. Aggregating. Developing. And doing it all with the students, and their natural resources. Rather than take them “from” one point to another, build on what the students are, what they bring with them, including their natural learning skills. I feel like a new word should be coined: “coducation”? Etymologically combining “cum” (with) and “dūcō” (I lead, I conduct). One problem with this new word is that “ed” has become a short for “education”.

If education is about teaching and learning, let’s see what “learning” can tell us. From about the 13th till the 19th century the verb “learn” was used for “teach” as well. That’s a curious thing. In Hebrew “teach” is “LAMED” and “learn” is “LEMAD”, and they share the same root. Note that “education” isn’t related (grammatically) to neither, in Hebrew too. The word “education” translates to “HINUKH” in Hebrew, which derives from the root of “to initiate”, or “renew” or “rededicate”. What do you know? The holiday we’re celebrating now is called “Hanukkah”. It commemorates the rededication of the Holy Temple (the 2nd temple) during the Maccabean Revolt of the 2nd century BCE. Do we want our kids “re”-anything? I don’t.

Into researching “learn” I ran across a wonderful word, cun, coming from the Old English word “cunnian”, which means “to learn to know, inquire into” and is said to belong to the same root as the word “can”. The word “can”, how wonderful, comes from the word “cunnan” in Old English, meaning “know, have power to, be able”. OH! Yes We Can!! That’s it! That’s what education is all about: Being Able. Now I feel like the new word should be “educan”. Etymology: education, learn, know, be able. What’s your new word for it?

The Future of Education is Rooted in The Past

My youngest son, who is now in 4th grade, joined a Waldorf Education school this year, after 3 years of suffering in a regular school. We just received the first school’s newsletter with updates and descriptions of the activity in the school and I wanted to share it. But I should probably start with how we went through these first 3 months.

For a 9 year old he started the schoolyear very skeptic. “There’s no school that can fit me”, he said. For such a young kid to passionately hate the idea of school – despite his many friendships there – is pretty shocking. So it took a while, the full 3 months, to be exact, and we got it! Last week he came home from school and for the first time ever when I asked him how his day was he said “Great”. I even teased him a bit, wanted to make sure I am hearing right, and he confirmed that he had a great day at school. Do you have any idea how it made me feel?

At this point I don’t particularly care about the academic results this school produces. Not that I doubt them. But the only result that really matters is that my boy is open to the possibilities now. He is awake. He is back. There are many misconceptions about Waldorf Education, when in fact there are many variations in a little over 1000 Waldorf schools around the world. Our school is located at the center of the city. It is unlike another Waldorf school in Israel, which is located in a rural environment in the Galilee. It embraces the city and city people. What I like about our school is that while its roots are in that 100 years old philosophy, it is in full sync with our environment and times.

Indeed, the first misconception about Waldorf education derives from the fact that the first Waldorf school was founded in 1919 to serve the children of employees at the Waldorf-Astoria cigarette factory in Stuttgart, Germany 93 years ago.

If you have been following me you probably know that I am very passionate about the future of education. Having three extra-ordinary kids forced me into thinking deeply and widely about the state of education and learning and where we are heading. I got really excited by Greg Whitby’s “we have got to change the DNA of education” and by the famous TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson who stressed the same idea and explained we need a “revolution and not just evolution” in education. And while I totally agree with the spirit of change and futuristic ideas and would LOVE to break the walls of the classroom, here I am, equally ecstatic by this old method of education and the way it works.

Does innovation lie in the past after all?? Well this is the basis of the Waldorf Education: “Learning is interdisciplinary, integrating practical, artistic, and conceptual elements. The approach emphasizes the role of the imagination in learning, developing thinking that includes a creative as well as an analytic component. The educational philosophy’s overarching goals are to provide young people the basis on which to develop into free, morally responsible and integrated individuals, and to help every child fulfill his or her unique destiny… Schools and teachers are given considerable freedom to define curricula within collegial structures.” Wait, this seems to correspond perfectly with one famous 21st century education revolutionist’s words, Sir Ken Robinson. Did you check out his TED talk “Do schools kill creativity?”. My son’s school doesn’t kill creativity. Through creativity it has re kindled his curiosity and learning. And surprise surprise, now he even enjoys the experience. The only question remains: what is so complicated in this method that prevents other schools from applying similar principles?

Back to the school’s newsletter, here’s a brief report of what various classes have been doing over the first 3 months since school year opened: 5thgrade finished a geography period. The geography period was dedicated to knowing our country and learning the map of the country. Obviously the period opened with a 3 day field trip, with lots of walking and climbing, amazing views and encounters with wildlife. Another weekend trip in a different area concluded the period with the students’ families.

1st graders are doing their first steps in creative. They made a bag, and prepared needles for knitting.

2nd graders are knitting animal dolls and preparing a knitted bag for their recorders (sort of a wooden flute). 3rd graders finished working with two needles and are doing a one-needle knitting work now. 4th graders are doing embroidery with Xs. 5th graders are knitting socks with 5 needles. 6th graders are stitching dolls and 7thgraders are learning how to work with a sewing machine. They will be making patch quilts later this year.

In class, 1stgraders have been drawing colored drawings leading up to forming letters. They are chanting, singing and ending each week with a short nature trail.6thgraders started the year with geometry period, creating drawings of various mandalas. The second period is “Rome” and they are concentrating on the foundations of the Roman Empire and laws. They also started the Bat Mitzvah-Bar Mitzvah two-year program.9thgraders already had 3 field trips since the beginning of the school year. They have concluded 3 periods: history, physics and civics. The “high school” compound, which is a brand new addition to the school, has a kitchenette and sofas to enable staying late for social activities and meeting with “interesting people” who visit often take place. There’s plenty of artistic work too, right now – ceramics.Most of the school kids are playing various musical instruments, in addition to the recorder which is built in the regular music lessons. Right now kids are playing violin, viola, cello, trumpet, clarinet, saxophone, guitar and harmonica.Music is built in the curriculum. For example: 7thgraders are doing the maps and discoveries period now. So they heard and learned music related to ships, shipping and wandering. They are also learning songs in new languages such as Spanish and Swedish and getting to hear musical styles from around the world.

8th graders had a “revolutions” period. They learned spirituals and studied how music can be a driving force calling for liberation. They studied the hymn on the French revolution and poetry from the 60s calling for freedom and equality. They also discussed Jazz standards, rooted back in slavery… 8th graders took their revolutions studies one step further into the present when they visited the tents of the social protesters in Tel-Aviv (kind of the US “occupy”).  They studied about other revolutions too like the American revolution and the industrial revolution.
Our own 4th graders finished a calculus period and a bible period and are now into Nordic mythology, where they learn of stories parallel to those on our own Genesis book. They also had a fantastic 2-day field trip, spending the night in the gym of one kibbutz, walking almost 20 miles in the Jerusalem Mountains in two days.
Is this DNA so wrong for today’s kids? I suddenly have my doubts. From checking around it seems this school’s graduates are better equipped with learning abilities then their peers from other schools around. Since the teacher of the class goes with it from 1st grade till 8th grade – the teacher is learning with the students, while teaching them. Perhaps it is already a different DNA. But what’s preventing regular schools from applying such an approach?
For details about Waldorf Education, or the Anthroposophy, if you want to know more go to Wikipedia as a starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waldorf_education. You can read this post and discuss in on Firesidelearning too: http://firesidelearning.ning.com/profiles/blogs/future-of-education-in-the-past Join the conversation.

School Year, Fall 2011

This September is very eventful. The ongoing social demonstrations and protests across the country continue. The school year opened. The Palestinians intend to declare their independent state. A game, from Israel, “Shaker” won Techcrunch Distrupt in San Francisco. Saveby has launched and running a successful alpha version. And by the end of the month we, that is myself, hubby and kids, are on our way to a first ever family vacation in the US.

There were so many topics to write about, I just kept starting and never got to finish any of my posts.

New School Year
My eldest daughter has started her last year of high school. All education revolutions we are talking about for the past 3-4 years will have no effect on her. I just hope some changes will happen before her future born kids will begin their own schooling.

My son started 8th grade, which is the last year of elementary school here; next year he is starting high school. This year he will choose a high school, and hopefully will be accepted into any program he chooses. Isn’t that what parenthood is all about? Opening as many options to our kids? This year is so crucial that we have jointly decided to give Ritalin a chance. A bit sad, in my view, that a child needs to be sedated in order to make it through a school year. But the effort to keep up without it has become a real burden. Grades are just too important this year.

My youngest joined a new school this year. For him we chose a Waldorf Education  school, fortunately not too far from home. He is still hanging to his skepticism about “any school ever fitting” his state of mind regarding education.

Shaking Disrupt
I was very excited at the winning of Shaker at the Techcrunch Disrupt in San Francisco. Not only because it’s one more representation of the startup nation, coming from Israel, but because it is a game.

The gaming (not to be confused with gambling) industry is moving forward big time. From the launch of Maple Story, to the launch of Q2L, a public middle school in NYC dedicated to games and game development, and now the winning at Techcrunch of an entertainment feature. Not technical, not tool, not another commercial innovation – all those are great, and fantastic, and every new idea is exciting, but the winning of this game puts another crown on the head of this industry. “People want to have fun”, I told a colleague who was wondering about this choice. “And it’s time we acknowledge this need across the board. From the obvious social networking, to other aspects of life, like education systems (yes, that again) and you know what? even health systems. We Want Fun!!”.

Shaker holds a tremendous promise and great potential for many other industries, way beyond Facebook. I really hope I get to meet with these guys soon and share some thoughts with them. Congratulation Ofer Rundstein, Yonatan Maor and Gad Maor.

Saveby a Totally Different Way
Saveby is my own startup, on which I am slaving for the past year with my co-founder, Yoav Perry. After a lot of research and development we released our alpha version and sent out alpha codes to willing participants across the US.

Saveby is the self-service group-shopping platform where parents from across the web -who are interested in the same product, band together to get it at group discount. Merchants accept these group offers to get volume sales.

Saveby is NOT another daily coupon, local deal or private sales site. It is not a middleman, haggler or merchant. It is simply a platform where parents can form or join group offers for the things they want -and have quality merchants accept their offer. Saveby is free to use. Payments are processed securely with PayPal. We really aim to disrupt current ecommerce by finding a real way to restore the power of the masses, the shoppers, to their hands.

Merchants are only happy to participate: “it’s our turn to sit back and relax and get best deals offered into our inboxes”. So this can really be the breakthrough ecommerce needs now. If you want an alpha invite too – let me know.

Launching the alpha isn’t a simple task. And it is especially complicated when half of the company isn’t located where the market it. But that’s how things are at the moment, while we’re still bootstrapping.

The idea about an “alpha” stage is that it isn’t perfect. Our alpha testers are people who have agreed to help us make the suit fit better. They take the time to share their feedback with us, make suggestions, try it and of course – tell others about it.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank some alpha participants for taking the time to go over the system with us: Josh Becker @DadStreet, Jim Turner @genuine, Amit Knaani @amitos from Vikido and BabyFirstTV, Aparna Vashisht-Rota @parentella and many more. I hope to meet face to face with some of my favorite parent bloggers during my visit to the US (starting next week) and introduce the system to more alpha testers. Next stage will take us to a full commercial testing.

A First Ever US Family Vacation
Vacation? Now?? Indeed this sounds strange. Who has the time to take a vacation during an startup launch?? Well, apparently we do. Even startup founders need to take some time to breathe and relax and renew. My kids and hubby deserve some quality mom time. Of course this cost mom a lot of hours in planning, reserving, ordering, arranging (getting a house sitter…)… And did I mention I intend to use some NY time to meet with my favorite business and blogging connections face to face? Let me know if you want in my schedule, between a sea of museums my kids (yes, it is them) insist on visiting. Oh, and recommendations are welcome.

Commit To Your Students’ Success, Please!

“We’re committed to the rules and regulation”, said my son’s teacher to me, as she’s trying to explain why the school wouldn’t let a 7th grader attempt a specific test one more time.
“No”, I said, “You are committed to your students’ success”.

This, apparently was not clear. “There are guidelines we must follow”, she tried again.

“The only guideline is your students’ success”, I repeated. “If a kid gets 95 and 88 and 87 in some tests, and then 35 in one other test, you should let him retake that test until he is content with his achievement. You can’t just leave him with the 35 because some city clerk wrote a rule saying ‘be tough on the kids and don’t let them repeat the tests’..”.

At that point I was advised to perform a 3,000 shekels total evaluation of his learning difficulties. Yea, one of “the rules” is to abide by recommendations produced by such a diagnosis.

Don’t get me even started on what happens to those students who cannot afford such an expensive diagnosis. Just a quick reminder: Almost all students in Israel go to public schools and the law states students’ right to get free education for all. We already know it’s not free – with hundreds of shekels spent on books and booklets. But a law that requires parents to spend huge amounts on a private psycho-educational evaluation is just crazy, not to mention unfair.

People in Israel talk a lot about gaps breaking the society. It’s a small country. We’re only 7.7 million people. There are less than 900,000 students in grades 1-6, and about 600,000 in grades 7-12. That’s all. You’ll be correct to ask yourself how big a gap can occur within such a small country.

And I’m just left with the echo of my conversation. How can teachers feel more committed to the system’s rules then their students’ success?

What if a heavenly teacher doesn’t really have wings?

I’ve been pouring my aching heart over failing teachers and education systems here for the past 3 years at least. Recently I came across an amazing story, of a heavenly teacher.

She’s the teacher I would have dreamed of getting for my little boy. A dream come true. She’s kind, warm, and serene. She speaks calmly, never raises her voice. She leads the kids into learning, developing their curiosity. Makes them ask for more. Gives them a feeling the classroom is a safe harbor. Yet with all this her boundaries are crystal clear. They know they have to prepare their homework. They understand how to behave in the classroom. They know they have to respect each other in and out of the classroom, and that some games will be frowned upon. They know the right and wrong. And they are only on 3rd grade.

One day the teacher came to the school management with an announcement. She told them that she has developed friendship with one of the single parents in the classroom. “Over the past year”, she confessed, “it became evident that this is more than just friendship. This is love. We do not plan to move in together right now or become full partners, but I thought you should know”.

After about 3 weeks or less of pondering the school has decided the teacher should not continue to teach this class. In spite of the special relationships that have developed between the kids and the teacher, and even though they realized she’s the perfect teacher for this class and despite the fact that in this school it is customary that the teacher remains with her class till 8th grade – all this made no difference. In fact, the only reason the teacher wasn’t let go altogether was, perhaps, the fact that she is – really – a great teacher.

I am not school management, but I am an experience mother: Very experienced into education systems. I have seen teachers discriminate between students with no reason at all. I have seen teachers teaching relatives with no favoritism at all. I have never seen such a good teacher (except for maybe my daughter’s retired teacher from 2nd grade). I can’t help thinking; Did the school management really weigh the gain vs. the loss here? Or was it simply the easy way out of potential-maybe-someday headache? What do you think??

Newly Named Disease: Schoolitis

My daughter got it. It took me a while to define it as an illness. But it is. And bit by bit I am discovering more and more kids who have this disease to various extents.

Over the past two years plus my daughter got sick a lot of times. Really sick. Dark circles under her eyes, running nose, nausea, stomach aches, dizziness, weakness, sleep disorders, lack of appetite, headaches. We went to the doctors. Ran the blood tests. Nothing pointed anywhere. When the first long vacation of the school year came, and all symptoms disappeared I got the first hint. It all came back with school, and disappeared again with the next vacation.

We sat down and had a long analytical discussion. Now, I am not a doctor, nor a psychologist. I am a mother. A very attentive mother. And I decided I need to get to the bottom of this.

The background is also relevant: my daughter is highly gifted. From the time she joined the special class for the gifted on 3rd grade, till the time she left this class and went to high school, on the 9th grade, she never wanted to miss a day at school. She loves learning and does a lot of learning by herself. Her grades have always been perfect. Even now, with the Disease, she is a straight A student.

But now she hates school. In that eye-opening conversation she confessed that her main problem with school is that “school is preventing and delaying learning”. In those words. Being a mother of gifted kids that’s a startling truth to hear.

But even if they weren’t gifted… I mean, if this is the way a gifted student is feeling, then those who don’t share such a motivation for learning must be feeling even worse, don’t they??

A little asking around confirmed that high-school-frustration manifests in various physical ways – similar to what my daughter has been experiencing over the past two years plus.

Like other diseases there are several ways to prevent and to treat it. Unfortunately, prevention demands a deep reform into the education system. Treatment – well, the only thing left to do is to let her go. Skip school as much as she needs to in order to feel better. But that could work with kids who can learn by themselves. I am at loss when it comes to kids who really need the classroom and the learning enabler. This is taken back to ed-reform table.

But one thing I do wish: I wish that parents all over would realize that this is real. A real disease. It’s not laziness or some other form of “I want to skip school” naughtiness. This is a real illness and please treat your kids-with-Schoolitis exactly the same way you would care for them when they have the flue or even Angina.

Needed: A Goal for Ongoing Revolution

I sit on my chair, in my study and I scratch my head. I feel like I have a mystery to crack. The mystery concerns the future of education, or rather the mysterious revolution in education. I hear great people (which I would love to meet in person) say “We need to change the DNA of education” – Greg Whitby and “Every education system in the world is being reformed at the moment, and it’s not enough. Reform is no use any more. Because that’s simply improving a broken model. What we need is not evolution, but a revolution in education” – Sir Ken Robinson.

But the ground is not shaking. It’s not even purring. Nothing. A year goes out and a year goes in and I ask myself how to crack this mystery. What would make a revolution in education? What does it take? Where to start?? And where are we heading?

Can you imagine the French Revolution or any other for that matter being a success without a clear goal?? An #edchat has just ended on twitter, on the topic “What should be the single focus of education if we could agree on only one goal?” . There was no clear agreement. Just a lot of similar opinions, wants, aspirations and – OK, some common goals.

We are having a revolution. Yet, in most cases, around the world, kids are still sitting in rows, facing a blackboard (or white) and the teacher, writing in (paper) notebooks and reading (paper) books. Hard to feel a big revolution this way. And indeed – this is no revolution. Even those schools who try to modify, add and change are not really “in the revolution”.

Yet a revolution is happening.

Like a good Kafka book – it seems there’s an oppressed mass rebelling against a mysterious ruler, only the ruler is an unclear one, and the rebels go in different directions.

One group of rebels go towards technology. Let’s put some more of this to get us what we want. Another thinks creativity is the key. Other think personal values, global citizenship, preparation for employment. Those are all very nice targets – but can they define a revolution??

None of the above, sorry. Or all of them – depends on your perspective. But the true goal of the Education Revolution, or Education Reform Movement is to alter the goal of education totally.

Let’s start with the name: no more EDUCATION.
It’s about time we start talking about LEARNING.

That’s the first change in perspective.

While education is defined in the dictionary first as “the act or process of educating or being educated” and second as “the knowledge or skill obtained or developed by a learning process”, learning is defined first as “The act, process or experience of gaining knowledge or skill”.

It doesn’t seem like a grand difference – but here’s what I see. Education is given, it’s all in passive – while learning is a take type of action, all active.

While education is something determined by the state and forced upon students, learning is what the students are actually taking with them.

Some students don’t’ get the education they require – because they don’t get to be heard. Their personal desire or interest in a topic has no place in a totalitarian regiment of education. Curiosity is often turned off in school, as it is all about getting through some oiled machine, with pre-defined targets. And not about true development which would often change targets and adjust to modifying reality.

I mean, does it make sense to decide in 2010 that in 2022 today’s first graders will have to finish school by passing exams in Math, English, History, Literature, Bible and perhaps 1-2 more topics? Can you really say that this is education?? Can this really help future generations get a job? Or be happy?

No.
But if the 2022 graduates will finish school knowing how to learn whatever interests them, and starving for more knowledge, then I can say that future generations are safe.
Well, at least safer then they are today.

Please Reply in 140 Characters

The new school year has started. I’m starting my 11th year at school as a parent. My kids are now in 3rd grade, 7th grade and 11th.

My eldest has started this year with great determination and a total focus. She chose her major topics, decided how she’s going to study, she’s taking control of the rhythm to the best of her ability, treating school as a mere accessory: realizing she must go through it to get her high school diploma and her final exams. Lead by the tempting scent of true academy she tasted during an amazing experience at the Weizmann Institute this summer, she simply decided “not to let school get in her way of learning”.

My 7th grader started this year fully aware of the fact that this year will be tougher on him than the previous one, with more material to learn and harsher demands from his teachers. At 12 years and a half he is expected to spend 40 hours in the classroom every week. I think it’s too much. Only 2 hours are sports and less then that is arts. How much fun or creativity is let into his other classes depends on the teachers: math, history, geography, bible, language… His successful adjustment to the schooling system so far is due mainly to the fact that his class is often engaging in more active discussions. But with more material to push in students heads, I am not sure how much of it will remain this year.

My 3rd grader started his year with a sigh. This schooling system is not for him. In a world where 2 year old kids can play with iPads, or take pictures with their parents’ mobile phone, find anything they want online, choose from tens of TV channels… in this world – it doesn’t make sense to tell a kid to “sit straight” for 5 hours a day and fill in the blanks in some workbook, or cut and paste with actual scissors and glue. In a world where kids use IM in first grade, and start texting when they’re in 2nd grade at the latest, followed by twitting – limited to 140 characters, it’s difficult to explain to my 3rd grader why it is important to answer a question in more than one word, preferably more than 3 words. Not to mention the mysterious value in it.

Now it’s my turn to sigh.

We’re living through an education revolution. It’s a serious revolution, but unfortunately not acknowledge by enough factors in education systems around the world. From students, to teachers to policy makers – too many people imagine it’s a temporary buzz and no drastic changes or adjustments are necessary.

Fortunately this revolution has some amazing world leaders.  Greg Whitby, Sir Ken Robinson, Connie Weber and others, some I have mentioned in my blog before. Another one is Steve Hagardon. Just saw his slides for a talk at the “Future of Education” today.

“Three internet driven cultural shifts that are having profound impacts on how we think about education”, he writes, “How we find, create and consume information; How we get things done; How we connect with others”. And towards the end he asks: “Honestly, how well are we preparing students for this world? And how prepared are we for these changes?”

Me? I’m just waiting for the first teacher to add a remark in an assignment:
Please limit your reply to 140 characters.

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