Kindergarten Comes to America

In 1873, the St. Louis, Missouri, school board authorized the first public kindergarten in the United States. We take the idea of kindergarten and pre-school education for granted today, but the concept was not only foreign but radical then.

Friedrich Froebel had developed what he called a “kindergarten” (garden of children) in Germany in which teachers acted as the “gardeners.” Teachers would provide the environment and the resources to nourish the minds of the children and stand back and let them grow.

I consider this an early effort in learning space design. The classrooms were bright and colorful with "stations" around the room for different activities. Some schools also provided easy access to outdoor play areas. The classroom had kid-sized tables and benches - an idea that seems so logical but had not been used earlier. 

Of course, the kindergarten concept included more than just the physical space, but the learning space was considered a far more important part of the learning process than it was in the other grades.

In the U.S., Susan Blow was the driving force behind the kindergarten movement. She visited Germany after the American Civil War and was impressed by Froebel’s kindergartens. The idea that children were learning language, math, and science concepts through play was a radical idea.

When she returned home, she made a study of the kindergarten concept. She wrote that “If we can make children love intellectual effort, we shall prolong habits of study beyond school years.” Her father was able to get the St. Louis school superintendent to open an experimental kindergarten. He agreed and sent Susan Blow to New York to study for a year.

Susan offered to direct the kindergarten for free if the school board would provide her with classroom space and a teacher.  She ended up being the director for eleven years, at her own expense. She retired in 1884 when the St. Louis schools had 9,000 kindergartners. She died in 1916 at which point the success of the kindergarten experiment had led it to be introduced in more than 400 American cities.

kindergarten
   The colorful "chaos" of a kindergarten and preschool classroom - Image via Flickr

Credit Hours and Personalized Learning

classroomCredit hours are something that still wield a lot of power in education. It plays a role in high schools, but it really rules in higher education.

Credit hours were once known as Carnegie Units. It goes back to 1906, but it was not designed as a way of measuring learning. It was meant as a method to calculate faculty workloads in order to formulate pensions.

Earlier, admission to colleges was by examinations which varied greatly among colleges, but the method was unreliable. Charles W. Eliot at Harvard University devised a contact-hour standard for secondary education, and also the original credit-hour collegiate post-secondary standard. This is where we get our 3 credit course based on 3 contact hours per week. But the widespread adoption of the 120-hour secondary standard did not occur until the Carnegie Foundation began to provide retirement pensions (now known as TIAA-CREF) for university professors. A stipulation of the pensions was that the universities needed to enforce the 120-hour secondary standard in their admissions.

It only took four years for nearly all secondary institutions in the United States to use the "Carnegie Unit" as a measure of secondary course work. 

The Carnegie Foundation also established that both high school preparation and college "work" would include a minimum of four years of study. But the Carnegie Foundation did not intend the Units to "measure, inform or improve the quality of teaching or learning."

Unfortunately, the credit hour became the standard way to measure the student's workload and progress through those four years in secondary and higher education. Should these credit units be revised or abandoned?

The Carnegie Foundation said in 2012 that "technology has revealed the potential of personalized learning," and that "it is time to consider how a revised unit, based on competency rather than time, could improve teaching and learning in high schools, colleges and universities."

Personalized learning is sometimes suggested as a way to replace the Carnegie Unit and credit hours because it could be based on competency rather than time

But what personalized learning means seems to vary by practitioner. Even the term used to describe the practice varies. Personalized learning is sometimes called individualized instruction, differentiated instruction, direct instruction or a personal learning environment. Though they are not all the same things, they are all used to describe education that is adjusted to meet the needs of different students.

Edutopia published an article on several "myths" about personalized learning that are worth considering in any discussion of changing the way we measure workload and progress.

Because many efforts in personalized learning in the 21st century involved computers and software that allowed students to work at their own pace, personalized learning is associated with technology-based instruction.

The "personalized" part of learning is often thought to mean that students work independently. In a class of 25 students it is unlikely that there will need to be 25 distinct learning paths. Students will often work on collaborative competencies along with individual competencies focused on content and skills. Student interests shared with others in the classroom will form affinity groups for group projects and learning experiences.

Personalized learning is about learners moving at their own pace which is why students demonstrating mastery of content fits into a competency-based system.

Truly personalized learning also involves learners in setting goals and being involved in the planning and learning process. This may be the most radically different aspect of personalized learning. It is very "student-centered" so learners can select their resources and explore different ways to learn in flexible learning spaces. They may also connect their learning to their interests and passions, and even have a voice in how their learning will be assessed.

What has not changed in most personalized learning settings today are the competencies that must be met.

Personalized learning allows for self-pacing, but when students move through competencies at different speeds "credit hours" are irrelevant. If one student moves through a course set of competencies in half the "normal" time should they receive all or half the credit. Obviously, they should receive all the credit. What if they move through all the competencies in a program (degree) in two years? Do they graduate?

Personalized learning is an approach to learning — not a set program. And it is still being formulated and experimented with at different grade levels. But our learning experiments should be combined with experimentation in how we measure movement through learning. 

One Pathway for Future Engineers and Computer Scientists

Amazon is committing $50 million to computer science education in the United States with new programs supporting high school and early undergraduate students. Part of this includes financial aid to help schools bring AP computer science courses to their students. They have recently expanded this initiative into K-8.

The program has begun offering free online lessons and funding summer camps to help students discover the "fun" of computer science. Amazon critics might say this a just a kind of farm system for training new employees. Their efforts may benefit the company, but those students are probably more likely to work for other companies. And yes, I would agree that $50 million dollars is a lot of money, but not a lot of money when spread across the country's schools.

Students who start computer science early (and this seems to especially be true for females) are more likely to say they like computer science and have confidence in their computer science abilities.

I'm sure many people would write about this as another STEM or STEAM effort, but their materials talk about how positive it is for everyone to understand how computers (and that word means so many things besides the traditional laptop or desktop computer we talked about just 20 years ago) work and how they are programed.

Most students will not end up working as programmers or computer scientists, but that technology will touch the lives in and out of the workplace.

The program promotes how programming will aid not only the understanding of computers, but other technology and also a student's understanding of logic, precision and creativity.

Amazon Future Engineer Pathway is a partnership with organizations such as Code.org and Coding with Kids.

The Amazon Future Engineer Pathway program aims to support 100,000 high schoolers in taking Advanced Placement courses in computer science. It also is set to award four-year scholarships and internships to a sizable group of students from under-represented populations who participate in those courses.

Amazon is accepting scholarship applications for the 2019 campus and classes.
Schools and districts may also apply on behalf of families

https://www.amazonfutureengineer.com/

https://code.org/

https://www.codingwithkids.com/amazon/

 

On Internships

Science Fiction, Technology and Maybe Education

2001 tablet
2001 tablet

If you watch the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Stanley Kubrick, you will see some technology that seemed to predict technology of today, such as the iPad and other tablets. 

I was watching "Design is [Sci-Fi] – How Design in Sci-Fi and the Real World Influence Each Other," which is a talk given at Google by Christopher Noessel, a veteran in the UX world. He is the author of Make It So: Interaction Design Lessons from Science Fiction. 

About Face: The Essentials of Interaction Design is the update to Make It So that addresses the shift to smartphones and tablets, mobile apps and touch interfaces.

communicator
Star Trek Communicator replica (Wikimedia)

Designers sometimes use interfaces first described in in science fiction or shown in films and television shows. Film production designers working in the sci-fi genre are often free of the conventions of current technology. They can develop what are known as "blue-sky" designs. And then, fictional devices and interfaces might give designers inspiration for their real-world designs.

One example often used is the communicator used on Star Trek which seems to predict the early flip-phone mobile devices. On scifiinterfaces.com, you will find examples of how sci-fi and real-world interface design influence each other.

Films like Blade Runner tried to portray the future and give ideas in their predictions to designers in UX and technology. But does sci-fi have an influence on other fields? For example, what have educators learned from science-fiction? How has science-fiction portrayed education?

Generally, science-fiction writers and filmmakers have not really given schools of the future very much attention. Many schools and students portrayed are at the K-12 levels. Higher education is less likely to appear. Are they predicting an end to post-secondary learning in institutions? 

I remember watching the 1960s TV show and young Elroy Jetson having a robot teacher. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in the 1990s, there is a school for the space station's youngsters that is not very different from our current earthbound schools.

Certainly, online learning has made deep inroads into education at all levels, but especially in higher education. We don't have robot teachers yet, but AI, machine learning and predictive analytics have certainly started to make their way into education.

When I was teaching young adult novels, some students read Robert A Heinlein's Tunnel in the Sky. This 1955 novel presented things like high school students being teleported for their final exam in a survival class to a distant planet. My students found these schools better than their own classrooms.

I found that my students often wished they could go to these futuristic sci-fi and fantasy schools.

I'll admit that when I read the Harry Potter books, I sometimes wished to be in the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry or be a teacher there, or just have Harry, Hermoine and a few of their mates as students. 

One of the few higher education depictions I have read is Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy found in the The Magicians books by Lev Grossman and the TV adaptations. 

Are there any things that most of these future schools have in common? You would be quick to note that students have much more choice. Their curriculum seems to be all directly related to what they want to do. Yes, some of Harry Potter's classmate may not like a course on magical plants, but they realize that it is an important part of the magical world.

Obviously, these future students have amazing technology to use. Paper notebooks and books and pens and pencils generally don't exist. Everything is digital. 

But there are also things that seem very much the same. Typically, there are still classrooms, labs, rows of desks and a teacher in the front of the room. I suppose even blue-sky writers and designers haven't come up with any good alternatives to those. 

Isaac Asimov made many predictions, including some about 2019, often they were based on current scientific research. Education was something he predicted “will become fun because it will bubble up from within and not be forced in from without.” He wrote a short story that I used to teach called "The Fun They Had." It is about future students that were completely educated at home via teching machines. When the system breaks down one day, they have to read a book and find out that kids once went to a school building and had classes with other kids their age. The children are in awe of the fun those kids must have had.

I wouldn’t use “fun” as my main adjective for education today, but through MOOCs, alternate degrees, customized programs and other DIY educational paths there is more education “bubbling up” than ever before.

Christopher Noessel is a veteran in the UX world: designing products, services, and strategy
for the health, financial, and consumer domains, among many others. In this talk,
he investigates how the depiction of technologies evolve over time, how fictional interfaces
influence those in the real world, and what lessons interface designers can learn
through this process, with many examples of good and awful designs.