13 December 2015

Read Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School If You Want to Make Immediate Changes in Your Classroom

Three months ago, I ran across a social media feed where a woman bemoaned the word hack saying it should be used only when talking about a terrible cough or trying to get into a computer system illegally. While those might be more traditional dictionary definitions of the word, the word hack is common in technology and education circles today. The New Yorker dates the playful (white hat) use of the word to 1955 at M.I.T. in this March 2014 articleWhile I'm not sure how hack permeated the education world, I'm guessing it started in ed tech circles. I found myself using hack once in a conversation with an educator in a rural district and quickly realized she perceived negative connotations, so I tried to explain myself. Too bad I hadn't yet come across the Hack Learning series. The first book I read in the series, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, conveys an optimist tone throughout as the authors offer practical can-do now tips to transform teaching and learning.

Barnes and Gonzalez suggest that we don't need to wait for new policy changes, district decisions, or school leaders to change our work as educators. Each of the 10 ideas (hacks) solves problems using ordinary and readily available objects, systems, and people. The authors show others how to creatively address problems by repurposing and reimagining resources. They encourage us to behave like a hacker.
"Embrace the concept of iteration, of continually reviewing and reworking a solution until it becomes the perfect fit for your particular needs."

Each chapter tackles a different problem, offers a solution, provides suggestions for implementation, shares advice for dealing with pushback, and provides examples of the hack in action. 

The problems

  1. Time consuming meetings
  2. Little to no opportunity to observe fellow teachers
  3. No peace and quiet (especially a problem for introverts)
  4. Classroom management
  5. Lack of tech support
  6. Teacher turnover
  7. Flipped learning doesn't always work
  8. Students aren't reading enough
  9. Learning isn't shared beyond classroom walls
  10. Students referred to as data points

Read about creative solutions for all problems represented in the book while you feel a positive culture of ongoing learning coming from the authors. From student run tech-teams to anecdotal data records as a means for knowing your students better to glass classrooms focused on student-centered learning, the authors share practical ways to overcome problems with simple solutions and specific ideas for immediate implementation. No need to wait until next semester or next year. You can implement these hacks now. 

One of my favorite hacks includes the use of student tech gurus to solve the lack of technology support available in schools. 
"Apart from troubleshooting, a team of student tech gurus can also work proactively, training students and staff in basic skills, so the whole school learns together." 

Think about how much your students already know and can do with technology and what they might teach you and your colleagues. From a parent perspective, I also imagine my own son would thrive on a student tech team if offered the opportunity.

Another hack I really like is the Track Record for recording specific objective observations about student behavior. I especially appreciate the focus on recording positive behavior. For example, if a student has problems with being tardy, record how many times she/he is on-time in a week, instead of how many times the student is late. The idea is if the system is put into place with good intentions and is managed well, it's likely to reduce behavior problems. 

Finally, I must mention the Book Nook, and though this idea is not necessarily novel, the idea that the books are gifts, not loaners, is new to me. This minor difference is almost magical, especially for students who don't have many books in their homes. The idea is also simple, easy to implement and focused on building a culture of readers in a school. 

"For every person who sniffs that an idea is "nothing new," there are ten more who have never heard of it. It's the variations, the iterations, that can make an old idea fresh again."

The word hack belongs because the concept is on improving education through a process of multiple iterations and scaling change. I certainly look forward to reading other books in this series. How about you--have you read any of the books in the Hack Learning series?