“Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

On my lunch break today, which was sandwiched somewhere in between covering for various teachers who were attending Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, I read an article through my Flipboard on MindShift by Thom Markham titled, “Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

The short answer to the headlining question? Yes.  My only question?  Why is this even being debated?

Ok..stay with me, here…Let me explain why I don’t see a reason for debate.  My complete sentence answer is, “They not only can they coexist, but they must coexist.”  And I really think most teachers and parents would agree with the statement if we set the record straight on some terminology.

First, the words “standards” and ” formulaic” are NOT interchangeable.  I frequently here “standards” and Common Core being described as formulaic restrictions that will suffocate learning.  Standards are not prescriptive.  They do not tell the teacher to teach commas on Monday and prepositions on Tuesday.  They are the common foundation in which a teacher can build anything upon.  Standards are “the basics”.

Why do we need standards?  There needs to be a common foundation for teachers, other students, parents, and students to know what is minimally expected for them to know.  There should be some content standards.  For instance, by the end of the 1st grade a student in America should know the significance of the year 1776 to the United States of America.  Another reason: certain facts do not need to be cited in a paper because they are considered to be “common knowledge”.  This “common knowledge” should be defined somewhere.

There are various reasons basic content standards should be outlined.  It gives parents, educators, and tutors who teach privately (“homeschool”) to ensure the same common knowledge is being learned so that if in 5 years a switch must occur, from one district to another, from private to public education, etc., the new educator does not need to spend time “remaking” the common foundation.  This ensures that students who change education styles do not feel like they need to skip grades or be put in remedial classes because they are ahead or behind “grade-level”.

We know we need to teach skills.  We know we need to use a project-based learning environment.  We need to keep the individual accountable yet learn to work effectively in collaboration.  However, without this foundation, the content-based standards, we cannot reach the higher-order thinking required for project-based learning.

How can one create a new type of solar cell without a good grasp of mathematics or knowledge of what the suns rays are composed of?  How will student be able to solve problems if they don’t have the background knowledge to identify what the problem even is?  How will that person submit a research paper for publication in a journal or write a grant to produce a prototype if he can’t write a proper sentence?

Let’s look at standards in another way.  If we don’t have standards to minimally define the objectives of high school, then why do we even have high school altogether?  Think about the educational goals and objectives of high school.  How are they different from middle school or even elementary school? If we cannot even define the objectives we want students to accomplish in high school, there is a much larger problem than curriculum/methods of presentation.  How much of compulsory learning is actually “essential” to being a productive member of society and what is superfluous?

There are quite a few rhetorical questions in that last paragraph.  However, we really need to think about why we need standards versus what the standards should be.

Last analogy: if I asked you (in the USA) to go to McDonald’s and get me a medium Diet Coke (please), would you know what size glass I’m asking you to get?  Now let’s exchange McDonald’s for Burger King.  If they both have a Diet Coke machine and I asked for a medium Diet, would I get essentially the same thing?  Most likely, unless they recently changed cup sizes on me.  I remember a number of years ago some of the fast food restaurants changed their glasses sizes and suddenly a medium at Burger King was previously the large and I was charged more.  Standardization is what allows you to expect cups to usually come in 8oz, 12oz, 16oz, 20oz, and 32oz.  Once in awhile you may find a 10oz.  You don’t expect to find a 13oz cup at McDonald’s.  And how did the graphic designer know what would fit on the cup?  Standardization.  All McDonald’s restaurants have the same size cups.

Education standards function the same way as the cup.  Teachers are the graphic designers.  We make the difference between the look of the cup, but it’s foundation is still a cup.

Project-based learning must coexist with content standards.  Neither will thrive without the other.  It is a symbiotic relationship (a term learned in science class, yet here it is in another “subject”).

TeachHub Magazine

Digital magazines are increasing in popularity quite rapidly.  The convenience of downloading the magazine to a tablet, the green/eco benefits of the magazine (not killing trees or what to do with the paper copy after you’re done), and, in some cases, the less expensive price-per-issue cost simply outweighs buying a magazine from the local grocery store or newsstand.

TeachHub_AprilCoverDigital magazines have also given a platform to smaller publications to have equal circulation with well-known, well-established magazines.  With lower overhead costs, many publications are able be able sustain their print edition through the sales of their digital edition, or even to survive in digital form only.  One publication to debut in digital form only, is TeachHub Magazine.  It is a recent publication, only three issues published, March, April, and May (just published yesterday!).

If you are unfamiliar with TeachHub.com, you need to become fast friends. The site focuses on the field of education, teaching, and technology.  TeachHub Magazine is available free on Newsstand for the iPad and, just recently, the iPhone.  And when I mean free, I don’t mean the app is free but you have to pay for the magazine, I mean the magazine is free.  Always. Forever.  The K-12 Teachers Alliance (website sponsor) promises never to charge for it.TeachHub_AprilContents

So what’s inside?  Teacher stories, both funny and inspiring, articles on professional development, technology reviews, book reviews, movie reviews, articles on bullying, articles on Common Core, and essentially, articles to help you be a better educator, advocate, parent, or student.

TeachHub Magazine takes advantage of the digital publication medium.  It’s interactive, and it’s more than just hyperlinks.  There are embedded video clips, “tap to reveal answer”‘ prompts, scrolling top to bottom to read an article and left to right to flip between articles, and “tap here to connect” to further your reading/understanding of the topic.

The magazine is a quick read, there are only about 20-some pages in each issue; however, the information is very helpful, reassuring, informative, and current.  Some topics they cover I already know a bit about.  It’s great to be reassured that I am current on at least a few ideas.  The information on bullying, Common Core, apps for the iPad, and reviews are succinctly informative.  They don’t need to go on for pages and pages like professional journal articles because the magazine has a more general audience than professional journals.  Another bonus of its succinctness–the lists of items (i.e. workout tips or music apps) are helpful because they boil down all the possible options into small steps that are feasibly implementable tomorrow.  Articles that I’ve read so far in the March and April issues (still reading the May one!) are the same topics covered in recent blog posts.  TeachHub Magazine infuses as much technology into their digital publication as possible without being so overwhelming that it comes across as trying to hard.  I find it to be a perfect balance.

Speaking of perfect balance, there are no ads in the magazine, either.  At the end of the magazine there are two full-page advertisements: one for TeachHub.com and one for the sponsor of TeachHub.com, the K-12 Teachers Alliance.

For a completely free magazine, there is no other in this field of this caliber.  I am impressed with each issue, impressed with TeachHub.com‘s blog posts and all the content I find on their site.  If you’ve subscribed to Teaching and Technology‘s Flipboard magazine, you’ll notice quite a few articles from TeachHub.com have been flipped into it.

iPad as the Teacher’s Pet: An Infographic

This infographic was created by @TonyVincent.  It is the most thorough, most informative, and most helpful iPad app infographic for education that I have seen.   This infographic is more than just a .jpg or .png file; it was uploaded to Scribd, so that the included links to the apps or other websites would work.

On Tony’s blog entry for this infographic he also posted links to download a 6-page version to print or a very large 24-page version to piece together to make a poster.


Flipboard is an app for the iPad, iPhone, and Android that connects the best aspects of print media with the best parts of social media. It gives the user the organization of newspaper sections, the appearance and functionality of magazines, and the sharing capabilities of social media.

It has been around for quite some time; in fact, I downloaded it about a year ago. At the time it did not function like I wanted it to, or perhaps I didn’t understand it well enough, or even a not-so-friendly user interface made seeing its potential difficult. I abandoned it in favor of Google Reader. I was content with saving my RSS feeds to Goggle Reader, and we got along quite well. Recently, I logged into Google Reader to find an announcement: Google was going to retire its Reader. I cringed. We were so happy…I understood Google’s explanation for discontinuing he service, but I was sad…how will I aggregate my RSS feeds now? I did not want to bookmark them and individually go to them every day; there had to be an acceptable RSS reader somewhere. Flipboard was back on my radar.

Flipboard is amazing. You can save each individual RSS feed as its own tile on the Flipboard screen. This allows you to go specifically only to that feed if you want. However, there is a feature titled “Cover Stories” where it pulls popular items from all your feeds and you can leaf through the most frequently looked at.

Flipboard TilesThis app goes beyond RSS feeds. As I mentioned above, it combines the sharing capabilities of social media. Connect as many of your social media networks as you want, for example, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr. Not only can you post to these accounts, but Flipboard retrieves the feeds from these sources as well. You can have a tile on your Flipboard that goes directly to your Twitter feed, but items from each of these feeds will appear in “Cover Stories”.

Flipboard also has an abundance of interest categories you can select to creat tiles on your Flipboard. When you tap that particular tile, you can view articles relating to that interest. There are subcategories within each interest to showcase more specific information, such as a particular style of humor, entertainment publication, or sports team.

In other words, “Cover Stories” pulls from all your social networks, all your RSS feeds (blogs), news sources, and interests. You can select to just view one individually or scan thorough all and see the “highlights”. Just like a newspaper, the front section is the highlights but there are more specific sections as well.

Flipboard is formatted for the user to flick from right to left to see more content. It mimics the movement of turning a page, but without it being too page-like. There are no fake pages that curl as you move your finger; however, the illusion of turning pages is present. Flipboard doesn’t mimic the look of paper because it isn’t an imitation of anything; it is its own app with its own defining characteristics.

imageAmong those characteristics is its newest feature: magazines. Magazines allow you to save any item from Flipboard into a “magazine”, which is basically like your own interest category. You can make magazines public or private. A private magazine would be great to save articles you’d like to read later. A public one would be one you’d like to share with anyone. Instead of posting links on Twitter or Facebook, Flipboard allows you to “flip” an article into the collection and people who have added that magazine to their tiles can instantly see it. If you have Flipboard already, check out Teaching and Technology’s Flipboard Magazine. If you don’t have Flipboard, you should download it. It is available for iPad, iPhone, and Android.