I have become a big believer in the power of crowd-sourcing ideas via social media, despite my initial skepticism. A few times, now, I have used Twitter to get a bunch of great suggestions in response to queries within an hour of my post.

The other day, working under the guidance of my colleague Chrissi Miles, I set up a chat space in Twitter to enable all UbD users to quickly share ideas – #ubdchat. As the first focus of conversation, I thought it would be good to ask a question that would generate practical guidance. So, I asked: Who has a great essential question that works really well with kids? Within an hour, the following came back:

  • Who are ‘they’?
  • Who says?
  • What does it mean to be human?
  • How do and how much do fear & desire to be accepted influence us?
  • Whose story is this?
  • Whose voice is being heard and whose is being left out?
  • Why do we do what we do?
  • What is beauty and who defines it?
  • Can a hero be fatally flawed? (What is a hero?)
  • Are we responsible for the behavior of others?
  • Who owns space?
  • Who counts as a ‘real’ American?
  • “Everything occurs in cycles” True?
  • What does learning look like? (an EQ for teachers)
  • Why is the ocean a heat pump?
  • What does it mean to be educated?
  • What does it mean to be smart?

Hard to knock those kind of useful results! What social media and similar forums do is solve one of the great shortcomings of traditional education: isolation and ignorance of ‘best practice’.

I actually recall the very day I ‘got’ the power of the Internet: a day in mid-winter in 1998, when my tech guy showed me that if you searched for stuff smartly, you could find almost anything you wanted. I was stunned and instantly saw how this could revolutionize education. Now I am stunned when I encounter teachers – some of them half my age – who don’t get that isolation is dumb and ignorance is unnecessary. You don’t need anything fancier than Google and Twitter to find something cool and useful for every challenge you face. Whenever I need a cool video clip, I go to the Teaching Channel. (Look at Chris McCloud’s cool middle school math unit for a great lesson and good teaching.) Whenever I want to know what nifty units exist on a topic – say the Pythagorean Theorem – I just Google on Unit on Pythagorean Theorem. Try it.

In the non-virtual world, though, MANY teachers still prefer isolation and the comfort of habit. They want their doors closed, to be left alone. In one district in which we currently work, there is outright suspicion and hostility concerning visitors of any kind, including colleagues. That’s a recipe for non-improvement and endless defensiveness borne of uncertainty. Indeed, I look forward to the day when no classroom has doors, large windows permit constant observation, and student work is available for study and insight on each teacher’s website and walls. I look forward to the day when teachers work together like coaching staff working alongside players to review ‘game film’ each week about what worked and what didn’t.

As a coach I learned decades ago that the public nature of what I did was in everyone’s interest, including (especially) mine. As a teacher, I was the first ever in my school to videotape his class – in the 70s, before VHS cassettes! – and invite others to watch, discuss, critique my work with me, and together troubleshoot common problems. Yet, despite a world of video on every phone, few teachers I know routinely tape their classes for later analysis, despite the fact that every coach, actor, and musician regularly does so.

What are we afraid of? Would we rather be alone or better? Now that’s a pair of essential questions.