Archive for category Teaching/Learning

Still in transit…

Getting to south Africa has proven to be a bit of a challenge. Not because of paperwork or documentation because that all went very smoothly. So glad we followed the South African Embassy process. That proved to be the best part of our overall paperwork.

But, the time it takes on the flights and the connections in between makes it a bit of a daunting task to travel about a third of the way across the globe to the south. The kids have handled it well, seasoned travelers as they are. We are in Johannesburg and about to board our final flight on the leg to Kasane where we will spend the next week in this general region.

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All checked in…

26 kids – 4 adults – passports and documents from a dozen countries.

All clear!  On the plane! Everything checked to destination. Life is good on the first leg of our adventure!


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Africa began…

The Ambassadors gathered at school for our departure at 3p today and the mood was good.  All was well prepared and every ounce of luggage utilized for the trip to meet the benefactors of their efforts.  Clothing and other gifts were packed in every nook and cranny.

So, as we now prepare for the long journey ahead (and the math tests I’m proctoring for some on the airplane), the mood is good and I feel a bus ride song is imminent.

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Africa Begins

I’m heading off tomorrow for an adventure with 27 of our high school students.  After a quick board meeting, I’m on a plane to Africa to help out with our school building projects in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  My thanks to all who contributed to this project both through the many activities throughout the year and via the Director’s Challenge fundraiser, which has raised US$13,000 thus far to push the kids to their goals.  You can still contribute to the project until the remaining spots are filled.  Contribute to the Director’s Challenge via PayPal or by direct payment to the AAS Cashier.

I’m heading off tomorrow for an adventure with 27 of our high school students.  After a quick board meeting I’m on a plane to Africa to help out with our school building projects in Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  My thanks to all who contributed to this project both through the many activities throughout the year and the recent culmination through the Director’s challenge raising US$13,000 to push the kids to their goals.  You can still contribute to the project until the remaining spots are filled and completing the challenge while I’m away.

While I’m gone, I’m going to try and push out blog entries on my experiences with the kids.  So, please stay in touch via the Zimplicity blog and feel free to subscribe for my email feed to get notified of new content.

Finally, my thanks to all involved in Parent Conferences today.  I had a chance to spend some extra time in the North Gym this morning and there was a tremendously positive buzz in the room as both Middle School and High School reaffirmed our parent partnership for the work ahead in the final months of school.  Please offer your feedback to MS and HS administration for their hard work in preparing and implementing the new format.  They plan to review and continue to refresh their process next year based on your important input.

I should note that during my absence, you can seek out Ian Forster, Deputy Director, or Melissa Schaub, Director of Curriculum and Instruction for any concerns.  They will be capably steering the ship while I’m away.

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Getting to “YET”

Published originally in December, Carol Dweck has extended her work to include this reinforcement of her concepts into the notion of “Getting to Yet”.  From Sweden TEDx in September, she proposes the concept of a grade for a class being a “Not Yet” rather than a failing grade.

The concept of growth mindset has not be propelled more than through Carol’s work.  It’s a critical concept that should drive the work of schools more centrally.  In the framework of “personalized learning,” the idea of loving a challenge is central to understanding how abilities are developed.

It is still hard to understand this under an increasingly accountability frame of mind.  We can’t let go of necessary accomplishment, but the balance is through what we have “yet” to accomplish rather than building resumes that only capture the past.  There seems potential linkage here between extrinsic reward that has yielded the generation of workers focused on tangible rather than intuitive rewards.

Praise the process equal to the product…

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Technology Integration in Schools

At a session at International School of Prague as part of the Spring CEESA Conference.  Discussion about the integration of technology and pushing the boundaries of our thinking on the topic.  The SAMR model helps us to see the context of integration and the transformational aspects that we are all seeking:




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TEDxAAS – My first one…

The students in charge of this did a fabulous job!!

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ECIS Panel Discussion – April, 2012

Initial thoughts:


The initial question posited to the conference panel that I’ve been asked to address:

Information Technology in school – Does it improve  learning?

Gathered some resources to begin to address this question and related topics:

The key issue associated with answering the question revolves first around how you define improving learning.  The learning targets that are currently accepted often revolve around norm referenced test scores because of our reliance on these measures to show growth or performance against a larger data set.  There is some validity to this because of the large data set available after decades of using these measures and the large body of experience with these measures.

However, these kinds of measures are ill prepared to measure 21st century skills.  They effectively measure math, reading, writing, and core knowledge competency, but they do little to measure attitudes, intellectual processing skills, and skills revolving around independence, collaboration, and innovation.  We have scores of examples of students who are truly gifted as leaders and complex thinkers that routinely scored below average on the accepted measures.

So, if you are asking me whether information technology improves learning, I would have to answer “No”.

There is no clear empirical evidence that information technology as an independent variable has a correlation to improved student learning as a dependent variable in the traditional, measured definition of the term.

I would suggest that addressing this question from a quantitative point of view is faulty at the outset.  This is the same logic that has led to American ignorance of the impact of poverty on education and learning.  We’ve spent more than a decade comparing our results to international measures only to ignore how poverty has impacted our bottom line.  A recent AASA blog entry highlights the fallacy of the standards movement to address educational reform while ignoring this poverty gap between the countries (e.g. Finland with 4% in poverty vs. U.S. at 21%).  Quantitative measures are insufficient in addressing complex issues.

Logic confirms that If we want to address what technology enables, we need different goals for education.  In the truest tradition of backward design, it begins with this question:

What world are we preparing kids to live in?

Addressing that question and looking at essential skills for a 21st century world is where we truly should be focused.  In regards to this question, the next logical qualified questions is:

Does the use of information technology in schools prepare kids for a technology rich world we can scarcely describe in the current moment?

Then the answer would be a resounding and passionate — YES!!  Now let’s design and build measures for addressing skills that emerge from this backward design and use measures that are meant to really test whether students are developing 21st century skills.  Let’s get beyond the issue of technology as an entity and look at how we create technology rich environments that eminently prepare students for the world of their future.


Hattie research:

and one recently reported danger from CNET:


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The Holiday Season Begins @ AAS

AAS 5th Grade from Jon Zurfluh on Vimeo.

Erin and her classmates entertain parents at recent gathering.

BTW – All video done with iPhone and edited with iMovie on the iPhone. Amazing…

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The Future…

I know this is just a gadget on one hand, but for those with a science fiction come reality sort of mind, what are the implications of this?  Are we preparing kids for a world with stuff like this?  I mean really – Do the classrooms of today bear any resemblance to the technology they will live with after graduation?  Really???!?!?!?

This changes everything…

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Common Sense Thinking

These guys get it…

Look especially at 25:40 for the key question on individualizing… Powerful – listen for the shoe story.


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Parents – Time to Select Your Child’s Hardware

Schools are increasingly struggling with decisions on how to support the growing trends in technology adoption in a fast paced and constantly changing technology rich world. The number of schools moving toward greater access to technology is growing with exponential magnitude. The challenge is the cost associated with these adoptions and further compounded by the increasing pace of obsolescence. Often, we are buying equipment that has a usable lifespan of far less than three years making traditional depreciation schedules useless.

But, first we need to begin with the rationale for including technology in the learning process. Even after two decades of study, there is limited empirical support for academic achievement through implementation of technology alone. There are benefits that emerge from the use of technology, but the tools we currently use to measure educational progress are unlikely to capture the nuances of how technology helps us to achieve those goals.

We have to start with a different perspective on the function of education to understand the “why technology?” question. In our look at curriculum and instruction, we often take time to ask another critical question — “What do children need to know and be able to do to be successful after schooling?” In the time of Sputnik we shifted our educational focus to include science and math in order to generate a work force that could challenge emerging Russian competence in the race to outer space. We have more recently shifted focus to develop skills in collaboration and communication because corporate leaders suggest that graduates join the workforce woefully unprepared for a fast-paced and competitive global environments that require teamwork and flexible ongoing skill development. We shift curriculum to include more phonics when basic reading scores show a decline and we return to a whole language approach when motivation, comprehension, and fluency lag. This tipping back and forth on agendas has often been described as a swinging pendulum and it serves as the primary source of teacher frustration.

With technology we confront a sustained trend that is more profound than these cyclical curricular iterations of the past. Can we legitimately argue that the concept of integrated technology is a fad? Can we continue to posit that a productive and intelligent life can emerge in an environment bereft of technological tools in the current age?

With each iteration of innovation, technology becomes increasingly embedded and ubiquitous in daily life. Along with that trend, the challenges of adequately preparing students to live in a technologically enhanced world increases at an ever quickened pace. More than any other curricular challenge of recent memory, this trend is poised to leave us with a growing split between those who can and those who cannot – a digital divide that will become the new yardstick of competence.

Schools have to recognize that there, in fact, technology is becoming embedded in schools despite their lack of responsiveness. Students bring technology to school in increasing numbers and this technology is a demonstration of how the trend has created a ubiquitousness without intervention. In light of this, it seems prudent that school consider a different approach to technology integration.

It’s time for schools to let go of control methodologies that are founding in outdated frameworks. Authoritarian control over choice is a throwback to an over-structured approach to teaching that has been proven ineffective. Instead, schools should welcome technology with open arms and — and this is important — students should bring it, not unlike the annual selection of the latest binder or pencil on the Fall supply lists. The recent BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) initiatives are an initial realization that schools can divest themselves of responsibility for user hardware and instead focus their energies on infrastructure and backbone to a technologically capable learning environment. The same should be expected of teachers and administrators.

I suggest that the time has passed where schools should expend capital on narrowing options for achievement with discussions of operating systems and minimum configurations. It’s time for schools to create an open and welcome environment enriched by cloud based applications that removes the need for Microsoft or Linux allegiances. Even the Horizon 2011 report finds this to be the most critical trend in the next few years and repeated again after first introduced in 2010.

The bottom line for parents – pick your child’s computer and then demand that schools allow that computer to accompany the child. By becoming an advocate for this paradigm, you support a move to a future-focused education that is more likely to prepare your child for the reality we all have to admit is on the near horizon.

The bottom line for teachers and administrators – build your own self-efficacy in regards to technology in order to assure your competence in guiding effective integration. If you don’t own and regularly update your personal technology, you should. If you don’t embrace the use of technology as a core skill for the future, you must.

Don’t delay! With the pace of change, we dare not pause and watch more ground lost for the sake of mindless caution and a stoic grip on entrenched and unenlightened attitudes.

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Another look at the future…

I remember a similar video from Microsoft that takes a look at the future – not too distant – to conjecture on the state of the world associated with products already in the pipeline.  I like to think of it as the nexus between StarTrek and reality.  We’ve seen many crossover and successful products emerge this way. On the backs of Roddenberry style imagination, the future is crafted.  Science fiction brought us cell phones and iPads.  This video suggests what is next in interactive environments.

So the question that emerges is what do we do about preparing students for a future like this? If they only used today’s computers, will they be ready to demonstrate proficiency in a world of this level of interactive demand?

Leadership requires that we move education closer to the leading edge of this kind of development. I have to prepare students for this in school, so that they can go on to dream the next level of accomplishment. The people that are crafting these new ideas were enabled at some point in their education to see beyond the limitations. Can we create another generation of unimagined innovation?

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Leadership and Learning

Jay McTighe, one of the gurus behind Understanding by Design, has posted this video on his recent encounter with failure.  It speaks to the issue of leaders who are often marked by age that is associated with their experience. Even Jay is showing his age despite the fact that he is only 7 years my senior. (This fact caused me to go peak in my mirror.  Yikes!)

At the AAIE conference, this was apparent as I looked across a “wise” crowd of international school leaders.  The focus of the weekend was technology and the overall content of the conference fell short of accessing the robust technology available today.  That doesn’t mean it was a bad conference – just bereft of the tools we were discussing.  I would suggest that it drove home the point of the separation between digital natives, digital immigrants, and digital dinosaurs.  While Jay is talking mostly about learning (and learners), I’m suggesting that his insights also provide a unique focus on leaders who are desperate to remain open to innovation, but are challenged by their own fear of failure when addressing a complex and constantly changing context.

Marc Prensky helped us to understand through his keynote that our issue is about the difference between nouns and verbs.  We need to be less focused on the nouns which constitute the latest fads of technology tools (e.g. – Facebook, Twitter, Email, etc.) and focus instead on the skills (verbs) of the 21st century.  While we need to embrace the nouns as they emerge and are adopted, the process skills of problem solving, collaboration, and communication remain static and highly adaptive to the new context.  A powerful connection when considering Jay’s insight into how we address our fear of failure.  As Jay notes:

  • Don’t give in to negative self-talk
  • Don’t let an initial failure keep you from trying again
  • Be strategic – practice, details, visualize success

Surfing at 60 is possible for even our most experienced leaders.  And I’m not talking about the ocean kind of surfing.

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What we really should be doing…

To learn what Alan November believes a successful school environment should look like, watch the 10-minute interview below:

This is similar to Ken Robinson’s plea for a revolution rather than evolution in education.  It strikes me that we often try to build on what we know rather than making the leap forward.  Innovation and accomplishment will only come from competent and inspirational discord – not from compliance or cohesion with current paradigms.

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Presenting at #globaled10


Only had a few participants, but enjoyed talking about my topic and the powerpoint seemed to have just the right amount of data.  Had some nice involvement, but it would have been even more fun with hundreds.  😉

Here’s the recording link:

I’m presenting today at GlobalEd10 in my first online Eluminate session.  This is a wonderful first attempt at global staff development in a virtual environment and I’m looking forward to sharing my thoughts on leadership in a multi-cultural environment with whoever shows up.  I have not been pushing for participation because I’m a bit nervous, but looking forward to sharing my thoughts as they relate to my doctoral work on the topic.  Slideshare is now ready and this post is going up about 2 hours before the session.  Hope it doesn’t give too much of it away to otherwise turn people away.  Truthfully, I have lots of stories to tell to go with this content.

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Simplicity is our enemy…

A couple of issues are nagging on me and, as I watched an old TED video by Dan Meyer, some thoughts formed on why we are struggling with change and reform in schools (or anywhere for that matter).  Dan quoted David Milch with the following when reflecting on the ills of a sit-com society:

It [television] creates an impatience … with irresolution….

We can see examples of this in every aspect of life.  We see it in politics and government.  We see it in advertisement and product delivery.  Certainly, in computers and technology, we have examples of this modality where immediate gratification drives our interest and decision making.

In fact, a recent parent conference confirmed my ongoing frustration with this simple solution mentality.  My son, who is generally a capable student, made a mistake on a recent test.  In one section of the test, he failed to read a direction that required students answering false in a true/false section to also correct the statement to make it true.  Like many of his classmates, he failed to follow this subtle direction and, thus, an “A/B” grade became a “D.”  At the conference held to discuss this issue, it also turned out that this was an object lesson in “following directions” and the teachers actually expected many of the students to mess up.  As luck would have it, the principal sat in on our conference and reiterated the school’s belief that this was a fair judgment of what my child was “taught.”  After all, “we have to teach kids that there are consequences in life and you don’t always get second chances.”

After holding my breath for a few moments, I simply asked for assessments that actually measured what my child knows and can do.  The response was, “we are not doing standards based grading, so we can’t do that.”  Interesting for a district that cites Stiggins on their website as a key reference and has pride in a “guaranteed and viable curriculum.”

So here is where simplicity fits into this discussion:

  1. We like the simplicity of object lessons, because it means we don’t have to monitor students as they work to assure success.
  2. We like the simplicity of quick and easy solutions because we can stand stoically behind them as ingeniously logical and sustainable despite the mythology upon which they are based.
  3. We like standardized tests and common core curriculum because we don’t have to be accountable for the hard work or results associated with our own professional expertise.  Instead, we can just implement and follow instructional guides with little thought to adaptation or unique insight.
  4. We like the political election cycle because we can regularly blame whoever is in power and vote them out only to find similar reaction to those elected in the next cycle — and on and on and on….
  5. We like to eliminate technology and leading edge curriculum from schools because they are far too complex to allow in a simple solution environment — and we might have to struggle a bit to get it right.
  6. We like making parents sign forms (with a witness signature) for every image that may accidentally be displayed on a school website (if there were any school website pages actually updated regularly) because we like the simplicity of signatures and absolving ourselves of responsibility.
  7. We like the simplicity of spending oodles of money contemplating geo-engineering to fix our planet in the future rather than conserving resources today – it’s simple and I don’t have to deal with it.

You get the picture?  We have allowed simplicity to guide our thinking to the point of seeking the 30-minute solution to all our problems.  We elected a president to a 4-year term of tough change only to be abandoning his efforts halfway through our commitment. We look for simple and quick solutions around every corner.  An economic meltdown should be solved in a fortnight.  Somebody please wave the wand and make 10% unemployment turn into 5% by morning.  Elect me and I can make that happen.  Right!?!?!?!?

Politics, education, and life are complex matters.  Get used to it.  Turn off the TV, read a book (I dare you), write frequent letters to your elected representatives, and realize that the world still turns at roughly the same velocity as it did decades and centuries ago.  Give our kids a break and let them explore the wonders of the universe rather than just mastering the drudgery of sanitized benchmarks.  Open their minds instead of hardening their hearts. Please?!

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Changing Paradigms and Getting It Right…

This explanatory video discusses ADHD and a variety of topics, but more importantly, it’s a valuable call to action against a different perspective on the needed reforms that should be taking place around the world. While I value that he has only touched on a few key topics, the references to globalization are critical to understand the complex dynamics in play. We dare not ignore the insidiously embedded nature of predispositions that have been layered upon us. Schools have effectively trained themselves into complacency and conformity over decades. Any change effort is fraught with challenge and acrimony when it confronts these well established myths of how learning should take place.

My take on the key points:

  1. We must attack this issue globally.
  2. We must dispel the grouping and packing of students. Remove the assembly line mentality to achieve the greatest gains.
  3. We have to abandon all attempts to create a perfect system to meet all needs. While I value that the business leaders want these systems to control costs, the reality is we need to spend less on obsolete materials and methods and move these resources to meeting the needs of the moment. Let’s capture the uniqueness of individuals and build responsive systems that are messy and less defined – let collaboration emerge as our primary response mechanism. (BTW – this will get rid of the teachers who want to plan really well in their first year and then repeat it 29 times until they retire.)
  4. Let’s focus our energies on truly accepting and understanding the concept of motivation and stop our practice of brainwashing children to accept carrot & stick as a way of life.

I’m sure there is more here that others would think worthy of equal emphasis. What do you think?

One reflection: Have you noticed how the successful “pockets” of innovation seem to first isolate themselves from interaction before they go public with their achievements? Look at the Harlem Children’s Zone as an example. The work there was isolated and tied to one innovator. He sold it selectively and built it as a distinct departure from the paradigms. After it achieved success, he trumpeted it and reigned in the additional resources to meet the needs of each successive generation. We see many of these “pockets of excellence” emerging everywhere. I say, let the diversity reign and let’s allow these pockets to multiply geometrically and meet the needs of the next generation of learners. Competition is dead. Long live divine inspiration and dedicated, purpose-driven organizations!!

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The Zurfluh’s are heading to Moscow!!!

It’s with both pride and gratitude that I’m able to announce our move to Moscow, Russia in July, 2011 as I take up the position of Director for the Anglo-American School of Moscow and St. Petersburg. As the largest school in the CEESA region, I’ll master the helm of about 1500 students on two campuses in two distinctive cities in Central/Eastern Europe. For more details of my appointment, read the board communication and my introductory thoughts to the AAS community here.

Here’s a great picture of our new home:

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Happy First Day Everyone!!

I love the first day of school each year. This year, with dissertation work continuing, I again ushered my own two kids into school, but did not take the reins of a classroom or building. I miss it.

I love the rain beating down on my umbrella while watching buses safely deliver kids to my building.  I love the calls on the hand-held letting me know that Johnny isn’t sure to which classroom he is assigned.  I relish the parent handshakes, the unloading of supplies.  The wide-eyed enthusiasm is part of my biological clock and it refreshes me with each iteration of the cycle.  Like the children in this video, I’m floating toward the heavens in awe of the mystery that is yet to emerge.

May you all have a wonderful “blast off” whether you have started or will soon do so.  May this year be an exciting one where you accomplish all that you seek for yourself and for the children in your charge.

Dr. Kirpal Singh (Singapore Management University) laments in a movie featured at 21Foundation that we are focusing on preparing kids for today or yesterday, but that very few of us are preparing kids for tomorrow.  That needs to be our focus and we should recommit to reaching out further than we can comprehend to address the needs of these citizens of a new millennium.

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