Lou Zulli, Jr. is a powerhouse. Whether he is guiding his students in their “spot of controlled chaos,” judging the Partners in Learning U.S. Forum, or talking with other educators and school leaders, Zulli says exactly what he means… and he practices what he preaches.
I first spoke with Zulli in March of last year, where he shared his passion for BYOD (Bring Your Own Device), and his perspective that universities are “the biggest problem in education” because they continue to teach using the “same old methods” – which means the teachers that come from those universities will teach using the “same old methods.” And for Zulli, therein lies the problem. “What we all grew up with is no longer really relevant,” he says. “The student doesn’t have to change. The school has to change. The teacher has to change.”
Today, Zulli is just as passionate and thoughtful in a video-blog he created for Daily Edventures. As ever, his laser-focus is ensuring his students – and students everywhere have an education that helps them reach their potential. “As teachers today, we have to set them free,” says Zulli. “To create, to experience, to fail. Students want to make a difference, but they can’t if they are sitting in a class of rows learning like it’s the 19th century.”
And while Zulli is a pioneer in ensuring his students are at the forefront of using technology – and he is a fervent advocate for Computer Science – he is also certain that technology is not the end-all, be-all. “It’s not about the device, it’s never been about the device,” he says. “It’s not about the tablet, not about the Internet. It’s about what we do with the device. It’s about the imagination that we use to build the knowledge.”
I hope you enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Lou Zulli, Jr. as much as I did.
What significant event(s) have taken place in your professional life since we last heard from you?
Where to start… I received a nice letter of congratulations from Senator Marco Rubio and one from Governor Rick Scott for my recognition at the 2011 Partners in Learning Global Forum. Last April, I was invited to participate in the Intel Visionary Conference. This past August, my students and I presented at the Hillsborough County School’s Tech Days and I have been asked to be a keynote speaker at the SHARE Conference in Atlanta, Georgia this April. One of my students was a national winner of the NCWIT Aspirations in Computing award and four of them were regional winners. Last month my students and I were featured in a video piece for Pinellas County Schools. I was also asked back to the 2012 Partners in Learning US Forum as a judge and found that experience to be just as educating and illuminating as it was as a participant in 2011.
What is the most significant change in the world of education you’ve observed in the last year? Why?
I have seen a greater pushback against constant high-stakes testing. I believe that parents and educators have seen how the barrage of tests suck the life out of the classroom, hampers creativity and is an obstacle to real knowledge building. As a result I have seen a greater interest in real project-based learning. As educators search for the “something” that is opposite of the high-stakes testing curriculum and focuses on 21st century skill sets they will, inevitably, find a renewed interest in project-based learning.
What have you learned in the last year as part of your professional development that you would like to share with our readers?
A wise man put a sentence on a PowerPoint slide that hit me like ton of bricks. It read: “Your students are learning without you.” This one sentence put into sharp focus why the modern teacher has to throw away the 19th century teaching model and adapt, quickly, to the 21st century. We must be the guide, ready to help students ask the right questions about what they have learned without us. We must be able to show them that knowledge without context is incomplete. Finding an answer today is the easy part, helping a student evaluate and apply that newfound knowledge is what defines a teacher.
What are you most encouraged about in education right now?
What I have always been most excited about, the joy of discovery. The look of triumph on a student’s face, the gleam in their eye and the sense of fulfillment when they accomplish a difficult task are what still keep me going. On a more professional level, I am encouraged that conversations about what equals effective teaching are occurring. I am encouraged that technology is starting to be applied creatively instead of used as a substitute for outdated methods. I am encouraged that teachers are collaborating around the world and across the United States as never before.
Is there a 21st century skill (critical thinking and problem solving, communication, collaboration, or creativity and innovation) that you are most passionate about? Why?
Yes, all of them. Let me explain, I believe the fact that we are not including Computer Science in any implementation of a core curriculum is extremely short sighted. We are still focusing on 19th century skills instead of 21st. If there is one subject, one discipline, which embodies every 21st century skill, it is Computer Science. It can be used to teach creativity (game design), innovation (creating technologies like a school bus locator app for students), problem solving (have you ever debugged a program?) and all the others. Imagine if you were a student in a high school culinary arts program who also took Computer Science classes. You would be able to build your own web site for your new food truck, write your own app for a digital menu and program your own message board. And, in every quick example above, a student would also apply knowledge from math, physics, chemistry, business and other disciplines; examples of knowledge used in context.
Where do you see your professional path taking you next?
I am very close to retirement but, while I may be ready to step out of the classroom after 40 years, I am not ready to “go into that good night” quite yet. I would really like to share what I have learned and the methods I have found that work with others. I would love to get involved in a train-the-teacher program at some level.
Interested in how to build a culture of innovation?
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