Saturday, December 31, 2011

Re-Conditioning Learners

I was hoping to share this thought earlier but failed to do so. The title of this post comes from a conversation I had with an English teacher during the final week of class before winter recess.  I was informally checking in and stopped by a classroom where an English teacher was enjoying a prep period.  During the course of the conversation, I asked what her class would look like after break.  The teacher responded by saying that she needed to alter the classroom structure with the hope of re-conditioning learning.  I was struck by this response and asked for the teacher to explain what was meant by the term re-condition.

This particular English teacher expressed a desire to have her students become more self-reliant.  She observed that far to often students rely on the teacher to solve problems.  Students are quick to seek an "answer" from her as opposed to figuring out solutions on their own or in conjunction with peers.  It was noted that this was pronounced in her honors English classes, where students sought a quick remedy.  This English teacher was struck by the extent to which students turned to the teacher not so much for help, but rather an answer.  Additionally, she was concerned by either the unwillingness or diminished capacity for students to construct a problem-solving process. 

It was the hope after the break to alter the structure to where students had to actively develop a process through which complex problems could be addressed. She saw herself stepping back and providing space for students to work through complex tasks.  She was going to refrain from offering answers and or solutions.  Her efforts would be focused on mentoring students through what potentially could be a frustrating process of developing the capacity to solve problems independent of the teacher.   The term re-conditioning was used to capture both her observations and future intentions.  I agree with her observations that learners are quick to turn to a teacher for an answer.  I am not sure if it is a matter of effort, but instead, a system that fails to foster problem-solving skills.  There is a need for to re-condition learners into imaginative and industrious problem-solvers. 

It will be interesting to see how this process plays out and in particular whether students realize the importance of developing the capacity to be capable problem-solvers.  I asked this English teacher to archive her reflections and encourage students to do the same.  Hopefully, somewhere in the future both the teacher and students would be willing to publicly share their reflections and comment on this idea of re-conditioning learning.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Actually Measuring Learning

I am in the middle of reading DIY U: Edupunks,Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education (Kamenetz).  In discussing how certain universities are leveraging technology to re-envision the higher ed experience, Ms. Kamenetz refers to Western Governor's University (WGU).  WGU was formed a in the late 1990s when the governors of 19 Western states attempted to use the Internet to expand educational access to rural students.  Ms. Kamenetz shares that WGU has grown to include over 12,000 online students in all 50 state.

Quoted in the book is Bob Mendenhall, the president of WGU.  Mr. Mendenhall shared the following in talking about programs offered by WGU:

We do not have credit hours, we do not have grades.  We simply have a series of assessments that measure competencies, and then on that basis award the degree.

WGU started from scratch, convening external councils of employers like Google, Oracle, and Tenet Healthcare, along with academic experts.  We asked employers, what is it the graduates your are hiring can't do you wish they could?  We've never had a silence after that question.

Seems like a good idea- right?  Why not consult professionals when building programs of study?  Schools intend to prepare students to be successful for decades to come not just the next phase of their educational career.  Our courses should be influenced by the professional world.   Think about the question shared by Mr. Mendenhall.  Even the most well-intended schools/educators could be liable for failing to prepare students to successfully compete in intensifying global marketplace. 

WGU's convening of external councils supports the first statement regarding grades.  Schools should be building experiences around core proficiencies. Grades are a recognition that core proficiencies/competencies have been demonstrated.  Content is important and strong knowledge foundations needs to be erected.  However, what students need to be able to do and demonstrate should serve to anchor assessments and support the rewarding of credit.  The process to filter, curate and exhibit information encompasses core proficiencies students will require to compete for jobs at Google or oracle or even build companies to challenge current corporate giants.

A question worth considering is how do elements of WGU's philosophy trickle down into thinking about K-12 experiences and force educators, parents and students to critically evaluate the manner in which students are assessed.  Are we, in a meaningful way, determining growth?

If you have not read Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the Coming Transformation of Higher Education,  I would encourage you to pick up a copy.  Anyan Kamenetz presents an intriguing look into higher education.  Additionally, other elements of the system develop by WGU are explored.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Caught My Eye: December 16, 2011

I wanted to share articles, posts and resources I stumbled upon this week.

1. It's Never Just a Comment-  post about a first grade class where students are blogging and following one another.

2. On A New Edtech Community- developing a DIY edtech ecosystem

3. Helping Students Own the Learning Environment- fostering student ownership over learning and the learning environment

4. John Seely Brown-  New Ways of Learning in a Rapidly Changing World

5. All I Want for Christmas- careful of who you run into at the mall

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mediating Sharing Behaviors

Welcome to the next installment of my not so weekly podcast series.  This podcast discusses the need to developing sharing behavior in the classroom.  The post was inspired by a section from the the text Beyond Smarter.  I started of the podcast with the following excerpt.  As always your thoughts and feedback is appreciated.

In our world- a world in which there are many situations of social alienation, where individualism is increasingly valued, and is, at times, extreme, the ability to share experiences with our fellow human beings and to participate in their experiences is most necessary and desirable.
In our day, the need and readiness to share with others our experiences and to participate in their experiences is an adaptational necessity.


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Sunday, December 4, 2011

Feeling of Competence

I am in the middle of  reading Beyond Smarter Mediated Learning and the Brain's Capacity for Change (Feuerstein, Feuerstein and Falik).  Chapter Seven is about fostering positive attitudes towards learning.  One of the parameters discussed in the chapter has to do with creating a feeling of competence.

The following importance is assigned towards this development:

For human beings to act with confidence, meet challenges, and cope with situations that are now for them, they must feel they are competent to control these situations- to overcome difficulties, become familiar with the new and unknown, and approach them with the expectation they will master them (p.50).

How do we go about cultivating a feeling of competence in schools?  What could more important than building a sense of competence within every learner.  Take into consideration the rapid rate of change that has come to characterize our world.  Students have to become familiar with the new and unknown and approach change with the faith that they can be successful.  As much as we want students to be successful in the now, it is important to develop the skills and dispositions that can ensure achievement for decades to come.

Think about where a sense of competence is raised most in classrooms.  A sense of competence is translated when assigning grades.  Again I turn to Beyond Smarter to highlight a point- 

In many contemporary schools, across a wide diversity of cultures, it is considered that the best way to get children to achieve is to evaluate only their products and to give them proficiency marks for them.  This approach often has a negative impact on the feeling of ability... If the marks do not reflect either the students' immediate level of functioning of the level of improvement that they achieved in relation to their initial performance, they will offer no sense of accomplishment other than a general comparison to their peers, which can exaggerate feelings of incompetence (p.51).

Are assessment systems found in most contemporary schools supporting inspiration and growth or creating a spiraling scale of negative feedback?  The better inquiry to engage in is how do schools construct feedback systems aimed at imparting feelings of ability and competence?  Additionally, how can greater value be placed on unique growth?  Think about the need to situate learners where they can observe and comment on how they have grown.  There should be a balance between providing constructive commentary and presenting avenues where learners can recognize success and develop faith in their abilities.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Expression of Interest

 I would like to thank @maryannreilly for sharing this video during her presentation on Instructional Rounds.  The video was developed by the principal at Coburg Senior High School in Australia. The purpose behind the video was to present context for a cohort of educators who were conducting an observation of Coburg Senior High.

The entire presentation is worth watching.  However, I would pay particular attention to the principal's explanation of how students apply to the school and the initial meeting that transpires between families and members of the Coburg staff.  In addition to taking a series of standardized tests, incoming students have to complete an expression of interest survey.  The survey asks students to share personal information such as classes they like and dislike, career interests and skills they have developed.  Students also take a multiple intelligence tests.  All of this information is collected and reviewed by families and members of the Coburg faculty and serves an anchor when discussing a unique learning plan.

After listening to the principal at Coburg Senior High I could not help but think why not us.  At Coburg students are entering into a new learning environment.  However, as opposed to entering devoid of any academic or social history, incoming learners at Coburg are accompanied by a collection of unique and genuine data and a highly personal learning plan. The same process could be mirrored at any school.  As a high school administrator I see tremendous value in sitting down with 8th graders to build a comprehensive profile.  Think about how teachers could benefit from access to detailed interest surveys and cognitive profiles.  Additionally, think about the scheduling process.  A true pathway through high school can be crafted when this level of personal information is shared.

Let me know what your thoughts are about the video.  I'm curious if others are motivated by some of the structures in place at Coburg Senior High.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Creating an Environment for Self-Reflection

Wanted to share some thoughts from two formal observations I conducted this week.  Both observations embraced elements of a self-paced learner centric environment.  After conducting these observations I was moved to see a strong connection between the need to nurture self-paced classrooms and thoughts offered by Will Richardson.

In a post What Do We Absolutely Need to Teach?, Mr. Richardson says the following:

So I’m trying to push my own thinking here a bit, and I’d love some feedback. If I believe (and I do) that school should be more about letting my children find and solve their own problems with others, create and share meaningful works about the ideas they care about, and develop the dispositions they need to be powerful, patient and passionate learners, then what are the fundamental bits of knowledge or skills that they need to do that?  But if we are to redefine our value in schools, and if that redefinition moves us away from creating kids who are learned toward, instead, the development of learners, what does each child absolutely have to know and be able to do?

I am curious to hear what others have to think about how we best go about developing learners.


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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Writing A Story

Next installment of my not so weekly podcast series.  How would you go about answering the following questions for your school?

  • If you were to compose a story based on the data, whose voices would be privileged?
  • Not heard?
  • Not sounded?
  • What is needed to change the narrative?


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Saturday, November 5, 2011

Taking a Page From Feuerstein

I spent all of last week as part of a district-wide training session.  A selection of K-12 educators convened to investigate Professor Reuven Feuerstein's research into cognitive modifiability.  The week-long session provided insight into Professor Feuerstein's work and introduced the cohort to portions of his Instrumental Enrichment Program.  The training session instigated conversations between educators across the K-12 spectrum.  Exchanges were not limited to specific building or grade level, but instead, gravitated towards examining issues from systematic perspective.  Inspired by the work of Professor Feuerstein, an open forum developed challenging traditional structures associated with public education.

I would like to think that I was active in reflecting on and questioning traditional structures.  To an extent, the training session was an initial step in introducing educators to dynamic assessment and mediation.  The cornerstone of Professor Feuerstein's research is that the human organism as open, adaptive and amenable for change.  Through an effective mediated learning experience, mentors can modify learners, emphasizing autonomous and self-regulated change.  Feuerstein started his work in the 1940s with children who were orphaned or separated from their parents as a result of the Holocaust.  His work continued to include those who were mentally and physically challenged.  The end result has been an intervention program designed to enhance the cognitive skills necessary for independent thinking and to sharpen critical thinking with the concepts, skills, strategies, operations, and attitudes necessary for independent learning.

As mentioned before, Feuerstein's work sparked exchanges about the redesign of schools.  First off, how well do we know our students?  Before assessing, from a content standpoint, what a student knows, it is imperative to develop a profile detailing the strengths and weaknesses of each learner.  Without this information it would be a challenge to assess academic struggles and to effectively mentor students.  Also, a system needs to be in place where information about a student can travel between teachers.  It almost appears that a student starts from scratch as they move between grade levels.  Outside of surface related information that can be accessed through a district-wide data system, there needs to be a portal where teachers can archive notes and observations.

I think another piece to help share information about students in ensuring that work is transparent.  The power of an e-portfolio cannot be minimized. Just consider at the high school having students maintain and contribute content towards a personal public space.  A student could offer reflections, publish finished product and generate feed back from a legion of followers. It would be interesting to examine an e-portfolio from the perspective of observing intellectual growth and what interests a student pursues during their high school tenure.

As much as school is about kids, do we really have a system where we can get to develop detailed and rich profiles of students.  This comment is not offered as a criticism of educators, but rather questioning both the expectations for communication, the manner in which information about a student is exchanged between educators and also, what data is deemed important.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Creating a Platform for Student

Next Installment of my not so weekly Podcast series.  Thoughts about why Wikipedia has succeeded and what we can learn from it.


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Tuesday, October 18, 2011

What's On The Television?

I'll admit it that my kids watch television.  There are several shows that I wish my kids never watched and fail to see why they find some show entertaining.  To be fair, I'm sure my kids wonder how I can sit and watch a game a not root for a specific team.   However, I am intrigued by some programs my kids (ages 8, 8 and 4) will sit down and watch. 

They are big fans of DIY's Yard Crashers.  On DIY Network's Yard Crashers, landscape expert Ahmed Hassan waits at stores looking for homeowners who could use help revitalizing their yards. Once he finds an agreeing participant, Ahmed and his team completely transform their yard in a matter of a few days.  They will also choose to watch Cake Boss or Top Chef and have figured out how to DVR these programs.  Lately, the younger ones have also developed a liking for Project Runway.  On Project Runway The contestants compete with each other to create the best clothes and are restricted in time, materials and theme. Their designs are judged, and one or more designers are eliminated each week.  Through a series of elimination challenges one designer is selected as the winner.

I have never sat down and formally surveyed my kids about why they find these shows interesting.  I can confidently assume that they are both entertained by some of the designers and are amazed at the finished product.  For someone who struggles to put anything together, I am blown away with what designers are able to execute.  Despite the challenges or better yet intentional obstacles embedded into each episode, participants are able to think so far outside the box that the outcomes serve as a source of inspiration for the audience.  This is evident in how popular these shows have become and how many different demographic groups find interest in design-inspired showcases.

To an extent, I think some of these design inspired shows such as Top Chef or Project Runway can inspire conversations about education and in particular, experiences occasioned for learners. These shows are about creativity, problem solving and the design process (with a little TV drama built-in to the filming as well).  These three principles can serve as a guide as educators conceive of creative problem-solving endeavors within a course, independent study, capstone project or internship opportunity.  Using these shows as a template, we have to encourage students to consider innovative approaches when solving complex problems and mentor students to construct unique processes to produce outcomes that represent growth and understanding. 

So while I hope that my kids spend their time wisely and for productive pursuits, I also do not mind if they are learning from the creative energies of some talented individuals. 

Friday, October 14, 2011

Are the Kids Ready

Over the past week I have started to formally observe teachers.  I have been in multiple classrooms each day conducting observations of non-tenured staff.  Additionally, I have been hosting pre and post-observation conferences.  I appreciate the chance to dissect a lesson with teachers and to discuss possible experiences for students.  Everyone benefits from the opportunity to engage in genuine discourse about teaching and learning.

There were a couple of moments form these observation that stood out. I was observing an English teacher who was using Twitter for a backchannel discussion.  Student were expected to transition between the physical and virtual world to exchange ideas about a core text.  Primarily, the expectation was for students to lead an in-class discussion and use Twitter as place to post questions and archive a quick thought.  The instructor encouraged students to start posting some thoughts on Twitter as a way to initiate the in-class exchange.  Subtly the teacher transitioned students to begin exchanging ideas in the physical world.  However, something happened when the discussion shifted from the virtual to the physical.  It appeared that students froze and were unsure of what to do.

I offer this observations not to criticize anything the teacher did or did not do.  It was an engaging and challenging lesson.  I was taken back by how students reacted to the expectation of having to simultaneously participate in-class and on Twitter.  The idea of a backchannel discussion was foreign to them.  What seems like a manageable task, posting questions and comments while participating in a whole class discussion tested students and their ability to seamlessly move between both worlds.

To an extent, I should not be surprised.  As we have developed blended learning environments, students have been hesitant to embrace the virtual world.  Teachers have had to push students to offer genuine feedback during forum discussions on Moodle or reply to a classmates blog post.  This has not always been the case, but it has been a trying process for teachers to develop consistent student participation in furthering virtual learning communities. 

I also sat in on a Latin class.  Introductory Latin course have been redesigned around the premise of a self-paced learning environment.  In Latin students are empowered to determine a plan as to how they will progress through various stages of the program.  Elements of the program were infused into units last year by our Latin teachers and in earnest since September.  It has been a messy process.  Students were uncomfortable when the responsibility for directing learning was shared.  Students were waiting to be told what to do as opposed to taking an active role in designing a learning experience.  Some students felt as if they were not learning and others claimed that the lack of structure hindered performance.  A month into school has revealed quite the opposite for kids.  To steal a line from a friend, the self-paced Latin class I observed was rocking.  For an entire block every student was thoroughly engrossed in a variety of activities and conversations. Students were confident and passionate about their studies. It appears as if they have embraced the notion of being empowered to make decisions and assuming ownership over the learning space.

I also should not be surprised that out Latin teachers have had to deal with push back from students.  Last year several teacher revised midterms to offer students multiple avenues through which critical understandings could be demonstrated.  Choice was presented to students.  However, students were unsure of how to proceed or even glamored for a traditional assessment structure. 

I just found it curious as to how students, not all, but enough still appreciate either a traditional system or fail to fully embrace ways in which digital tools, resources, platforms and systems can enhance the classroom experience.  These observations highlight the need for educators to mentor students across the K-12 spectrum.  For us to reshape or even revolutionize our educational system, students need to reflect upon our actions as life-long learners.  Our willingness to continue to learn and be innovative will be a driving force in initiating change for our students.

Friday, October 7, 2011

What's In Store For Next Year

Some thoughts about possible courses for next year.


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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Re-Thinking Leadership In Schools

I have always wanted to read High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them by J.F. Rischard.  According to Rischard, an economist for the World Bank, the next twenty years will be of critical importance (book was published in 2002) How the global community approaches problems delineated in the book will determine the fate of our planet for future generations.  I always thought the premise of the book would make for an interesting class.  Students could be challenged to examine issues that threaten the global community and collaborate to problem solve viable solutions.  What could be more authentic, genuine, empowering than examining complex contemporary issues.

In one section of book, Rischard discusses how traditional hierarchies are ill-equipped to deal with the demands of addressing problems that plague the global community.  Rischard says the following:

Government units or agencies, multilateral institutions, churches, multinational companies, large outfits of any kind-tend to reflect a hierarchical organizational model inherited from the industrial age, even in a way from the agricultural age. In periods of intense and complex change, traditional hierarchies fall short-the future belongs to flatter, faster, more network-like organizations.

There are three inherent faults in a hierarchical organizational model.  These organizations lack flexibility, fail to inspire employees and leaders at the top, who are supposed to control everything and call the shots, end up swamped when the rate of change is high.  All points are valid, but for schools, Rischard's commentary about the morale of staff is worth spending a few minutes reflecting on.  Success, not matter how one defines it, would be difficult to achieve if key contributors lack motivation and are never inspired to achieve greatness.  Unfortunately, schools are set up as traditional hierarchical structures with professional educators serving as middle men, facilitating information down the line.  To guard against an unmotivated organization, Rischard urges that people need to be empowered to act as independent agents.  Through empowerment stakeholders are inspired to make a critical difference within the organization and overall, a sense of ownership grows through taking pride in being a driving force for change .  

A greater sense of distributed leadership needs to be extended in our schools.  I see this as something more than educators "collaborating" or what is believed to be collaboration.  Teachers and even administrators need to view themselves as leaders and provided with the access to initiate change.  This is certainly possible if educators are open and willing to connect with one another.  Through the exchange of ideas and resources, educators can build the collective knowledge and will to make critical and enduring changes in schools.   As opposed to sporadic meetings, there is a consistent discussion about what needs to be addressed and how to address it.

We need to be consistent.  We cannot ask students to assume ownership in the classroom and not extend the same principles when it comes to educators.  Why support Unconferences for professional development but not extend the same spirit of Unconferences to govern decisions in schools.  Without a sense of ownership and pride, morale does suffer and change can become glacial.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Do I Know

The other day I facilitated a meeting between a family of a struggling learner and building-level administrators.  It has been a rocky start to the new school year.  The meeting was held to see what could be done to reverse the unfortunate start through intervening in a meaningful way.

I recommended to the all who were present that some alternative scheduling options be created.  This particular student struggles within the confines of a traditional high school.  We had to creatively look at our schedule and find avenues through which this student could pursue a personal passion or extend course work that sparks genuine interest.

In discussing possible options, I shared that in a couple of years the student will be graduating.  Like with all students, it is a personal belief that learners should have options when graduating from high school. Regardless of whether the preferred route is college or a professional career, graduates should have the capacity to be life-long learners and be able to find ways in which they can intellectually grow.  This was a point I attempted to stress through our discussion and served as a driving force behind the options were brainstormed at the meeting.

However, after the meeting, I started to think about the exchange.  Specifically, am I in a good position to discuss what life is like in the professional world and what skills students would need to excel in a professional environment?  I have spent my entire professional life in the classroom and on the basketball court.  I have never worked outside of a school/camp or without kids.  I read a range of texts, follow varied sources of information and exchange ideas through social networks, but in the end, my past experiences have been limited to a specific environment. 

What about an internship program for educators? We talk about internships, service learning projects  and capstone experiences for kids, but what about creating the same avenue for teachers.  For example, I am a 12th month employee.  Would my time be better served over the summer interning than coming to school.  Could I spend time in a news room to see how the role of the media is changing as a result of the internet?  Would my time better served spending two months with a community service organization or even with a more global organization?

I see value in establishing a process where any educator can leave the school environment for part of the year to experience "life" outside of the classroom. These out of school experiences can be shared with students and reflected upon to craft authentic and meaningful engagements.  I might be in a better position to craft interventions that result in positive outcomes that not only make an immediate impact but are manifested over time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Many Voices

Just wanted to share some pathways being forged by students and teachers this fall.  Using public spaces to open up conversations between stakeholders and inviting others in as well.


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Monday, September 12, 2011

Source of Inspiration

I would suggest reading Nicholas Kristof's  We're Rich (In Nature) op-ed piece in the Sunday Times.  Politics aside, Kristof poignantly expresses the collective need to cherish our national parks, national forests and other public lands.  Simply put all of us need to get outside more and experience "America’s most valuable assets."

Kristof shares a hike he took with his family over the summer in central Oregon.

After one 20-mile day in August of trudging mostly upward, sometimes struggling over huge snowfields, we arrived exhausted at Thielsen Creek in central Oregon. The majesty of the scene — snow-clad Mount Thielsen soaring overhead, the creek burbling below us, no one within miles — took our breath away.

I'm sure most of us have been touched in a way described by Kristof.  I am always moved by sunset over Center Pond, a lake in the small town of Becket, Massachusetts where I spent many summers.  Even though I have seen the sun set hundreds of times over Center Pond, I always stop to admire the scene of the sun setting over the hill across the lake.  I have been able to enjoy this sunset with friends, family and at times, lost in solitary reflection. 

There is a message in Kristof's piece for educators as well.  We need to get kids out of the classroom.  Inspiration can be found outside of school buildings.  Where I work, several educators are flooding the Board with field trip forms or are taking walking tours of the surrounding neighborhood.  There is also a plan being developed to introduce courses through walking tours.  Battery City is being mapped as a vehicle to introduce students to American History and our American Studies program.

It's about the experience.  It's about engaging with something that is real and being able to make connections with personal interests and passions.  It's also about finding inspiration in the world around us.  

As always your thoughts and comments are appreciated.  Additionally, what are other educators doing to get kids out of the building?

*Image courtesy Ben Kelly

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Opening Day

The other day, I joined one of my daughter's on walk to the local book store. She had a gift certificate and wanted to select some new books for the start of school. After she selected a few texts to purchase she turned and asked about me whether I was getting a book to read. Even though most of my reading is accomplished on my iPad though the Kindle app, it was difficult to say no and leave the store without a book under my arm.

I ended up leaving the store with Hellhound on His Trail The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt For His Assassin by Hampton Sides.

"Sides follows Galt and King as they crisscross the country, one stalking the other, until the crushing moment at the Lorraine Motel when the drifter catches up with his prey.
Against the backdrop of the resulting nationwide riots and the pathos of King’s funeral, Sides gives us a riveting cross-cut narrative of the assassin’s flight and the sixty-five-day search that led investigators to Canada, Portugal, and England—a massive manhunt ironically led by Hoover’s FBI."

I just started reading the other night (my daughter is reading Diary of A Wimpy Kid) and came across a section in which Sides discusses an annual SCLC conference King convened in November 1967. It was at this conference that King shared a bold plan for the Spring 1968. King wanted to return to the mall in Washington with an army of poor people and camp out in the mall for weeks. It was a grand act of civil disobedience and represented King's belief that America was a sick society in need of “radical moral surgery.”(Sides) According to King, the government was focused on Vietnam, the space race and other industrial-military projects and that the real focus should be on the stark economic disparity between races in America. Sides recounts that King was worried about the country slipping into a race war that would lead to a right-wing takeover of the government and a kind of a fascist state.

To demonstrate King's desire for change, Sides included the following commentary from King:

“For years,” he said, “I labored with reforming the existing institutions of society, a little change here, a little change there. Now I feel quite differently. I think you’ve got to have a reconstruction of the entire society, a revolution of values.”

This may seem like a stretch, but the thought from King shifted my focus to education and rhetoric offered in response to how to "fix" our current education system. Where does the consensus reside? Is it behind reforming the system or is there wide-spread support to revolutionize schools? Taking a line from King I believe we need to witness a revolution of values regarding education.

Now is a perfect time, the start of new year, to begin dramatically rethinking the educational experience. I am moved to share at the beginning of school an old blog post from Will Richardson. In looking forwards to a new school year, Richardson offered thoughts on what he hoped for his kids and the types of questions his kids would regularly answer.

What did you make today that was meaningful?

What did you learn about the world?

Who are you working with?

What surprised you?

What did your teachers make with you?

What did you teach others?

What unanswered questions are you struggling with?

How did you change the world in some small (or big) way?

What’s something your teachers learned today?

What did you share with the world?

What do you want to know more about?

What did you love about today?

What made you laugh?

Being able to answer these questions would reveal much more about what kids understand and are interested in. These questions embody a shift in what we value as part of school experiences for kids. It moves away from an older model to one in which students are part of creative, passion-based, learner empowered global classrooms. Forget being an administrator, as a parent I would love to sit down at dinner and have a conversation sparked by things in my daughter's days that they loved and wanted to learn more about.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Communal Goals

Next Installment of my weekly podcast (summer addition)

"In looking towards this year, I believe it is critical that we embed learning networks into how we grow as professionals and the work we do with kids. To an extent it starts at the local level. We need to build a genuine network amongst professional educators at MHS. Through informal discussions, PLCs, staff and department meetings, planned PD sessions a wealth of ideas and resources can be exchanged. In turn, we can show kids how we embrace the ideal of being life-long learners and what steps can be taken to curate and share information."

A School of Individualized Plans

I am in the process of making sure 504 Plans are updated for the start of school. We receive plans from feeder schools that have to be reviewed and plans from current students that are reviewed in August as opposed to when the bulk of plans are evaluated in June. Additionally, it seems as if the number of families requesting 504 plans is on the rise. This week alone I am chairing five hearings in which a determination has to be made as to whether or not a student will receive a 504 Plan.

From a legal stand point I understand why a 504 Plans exists. However, shouldn't the concept of a 504 Plan or IEP be extended to the entire student body? To an extent, a 504 Plan recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of an individual learner and works towards constructing a plan that facilitates success in the classroom. Multiple stakeholders have a say in the plan, most notably the student. Additionally, a wide range of assessment data is collected and analyzed as part of the determination process. The plan is also a fluid document and can be changed to meet a learner's evolving needs.

What is the harm in transferring this approach to all students? In theory, the process of how a 504 Plan is conceived could benefit aeveryone. This is not to say that an identical process should transpire for the entire school, but how can one object to a school where each student has an individualized learning plan. What is the compelling argument against developing individualized learning plans that resulted from the collection and analysis of data and also was born from conversations between teachers and students. Also think about other critical components of individual learning plan such as personal goals/objectives statements and information about unique interests and passions. Imagine the start of school where a teacher could sit down with students to review personal learning initiatives and engage learners in a genuine discussion about how they can build a meaningful partnership so that skills are developed, goals achieved and unique interests have a place in the classroom. This would certainly beat the one size fits all fast food model of school where too often the unique talents and needs of individual learners are never fully embraced.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A Common Goal

I am in the process of reading Personal Learning Networks: Using the Power of Connections to Transform Education (Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli). Either before or after reading, I spend some time reviewing my notes and highlights. As I scrolled through my archive, I was thinking about how commentary from the book could support numerous presentations being considered for the opening of school in September.

In thinking about the upcoming school year, this excerpt from Personal Learning Networks is worth sharing. Richardson and Mancabelli promote the need for schools to invest time and money towards establishing 1:1 learning environments and to see that teachers and students are actively building personal learning networks. The excerpt is issued to those who would challenge the pressing need to establish global classrooms.

The environment they are struggling to manage is the same one students are going to experience each day when they go to work in their adult lives. Students will need to participate in these learning networks to stay on top of their fields of interest and to advance in their careers. If we don’t teach them how to navigate these messy environments in our schools, if we instead teach them to learn from a book in chapters and to expect an “end,” then they will be ill equipped to participate in the most powerful learning available to them during their lifetimes.

I see this quote as a not so gentle reminder of what a mission for all schools should be. We need to prepare students for the professional world they will enter and arm them with the skills and dispositions to make a positive impact on a complex global community.

As we approach September, all educators are challenged to think about how they can better prepare kids to successfully meet the demands of the 21st Century. In doing so, it is impossible to ignore that a redesign of schools and our classrooms is required. What we value has to be a reflection of the world that exists outside of school.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Opportunities for Students

Teachers are putting the finishing touches on curricular documents for new courses being offered during 2011-2012 school year. Like last year when a series of new courses were introduced into the program of studies, students are being presented with a wider range of intriguing options. A primary goal has been to provide challenging and intellectually stimulating opportunities for students and support a belief that unique pathways through high school should exist.

I think we are certainly taking steps to provide unique pathways. I provided below some excerpts to courses being offered next year. I appreciate the fact that teachers are willing to challenge traditional notions of what is offered to high school students. Furthermore, these courses remind us of how important it is to create passion-based experiences. Teachers are being allowed to follow personal passions and share with students ideas and topics that interest in them. In the process, I see teachers mentoring students on how to be life-long learners and that education is a place where personal interests matter and serve as a driving force behind curriculum.

Curious as to what others think about these courses.

AP Government and Politics (Chris Kenny)

Digital Citizenship Component

Jefferson once stated that “if a Nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.” In the 21st century, becoming an informed citizen has become easier than ever in some ways because of the resources made available by the Internet. Conversely, the free-flow of information can be overwhelming and full of misinformation and bias. Students will develop their skills at finding information relevant to their decision-making process and evaluating the veracity of the information effectively. This process is constant, making it significantly different than history classes to the extent that topics we discuss are always unfolding and changing; a conversation discussed one week could be made irrelevant by events the following week. To that end, the most significant part of this class will be creating a personal learning network (PLN) for each student so that students remain on top of the ever-evolving national discussion, especially in regards to their chosen political issue.

Students will share these findings with the the class through Diigo, a social bookmarking site, so that as students investigate their issues, articles will be gathered in a space where they can be accessible to the whole class, giving students a rich database to draw discussion from. This will be helpful for the purposes of presentations, papers, and class discussions and will make concepts students learn more meaningful.

Every student will be expected to contribute regularly to a class blog as the resident expert on their issue. The diversity of issues and exchange of ideas will create a level of discourse that will help them learn from one another. The blog will be open to the public outside of the classroom, expanding the number of “teachers” and learning opportunities. To compliment this, students will also use Twitter accounts to follow politicians, journalists, academics, fellow students, and institutions that are related to government and specifically to their field. Hopefully they will find resources and commentary that will be bookmarked in their Diigo accounts and commented on in their blogs. In addition, there is also the opportunity to enter into a dialogue with individuals that have an expertise in politics, journalism, or in the field the students are researching.

The World According to Dante (Maria Laffler and Marya Wilpert)
In this course students will explore Dante’s classic writings through an analysis of Italian culture and late medieval and early Renaissance history. La Commedia is as much a reflection of the time in which it was written as it is a reflection of Dante’s life itself, especially his own personal struggle to reconcile and atone for his own behavior in Florence’s brutal political arena. Immersion in the history, culture, religion, and politics of the time as well as the study of the poet’s earlier works will therefore enable students to better understand Dante’s inspiration and overall purpose in constructing his famous poem. With this in mind, Dante’s writings become more accessible in that students will explore La Commedia through historical, biographical, and linguistic lenses that will in turn increase their analytical abilities, leading to not just a contextual understanding of Dante’s world and work but an appreciation for Dante in their own lives. Specifically, students will reevaluate and think critically about the world today to gain an understanding of how this classic piece of literature shapes the modern world and its beliefs. Overall, this course aims to give students insight into how and why this classic literary piece matters to the world at large.

Latin American Studies (Marietta Scorsune and Bertiana Caprioli)
Latin American Studies (LAS) is a ten-credit, interdisciplinary course which is divided into four major units of study. This course will provide a in depth look into Latin America1 from both a historical perspective and will spend significant time examining the contemporary world. LAS will focus on the similarities between American and Latin American history, current events, and the interrelationship of the two. It will also provide intense discussions revolving around the themes of identity, culture and their connection with the private and public spheres in which we move.-

How Sports Explain the World (Brian Kiernan)
Abstracts: Abstracts are concepts that are exhibited in ways that go beyond concrete objects. They express ideas that we see are a part of a society’s non-material culture. In examining events, a reflection on certain abstracts will be made evident.

The intent is to provide proof or an argument as to how a particular sporting event is a reflection on the following:
  1. Politics- A greater issue between nations that deals with power, manipulation, and influence in the world. (1980 U.S. Men’s Olympic Hockey Team win over the U.S.S.R., The Black Power salute by American athletes in the 1968 Olympics)
  2. Economics- An issue involving wealth, globalization, and power to achieve means to an end. (The “Black Sox Scandal, Realignment of collegiate conferences)
  3. Culture- An issue where specific socially accepted traits has made an impact on that society and possibly beyond. (Lary Doby, Jackie Robinson, and the breaking of the color barrier in Major League Baseball, The rivalry and violence of Hooligans and other fans of the English Premier League)
  4. Ethics- An issue where morals and values have influenced the decisions made by a culture, government, or organized civilization. (Steroids in Sports, The “Hand of God” goal by Diego Maradona in the 1986 World Cup)
Graphic Storytelling (George Lavigne)

Definition of Course: The Graphic Storytelling course is a full year elective English course offered to all students who have an interest in the rich variety of graphic novels that exist today. Students will read and analyze works in a literary framework while learning about the history, fundamentals, and genres within the graphic novel universe. This course will appeal to visual learners, fans of art and comics, and students who enjoy reading works not typically found in traditional English courses.

Purpose of Course: As an elective, the Graphic Storytelling course can provide students with alternative reading experiences to capitalize on their enthusiasm and motivation and produce stronger connections to reading and writing. The course will use graphic novels to engage student interest, improve literacy, expand vocabulary, enhance understandings of storytelling skills, foster creative expression, and examine prevalent themes in popular culture.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Separation Between Personal and Professional

The other day I was asked to join several other administrators at central officer to review language for an acceptable use policy. The policy in question was for teachers who are provided district technology. At the high school, a majority of the professional staff receives a laptop as part of a teacher laptop program. Additionally, we have teachers who are part of 1:1 iPad and iPod Touch programs and have received a device from the school district. I am not sure if those in charge of the task thought it would be a quick and easy process. However, an examination of the acceptable use policy instigated a longer conversation about expectations and common understandings regarding teaching and learning.

I will admit, for good or bad, that I prolonged the process. Initially the acceptable use policy stipulated that teachers could not use district issued devices for personal use. Devices could only be used for school related endeavors. I objected to this delineation in usage for educators. I shared that I would not recommend teachers to sign this policy and that I would also feel uncomfortable agreeing to this policy as well. I saw the policy as limiting and counterproductive to what we hope to achieve if the language in the acceptable use policy played out.

It is well agreed upon that educators need to follow personal interests and passions. I have shared on numerous occasions through posts and podcasts that a teacher’s personal interests should be infused into the classroom. Creating a policy that restricts following personal passions handicaps educators from creating a rich and rewarding experience for growing learners. Often times a personal pursuit can compel educators to reflect upon their profession and the individual needs of students. Furthermore, a personal interest can serve as a gateway towards developing a media technology rich classroom. As someone who works with teachers to rethink the high school experience, I consistently encourage teachers to follow personal pursuits and often use this as an in to further conversations about how technology can facilitate the rise of student-centered global classroom.

I understand the numerous concerns that lead to this meeting. In difficult economic times, funds cannot be wasted. Funding has to be rewarded. Beyond the counter points, I had a hard time thinking about the separation between what is professional and what is personal. The line between personal and professional has been blurred in the 21st Century. Through vehicles such as Facebook, Youtube and Twitter personal and professional pursuits bleed into one another. In fact, this might have always been the case for educators, but access to information is more transparent than it has ever been. Learning is conducted in the open and shared amongst personal, professional and anonymous acquaintances.

In the end, the language was changed to encourage ethical and responsible use. I know I feel better about the change and the freedom educators have to explore. Curious to hear and see what other districts have come up with. If you have any thoughts please share.

Monday, August 1, 2011

What Does The Data Tells US

I am coming to the end of an extended data-driven project. For the past two weeks I have been engaged in examining student performance at the high school where I am a supervisor of instruction. From results on standardized exams to final grades to cumulative discipline reports, data was collected, organized into tables and compared to outcomes from previous years. Results were examined across seven subgroups that were delineated by gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and special education.

Motivation for this project stemmed from the high school’s commitment to collect and analyze a consistent set of data points. As part of the accreditation process for the Commission on Secondary Schools, the high school agreed to examine academic performance and investigate stakeholder feelings about the climate and culture in the building. Target goals for both academics and climate were established at the start of the accreditation process with the hope of being achieved by 2013. Over the span of seven years a consistent positive trend is supposed to develop. In short, a massive amount of data has been and will be collected over the seven-year span.

At first, the amount of data that could be analyzed is imposing. Consider data that is collected in regards to the focus on academic performance. We are accruing information on final grades, HSPA and S-Test results and outcomes on SATs and ACTs. Grades alone could grab the attention of our faculty for a significant period of time. The number of A’s, B’s, D’s and F’s are collected across all academic disciplines and all levels offered at the school. Final grades are broken down across seven subgroups (Male, Female, Asian, Black, Hispanic, White, LEP, Economically Disadvantaged and Disability). An analysis of grades could spark countless conversations about instruction and the types of experiences being offered to students.

Moving beyond the mountain of evidence, an analysis of the data could instigate genuine exchanges between educators our school and specifically, what is working, what is not and what changes need to transpire to ensure that the needs of all students are being met. However, I have found throughout my career in education that data about students and or a school is provided a cursory examination. Each academic calendar generates a wealth of information that could be used to make informed decisions about programs, educational initiatives, reforms or the redesign of a school. Data also compels educators to face a certain reality and spend time reflecting on their craft. How many teachers are constantly surveying students or comparing outcomes from year to the next? Outside of anecdotal information or gut instinct, what evidence suggests that you are connecting with students and creating a class where interests can flourish and needs are met?

In moving forward, it will be a personal responsibility to see that this data is shared with the staff and that public forums are created to facilitate dialog between the professional staff. Additionally, a responsibility exists to help teachers take an inventory of their class and infuse results into our conversations about teaching and learning. Without following through in either measure, a crucial step is omitted from the decision-making process. Intentions may be heartfelt and have the “best interests” of students in mind, but informed decisions have to also include the examination of hard evidence.