Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Feel Good Story

I wanted to share, at least what I thought to be, a feel good story. I believe this evening the #edchat discussion focused on the intense amount of negativity directed towards public school teachers. I was unable to participate, but certainly feel that criticism has been harsh and fails to acknowledge progressive educators who are working to re-envision learning in a way that moves beyond limited standards and incessant testing. My contribution to #edchat and the larger conversation about saving our schools is to pass along an email I received before leaving school for Memorial Day Weekend.

Earlier I has shared with my staff the video sensation Fifty People One Question. I asked if anyone would be interested in doing this at our school. Friday afternoon a teacher shared that he was having his students put together videos that followed the Fifty People format. He went on to say that he was working with one student to put together a segment and that the video would be dedicated to a senior student who is battling cancer.

The email explained the following:

"Since Student X got sick, who I have had for 5 classes in 4 years, I really wanted to put together a video for him. I think I am going to come up with a question that indirectly relates to his situation, and then dedicate the video to him. I am actually visiting him in the hospital this afternoon, and had this come up earlier, I might even bring the camera in there to ask him the question too. Maybe I still can after we get this rolling."

I just thought the idea was touching and would mean so much to a student who has to spend the last part of their senior year undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Not sure what it takes to "convince" people that kind and caring educators are tirelessly engaged in making a positive difference in the lives of students. Hopefully, situations like the one shared in this blog can build the bridges needed to make the kind of changes our schools require.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Is It Still Fun

Next installment of my weekly podcast series. Thinking about whether high school is fun. And if high school is not fun what are we doing about it?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Life Without Social Media- Never Again

What was life like before social media? It is hard to imagine a world without Twitter, Facebook, Youtube. I am in the process of finishing a gravel patio and referenced several Youtube videos along the way. It certainly helped to have a visual and commentary from other "DIY's" as we took on this project.

A few weekends ago my 20 year High School Reunion was held. Months prior to the reunion a fellow classmates started a Facebook group for my class. This afforded classmates the opportunity to reconnect and served as platform to share updates about the reunion. While not an avid user of Facebook, I am always amazed how easy it is to stay connected and still feel as if you are the part of people's lives. Finally, I would be lost without Twitter. As an educator Twitter has become a necessity. I learn so much from following passionate educators and participating in various chats.

Often while interviewing, I will ask a potential candidate a question about how they embody the spirit of being a life-long learner. This leads to a discussion about how one continues to learn and the role social networks play in furthering personal and professional interests. While not the determining factor, I am pleased to hear how a potential candidate harnesses the power of social media to grow as an educator.

I also think the concept of social is important. We are in the process of revising the English Curriculum at the high school. A true collaborative effort has been underway to rethink our English classrooms. Via Google Docs, educators have been invited to offer opinions about the curriculum. Over 100 educators from all over the world have viewed the document. The social nature of Google Docs will result in a rich and deeply relevant English curriculum. Looking forward, it is exciting to think how social media/networks will impact education and only for the better. Will there be a time when, essentially, all foundational materials such as curriculum and core texts are crowd sourced?

As an educator I am certainly grateful for the development of social media and how it makes me a better and more informed educator.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Are We A Building of Learners

I came across a question on the blog Dangerously Irrelevant that caught my eye. The question asked:

How does an emphasis on being a ‘student’ rather than a ‘learner’ impact children’s motivation for school tasks?

A series of question that started with a similar premise followed this initial query. For me what resonated was the comparison or implied contrast between student and learner. In and even out of schools, these terms are viewed as the same. However, I think there a stark differences between these words. As suggested in the post, a student is someone who receives knowledge. Students either attend school or do well because it is part of a larger cultural norm. Additionally, students are devoid of assuming ownership in the classroom and in schools.

In contrast, I think we want our kids to be learners. To be conservative, there are a fair number of schools that state in a mission statement a desire to foster life-long learning. I think one would be challenged to find a mission statement or set of objectives in which kids are encouraged to be life-long students. Learners are active, inquisitive and assume ownership. Learners have passions and interests that are vigorously pursued. Learning further implies a constant process. Learning leads to additional questions and continued acts of discovery.

I wonder about the potential impact if we supported learners. Would the mindset begin to change if we became a building of learners and not an academic environment that delineates roles and expectations.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Change is Essential

“Change is not merely necessary to life – it is life.”

I came across this quote by Alvin Toffler via a post on Twitter and it captured the week I have had. It seems as if this week I have been engaged in discussions about traditional aspects of schooling. I have been part of conversations about grades, homework, summer reading... Within each conversation there have been elements of educators holding on to or protecting the traditional high school structure/system.

Just as an example, we had a discussion about homework policy and in particular, the amount of homework assigned to high school students. I wonder why we assign homework and why is it often true that a particular grade or weight is delineated for work completed outside of class. The focus should be on learning and not the amount of work a student completes in a defined period of time. I also wonder if we should remove homework from the vocabulary of schools. Is it counterproductive to discern work completed outside of the classroom or specifically, tasks finished at home. How do you separate and quantify thinking done in class to thinking done outside of class?

In part the conversation about homework stemmed from the showing of Race to Nowhere. The film was shown and has since instigated concern about the rising stress level students endure. Exchanges have transpired regarding requirements placed on students that extend beyond the school day. I agree with this argument if the work students are doing has no value and disregards individual passions and interests. Can you blame some kids for choosing not to answer questions 1-20 or complete a text book chapter review section? However, learning cannot be relegated to a scheduled instructional block. Learning is fluid and can happen anywhere and at any time and moreover, from anyone. This is not a policy, but rather a healthy recognition of how critical understandings are developed.

Homework, in the way it has been defined, is reminiscent of a time that no longer has a place in a progressive and innovative learning environment. In my mind it comes back to entertaining the idea of fixing a system that quite frankly, requires far greater measures. As opposed to repackaging a homework policy or summer reading schedule, an opportunity is presented to engage stakeholders in a serious examination about the types of experiences we value for students.

I juxtapose these conversations with a classroom experience I observed today. I spent a couple of hours with Mr. Gutkowksi (@mylatinteacher) and our Classics Academy students. We started a small theme-based senior academy this year built around the study of Classical Civilizations and how a study of these ancient cultures informs students about today. Symposium is the wheel class for this Academy and serves as a central space where students can make connections between the four additional classes that make-up the Classics Academy schedule. However, Mr. Gutkowski has taken a progressive philosophical approach guides the Symposium class.

“The Symposium for the Classics Academy is an exploratory, full-year class that will delve deeply into the concept of creativity. The class will actively implement whole-mind strategies and activities in order to break down traditional modes of learning and to expand students’ views of themselves, as well as their personal concepts of creativity.”- Symposium Curriculum

The year has been full of amazing experiences for both the kids and teacher involved with the Classics Symposium. Today was another meaningful moment. Akemi Tanaka, a respected designer came in to speak. For over two hours students engaged a professional in discussions about the creative design process. In the end, students were allowed to present their ideas to Ms. Tanaka, educators and classmates.

During today, time and space were redefined. Bells sounded to signal the end of classes and beginning of lunch. Students barely recognized these symbols of start and stop times. The conversation continued beyond a scheduled block of time and as a result, was allowed to grow and provided space for individual inquiries to be heard. Yes, students sit for presentations during the school year, but this was more intimate and represented an exchange between equals who shared a similar passion. Deep learning occurred in powerful and meaningful ways.

It was a week of contrast and this brings me back to the quote. I wonder, deep down, why in education, change is difficult. Change is who we are and as Toffler states, is necessary for life. On one hand we have a system where learning is compartmentalized to what is done inside and outside of class and on the other hand, learning is fluid, organic and shaped by a broad set of experiences and personal connections. How much longer can we exist where this philosophical dichotomy has a place in schools?

*To follow today's discussion check out the following hashtag- #mhsclassics

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Asking Questions

Just wanted to share the following excerpt.

" We believe that instead of posing questions to find answers it is essential to use answers to find increasingly better questions."- New Culture of Learning

What do you think about this statement. Certainly made me stop and think about what goes on in the classroom. Are we more concerned with students answering questions rather than having students continually ask great questions? Should we be satisfied with a final answer or does a summative statement lead to further inquiry?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Searching for Expertise

Next installment of my weekly podcast series. The idea for this podcast was inspired by Professor Michael Flamm's presentation to the Social Studies Department at Morristown High School.

As a bonus I added a commercial used by Nixon during his 1968 campaign for the presidency. Chilling....

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Accidental Hero

I felt compelled to write after reading John Ed Bradley's piece in the latest volume of Sports Illustrated (CP3 Cover). Bradley wrote about Beryl Shipley the former men's basketball coach at the University of Southwestern Louisiana (now known as The University of Louisiana at Lafayette). Shipley coached at the University for 12 years. He took over a program that in his first year only had 12 games scheduled and some of those against the likes of Houma Air Station and Evangeline Motors. Shipley turned the program around during his tenure; securing multiple top ten finishes, twice guiding the Ragin' Cajuns to the Sweet Sixteen and recruiting players such as Dwight (Bo) Lamar who would lead the country in scoring in 1972 with an average of 36.6 points per game.

Shipley left the program amidst a contract dispute with university officials and under intense scrutiny from the NCAA for a litany of violations. Shipley was accused of paying players, conducting illegal practices and overseeing a program that turned a blind eye to academic concessions made for basketball players. After he resigned, the basketball program received the "Death Penalty" from the NCAA. Shipley succumb to cancer on April 15th at the age of 84. Till the day he died, Shipley defended himself against the NCAA and fought to contradict the portrayl of himself as a rule-breaking coach.

Above all, Shipley should be remembered as the first coach to integrate a major sports team at a large public university in the Deep South. As far as college basketball is concerned and for that matter any historical study of sports in this country, attention is directed towards the 1966 national basketball championship played at Cole Field House on the University of Maryland campus. Don Haskins led his all-black Texas Western starting five to beat the legendary Adolph Rupp and his all white starting five. Haskins has been viewed as a civil rights hero and the game has come to mark a change in collegiate athletics. As Bradley points out, El Paso, the home of Texas Western, was a long way from the Deep South. In a region governed by the likes of George Wallace, Shipley invited black recruits over to his house and openly defied the Louisiana State Board of Regents by not cutting black players.

Shipley was not attempting to make a statement, but rather wanted to win games. Shipley and his assistants realized that widening their recruiting base to connect with black athletes was a necessity. However, his willingness to recruit black athletes would mean much more than just winning games. Shipley's players saw him as a hero who believed he was unfairly punished for going against segregationists policies. Marvin Winkler, among the first of Shipley's black recruits, was quoted in the article as saying, "coach Shipley gave his life for us... they went after him because he was the forefather- the first to walk through the door."

Before reading the article I was not familiar with Beryl Shipley. I had read articles and books about the 1966 national championship and other transcending moments in sports such as the "Turning of the Tide" when an integrated University of Southern California football team demolished Bear Bryant's Crimson Tide. However, I think these lesser known more personal stories are a better way to build an understanding of history. While unintentional, Shipley demonstrated the courage to take a stand and do what was just.

Shipley's story also presents an intriguing case for students to study. His admitted to committing NCAA rules violations. The Ragin' Cajuns endured severe sanctions after his resignation. How do we view Shipley? Bradley wrote the following in his article:

For those who dismiss him, Shipley will always be the rule-breaking renegade whose outsized ambition wrecked a university's basketball program. For the rest of us, he's the flawed, doomed disciple of change ruined by those who did not want to change. He might have done wrong, but the wrong, I've always argued, was at the service of a greater good.

Is Shipley a hero? Where his actions justified considering the times? It would be interesting to engage students in a discussion about Shipley's tenure as basketball coach and how to view his legacy.