Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Teacher Google Apps Introduction

Presentation about Google Apps for Education to new teachers in the district.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

PARCC Assessment

If you have not done so I encourage you to read Mary Ann Reilly's post about the new release of PARCC assessment items.  Dr. Reilly concluded her post and questioning of PARCC claim about creating, "next generation, technology-based assessments" by sharing the following:

Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown (2011) define this type of thinking as mechanistic. They write:
Learning is treated as a series of steps to be mastered, as if students were being taught how to operate a machine or even, in some cases, as if the students themselves were machines being programmed to accomplish tasks. The ultimate endpoint of a mechanistic perspective is efficiency: The goal is to learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. In this teaching-based approach, standardization is a reasonable way to do this, and testing is a reasonable way to measure the result. (Kindle Locations 336-338)
In contrast to this mechanistic view of learning Thomas and Brown offer a view to a new culture of learning, one that is absent from the PARCC prototypes:

learning should be viewed in terms of an environment—combined with the rich resources provided by the digital information network—where the context in which learning happens, the boundaries that define it, and the students, teachers, and information within it all coexist and shape each other in a mutually reinforcing way.  (Kindle Locations 329-332).
Instead of examining actual work that learners do for real purposes, we continue to subscribe to the belief that simulated assessment tasks are apt measures of knowing and doing. 

It's difficult to examine PARCC's model and the type of testing environment our kids will be subjected to and buy into the notion that this is vehicle will best judge college and career readiness skills. Dr. Reilly highlights the schism between managed/structured testing (mechanistic approach to learning) and the type of learning that Brown and Seely point out in a digitally connected world.  By narrowing the testing parameters and specifically denying learners access to peers and or personal learning networks, we are establishing a false environment.  I'm really curious as to how many professionals or college students work in complete isolation.  It would seem relevant to construct scenarios that encourage learners to work cooperatively and ethically leverage the powers of a digital information network.   As Dr. Reilly states, the measurement of growth should stem from authentic inquiry-driven endeavors as opposed to simulated assessment tasks. 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Preventing Readicide

I want to share the following from Kelly Gallagher's Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About I

We would never buy a book at Barnes and Noble if it came with mandated chapter-by-chapter exams. We would never read a book so that we could tackle worksheets afterward. We would never begin a new read with the expressed goal of earning points. And we would never feel compelled to read if we had to complete a project after every book. Yet, as teachers, we do all of these things to developing readers. We subject them repeatedly to treatments that are counterproductive to developing book lovers

Makes sense.  How much does the extrinsic motivations we attach to English class foster an enduring appreciation for reading?  The greater sense of personal choice we infuse into the selection of texts and support of multiple pathways for expression leads to a sustaining love of reading.  It is rare, as an adult, that one would head into a book store (physically or virtually) and be subjected to the disclaimers offered by Gallagher.  However, this is not true for students and as Gallagher subtly points out, why is this the case?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Best Place to Work

For at least twenty years I have subscribed to Outside magazine.  Even though most of my reading has moved to digital platform, I still get Outside's monthly publication mailed to the house.  For me, there is still something special about receiving a few publications in the mail- sort of like a weekly or monthly bonus gift.  Among my favorite Outside issues is the "50 Best Jobs" report.  Each year Outside puts out an issue that details the best places to work. 

Outside highlights the work environment for the companies and businesses that make the list.  Outside provides for each nominee a review of perks employees have access to.  Because of the nature of the magazine a majority of these perks have to do with outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, skiing and paddling.  Additionally, several companies on the list have on site gyms or will pay for gym membership fees or in some cases, paid sabbaticals are offered.

For the first time since I can remember a school district made the list.  This year, Outside divided the lit into three categories based on the number of employees.  Seeley Lake Elementary School District  in Seeley Lake, Montana was listed in the "Small Companies" section.  What follows is the description of Seeley Lake School District:

Digs: Typical school- except for the stashes of nordic skis and mountain bikes. 

Culture: "We see education as something that happens in places not confined by four walls," says superintendent Chris Stout.  Before and after classes, Seeley teachers bike or cross-country ski on the groomed trails that surround the school and help run the Adventure Club, a program that takes kids biking, hiking, skiing, and fishing.  Staff also participate in community building projects like the Blackfoot Challenge, which promotes outdoor education in the Blackfoot River Watershed.

Sweet Perk: Financial aid for everything from a master's in science to ski-instructor certification.

As someone who likes the outdoors, particularly skiing, the work environment in Seeley Lake is more than appealing.  Beyond the outdoor adventure perks, I like the idea presented by Chris Stout.  Even from this brief snippet you get the sense that students and teachers are engaged in authentic hands-on learning experiences.  No matter whether your playground is the Blackfoot River or an urban landscape, classroom stakeholders need to take advantage of what is offered in each community.  We have taken this approach at the school where I work.  We have promoted walking tours of the local community and also have constructed several tours of New York City neighborhoods.  Each day we are running "field trips" with the purpose of inspiring students through authentic interactions.

While students have prospered from these journeys outside of the classroom, more needs to be done for teachers.  In Seeley Lake, extracurricular activities are shaped by the interests and passions of the staff have been developed.  I'm sure valuable units of study and or lessons have been born from a bike ride or cross-country ski trip.  

After reading the best places to work article I thought about how many teachers feel that there school is worthy or making such a list.  How many schools offer perks similar to Seeley Lake  or other companies on the list such as Cliff Bar (six-month sabbatical offered every six years, $500 stipend for buying a commuter bike)?  Do we think and do enough about the school environment to make it a place that would warrant consideration fora best of list? I'm sure there are other districts and or schools that offer noteworthy perks.  It would be interesting to compile a list of these places as a way fro more districts to start reshaping their environments into places that inspire and foster the creative and innovative teaching.

InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity

Sharing some highlights from Tina Seelig's book InGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity.

With enhanced creativity, instead of problems you see potential, instead of obstacles you see opportunities, and instead of challenges you see a chance to create breakthrough solutions

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” We are all inventors of our own future. And creativity is at the heart of invention

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first fifty-five minutes determining the proper question to ask, for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”

When you empathize, you are, essentially, changing your frame of reference by shifting your perspective to that of the other person

In the new “Reading like a Historian” project, led by Abby Reisman and Sam Wineburg, the students get to study the information from all different points of view and come up with their own opinion about what really happened during that period. They discuss and debate the issues with their classmates. Not only does this approach provide a much deeper understanding of the material, but the students also make insightful connections and discoveries, which propels them to discover even more... They viewed themselves as historical investigators and gained critical-thinking skills that they would never have learned had they merely memorized a list of facts

Being able to connect and combine nonobvious ideas and objects is essential for innovation and a key part of the creative-thinking process

Connecting unexpected people, places, objects, and ideas provides a huge boost to your imagination. You can practice this skill by using provocative metaphors, interacting with those outside your normal circles, building on existing ideas, and finding inspiration in unlikely places. These approaches enhance creative thinking and are terrific tools for generating fresh ideas 

Focused observation is a powerful way to acquire valuable knowledge about the world. That knowledge is the starting point for all your creative endeavors because it provides rich fuel for your imagination

We are all social animals, and the opportunity to be actively involved with others in a meaningful way inspires us to do remarkable things, pushing beyond what we would do on our own

Experimentation is both a personal mind-set and a value in all organizations and communities. Individuals who want to increase their creativity need to be open to trying things they haven’t done before, even when the results are completely uncertain       

Friday, August 10, 2012

Worth Reading....

Sharing some posts and resources I came across.

1. Project Dream School (21st Century Collaborative)- from disillusionment about the current educational structure to a vision for a "Dream School."  Reminds me of another great article, If We Didn’t Have the Schools We Have Today, Would We Create the Schools We Have Today? What would you design or what would be your dream school?

I have been dreaming lately, dreaming about starting a school, a place where kids can ask questions and follow their passions. A place where caring adults create the conditions where deep learning can thrive and are willing to get out of the way and let it happen. A place where we value what all learners have to offer teachers and students.

2.  HBW Reads- this was shared by Patrick Larkin who was leading an unconference I attended yesterday.  This was how a school in the district where he works structured summer reading. Students were invited in to blog throughout the summer about a "buzz" book the school selected to read.

3. From Classroom Rules to Community Commitments (Spencer)- shares ideas for the beginning of school and how he has moved from establishing classroom rules/norms to community developed expectations.  Worth privileging time at the start of school to begin the process of developing a community of learners.  Additionally, learners are empowered to assume ownership over the classroom space.

When it was finished, a student asked me, "If these are our commitments, why are we using 'I' instead of 'we?'" I realize his question was linguistic in nature, but I was struck by the philosophical underpinnings to what he was asking.

4. Inspire Drive, Innovation and cReativity.  The 20% Project in the Classroom (Petty)-  description of a 20% project, made famous by Google, in a classroom.  Brings up the questions as to whether we can inspire students and foster creativity without ceding autonomy in the classroom.

With autonomy, students are encouraged to seek out their own topics, create their own timelines, research their own products and complete them.  The pro for autonomy is that students don’t really see a list of possible ideas and then limit their ideas to that list.  They have a little more unmanipulated freedom to think of a new project. 

5. For Back to School, Reimagine Classroom Design (Jilek)-  schools that have redesigned learning spaces to better inspire students. The article is a further reminder of the extent the physical space impacts learning.

But not at Hartland-Lakeside. Across the Hartland-Lakeside school district in Hartland, Wisconsin, teachers have transformed their Industrial Age classrooms into innovative, state-of-the-art learning spaces. Unique spaces allow children flexibility to move, collaborate, and express themselves in creative ways. And as a result of changing the learning environment, classroom instruction changed to fit students’ needs too.

6. "Creativity is Spelled With A "Why" (Achiron)-  discusses the importance of observation in the creative process.  Further prompts us to think about ways we position students to get out of their desks and classroom and into the streets to observe.

“These children learn different ways of thinking and looking at the world.” For Raghavan, those different ways of thinking also need to be adopted by traditional teachers and schools. “We need a shift from ‘yes’ to ‘why?’ in school systems,” he says, “from looking to observing; from being passive to exploring; from textbook-bound to hands-on; from fear to confidence.”

7. Seely Brown on New Ways of Learning in a Rapidly-Changing World- thinking of showing this as part of a new teacher meeting.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Creating Parallel Systems in Schools

I wanted to pass along the following excerpt offered by Saul Kaplan:

Here’s how the idea works.  Instead of going to war to transform an entrenched operating model, create real world sandboxes right next door in which a new generation of transformative operating models can be explored.  The imperative is to do R&D for new business models and systems the way organizations do R&D for new products and technologies today.   The trick is to explore and test new models while at the same time continuing to pedal the bicycle of the current model.  This requires establishing adjacent innovation platforms with the freedom to explore new ways to create and deliver value, especially approaches that are disruptive to the current model.  Adjacent innovation platforms must have the freedom to experiment with different rules and financial models.  Connected adjacencies require senior leadership sponsorship, support, and protection or they will fail. They must be free to recombine and connect capabilities in new ways unconstrained by the existing organization.  Those working in the adjacencies must be empowered to borrow and flexibly deploy capabilities and technologies from inside and outside the organization in novel ways. - Innovate Through Connected Adjacencies

Simply, where do these, as Kaplan frames it, "innovation sandboxes" exist in schools?  In education parallel systems seem to be a rarity.  There are isolated examples of prototypes systems.  At the school where I work we have one such prototype in place with the Classics Academy.  However, it has been a struggle to increase the size of the program as students feel an overwhelming pressure to enroll in more "traditional" courses. 

Kaplan's idea of connected adjacencies deserves consideration.  Beyond the inherent faults in promoting a one size fits all paradigm, how else do you challenge current structures/practices unless there is a competing model to draw comparisons against?  An important element of the Classics Academy and other similar curricular initiatives is that an alternative is being forged.  The status quo is being challenged.  Organically, students, educators and parents are compelled to observe, analyze and reflect upon what is best for kids and a community.  Without supporting prototypes, we limit our chances to improve the quality of education offered in our schools.