Thursday, November 29, 2012

Changing Our Value System in Schools

I have been discussing with other educators in my district the idea of developing a new report card.  Influenced by several books I have read recently such as How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character and Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, I have started to reflect on how we underplay the importance of crucial non-cognitive skills. Specifically, I think that report cards fail to provide meaningful data on how a learner is growing.  At the high school level, report cards are driven by a letter grade which may or may not be accompanied by a short statement (think: poor quiz grade, participates in class, missing assignments).  Does this type of formal reporting tell us how students are growing as readers, writers and thinkers?  In what ways is a student growing into becoming a global citizen and fostering a greater sense of empathy?  Overall, how are the skills privileged in today's world represented in artifacts we share with students and parents?

With this in mind, I wonder whether the following idea has merit.  Several years ago the following document was created.  The idea was to create a document detailing our hopes for graduates. At the end of four years, students walking off the graduation stage would embody qualities expressed in what became The Graduate Profile.  If this is where our hopes reside why not construct a report system that directly comments on growth towards becoming a productive citizen?  If we want our students to develop marketable skills and knowledge why not develop a system that measures and comments on movement towards these ideals?

It seems that students and parents would get as much maybe even more out of commentary related to whether a student, "invokes empathy, ethics, and flexibility in personal relationships," or strives towards becoming a "critical thinker and problem solver, fluent in many literacies, who actively seeks out the truth and analyze facts and data to solve problems and make decisions."  Developing a system bringing  fidelity to these skills and dispositions has an enduring qualities that extend far beyond school.

Not sure where this is going to go, but certainly worth investigating.  Hopefully, it will lead to a re-envisioning of how we communicate growth.


Worth Reading

Sharing some worthy reads...

1. Richard Elmore: Future of School Reform- in 8:30 minutes a one man wrecking ball against the educational system and he is not wrong

2. 5 Inspiring Social Design Pioneers (Brown)- further evidence of seeing the connection between problem-solving and design thinking.  Continues to make me think he we should rephrase and reshape conversations with kids around problem-solving regardless of content or discipline.

Jeanne van Heeswijk describes herself as an artist rather than a designer, yet she uses the tools of design to build coalitions within communities to create lively and diversified public spaces. The video shows her remarkable ability to connect to a community, giving them ways to participate in designing solutions for themselves.

3.  GOOD Education: The Rise of Democratic Schools and ‘Solutionaries’: Why Adults Need to Get Out of the Way (Goyal)- highlights a point that often we forget to include students in any conversation about what is best for schools.  In doing so, we fail to see problems/solutions through the eyes of our true clients.  Under a design thinking model we fail to develop empathy in neglecting those who we are trying to assist.

 Young people bring a fresh angle to the conversation. It may not always be correct, but at the very least that perspective isn’t drowned in years and years of expertise. You wonder why this may be the best time in human civilization to be a young entrepreneur. Anyone can invent or create something without the risk of failing miserably considering the networks, mentors, and resources we’re bathing in.

4. Why Not Just Do It (Moran)- let's not forget the importance of play, experimentation and prototyping.  Think about the idea of experimentation and prototyping and the fact that embedded into each action is failure.  Why is failure frowned upon in schools and not viewed as part of the learning process?

Wise teachers know how to observe the cycles within a learning culture. They learn over time when to intervene and when to let learning unfold. They don’t see mistakes as a failing grade but as an opportunity for teachers and learners alike to practice experimentation, reflective processing, and abstract reasoning. They don’t spend time criticizing and judging children but rather assessing how they as teachers can provide the scaffolding needed to evolve and advance learning, as well as a love for engaging in it. They understand that different pathways offer different children entry points into learning and they define their job as not interfering with, but rather supporting the process.

5. Fight Songs: How Songwriting Is Saving War Vets' Lives (Peisner)- interesting story about return home from war- both the traumatic stress veterans endure and the ways relief is sought.

All over the country, soldiers who are suffering from the physical and emotional ravages of war are learning to deal with their pain by writing songs and playing music. Even more surprising: It's working.

6. Kelvin Doe, Self-Taught Engineering Whiz From Sierra Leone, Wows MIT Experts 


Saturday, November 17, 2012

What Is Collaboration Good For?

I attended a conference yesterday about PARCC and the Common Core as well as a panel discussion about 1:1 programs.  For PARCC and the Common Core there was a moderated panel discussion and series of individual presentations.  Two items struck me from the conversation around the Common Core.

The first was a lack of any discussion about how potential and even current state testing completely disregards the fact that learning is a collaborative process.  I would hope we view scholarship as a collective enterprise and not a solo endeavor.  Again, the contrast was striking.  I attended a conference with a 100 other educators, who while listening to presentations were simultaneously posting questions to a back channel discussion and submitting commentary on Twitter.  The whole experience was collaborative cooperative and embraced the importance learning networks.  However, when it comes to state testing, students are isolated from one another and networks they have cultivated.  What's worse is that these exams will be online. Unfortunately participants will not be able to access a global community of experts just for this assignment.  This thread was furthered when the moderator of the Common Core discussion shared the "corn" question (search document for elevator).  I'm not sure how many of our students, particularly those in the state of New Jersey, are familiar with farming, growing corn and grain elevators.  It would seem rationale that if presented with this problem a student or anyone for that matter could reach out to either an expert or the web to develop context and for assistance in addressing the task.

The next item was reaction to a presentation about the Common Core.  The presenter was talking about writing and the need for students to conduct ethical research inquiries, synthesize information and present a compelling argument.  I do not disagree with any of these actions.  However, who or what job requires these steps to be accomplished in such a short time frame.  Is it a necessary skill to write a cohesive essay in 25-30 minutes.  Is this how the world functions.  Think about our most talented authors.  They spend hours, days, weeks, months, maybe even a lifetime shaping a response.  We ask our students, who are maturing writers, to perform this task under the stress of high stakes circumstances.

I understand and accept the realities of the Common Core and PARCC.  Still, I hope we continue to question what students are being asked to do and strive to determine if there is potentially a more productive and fulfilling alternative. 

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Classics Academy Strategic Plan

I am sharing a link to what is now a draft of a strategic plan.  Several educators, including myself, were assigned the task of expanding the Classics Academy.  The Classics Academy is a cross-curricular experience integrating English, History, Mathematics and Science.  Through the Classics Academy students explore the Greek and Roman civilizations through three core course and a series of suggested offerings.  The Academy experience affords students the opportunity to study classical literature, history, mathematics, art, religion and philosophy. Students participating in the Academy learn to produce and consume new knowledge while synthesizing complex understandings of the human experience.  All Academy students conclude this year-long experience by composing a final exhibition related to their studies.

Currently the course if offered to seniors.  For a variety of reasons it has been a struggle to grow the program.  Through the plan we are making an effort to create a more inclusive program that extends beyond senior year.  Many of us believe in the Academy and the promise of a new paradigm it represents

Feel free to open the draft.  Those of us responsible for the draft have limited experience crafting a strategic plan.  Everyone is welcomed to comment and contribute to the plan. 

Monday, November 12, 2012

Damaging Statement

I just started reading Creating the Opportunity to Learn (Boykin and Noguera).  I came across the following statement on page 33.

Too often, attitudes and beliefs that contribute to the normalization of failure are unchallenged, and when failure is normalized, educators often grow comfortable seeing minority students underperform and fail in large numbers...  Likewise, parents and the broader community can become so conditioned by pervasive and persistent failure among certain groups of students that, over time, low test scores, discipline problems, and high dropout rates generate little outrage or concern.

I re-read this section several times and wrote in the margin "damaging statement".  I cannot imagine a worse depiction of a school, district or community than when failure is normalized and becomes part of the accepted outcome.  Rightfully Boykin and Noguera state,

Reforms may be implemented- new textbooks and new curricula may be adopted, schools may be reorganized and restructured, principals may be replaced- but unless there is a strategy for countering the normalization of failure, it is unlikely that disparities in achievement will be reduced or that schools will ever change.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

Sharing a few favorite highlights from Chris Anderson's Makers: The New Industrial Revolution.  It is simply a must read for educators as we consider future initiatives.  More importantly, points raised by Anderson in Makers presents a road map for the types of programs, skills and dispositions that we need to support.  Come budget time, promoting the "Industrial Arts" has been a challenge when competing against more traditional measures/programs.  However, it's hard to argue against the need for schools to assist in creating a generation of Makers and homegrown entrepreneurs. 

The beauty of the Web is that it democratized the tools both of invention and of production.

But the point is that the path from “inventor” to “entrepreneur” is so foreshortened it hardly exists at all anymore.

In the Web Age, the DIY punk movement’s co-opting of the means of production turned into regular people using desktop publishing, then websites, then blogs, and now social media.

But one of the most profound shifts of the Web Age is that there is a new default of sharing online. If you do something, video it. If you video something, post it. If you post something, promote it to your friends. Projects shared online become inspiration for others and opportunities for collaboration. Individual Makers, globally connected this way, become a movement. Millions of DIYers, once working alone, suddenly start working together.

The idea of a “factory” is, in a word, changing. Just as the Web democratized innovation in bits, a new class of “rapid prototyping” technologies, from 3-D printers to laser cutters, is democratizing innovation in atoms. You think the last two decades were amazing? Just wait.

The great opportunity in the new Maker Movement is the ability to be both small and global. Both artisanal and innovative. Both high-tech and low-cost. Starting small but getting big. And, most of all, creating the sort of products that the world wants but doesn’t know it yet, because those products don’t fit neatly into the mass economics of the old model

And once an industry goes digital, it changes in profound ways, as we’ve seen in everything from retail to publishing. The biggest transformation is not in the way things are done, but in who’s doing it. Once things can be done on regular computers, they can be done by anyone. And that’s exactly what we’re seeing happen now in manufacturing
Thus, the Third Industrial Revolution is best seen as the combination of digital manufacturing and personal manufacturing: the industrialization of the Maker Movement.

“It’s about the ability for individuals to make—and, more importantly, modify—anything. Everyone here has an idea—we’re trying to make it easier for them to realize it. What becomes important is the designs, not the fabrication.”

As desktop fabrication tools go mainstream, it’s time to return “making things” to the high school curriculum, not as the shop class of old, but in the form of teaching design... But think how much better it would be if they could choose a third option: design class. Imagine a course where kids would learn to use free 3-D CAD tools such as Sketchup or Autodesk 123D. Some would design buildings and fantastic structures, much as they sketch in their notebooks already. Others would create elaborate videogame levels with landscapes and vehicles. And yet others would invent machines     

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success

Sharing a few highlights from Carol Dweck's Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.  I have been meaning to read Mindset for some time.  However, I am glad that I read it on the heels of Paul Tough's How Children Succeed.  Several powerful connections between the two works and furthers the conversation about cultivating and promoting the development of essential non-cognitive skills.

What are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed, deep-seated trait?

A few modern philosophers … assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism.… With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.

At the same time, scientists are learning that people have more capacity for lifelong learning and brain development than they ever thought

This growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts.

The passion for stretching yourself and sticking to it, even (or especially) when it’s not going well, is the hallmark of the growth mindset. This is the mindset that allows people to thrive during some of the most challenging times in their lives

But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves. It’s about becoming smarter.

One seventh-grade girl summed it up. “I think intelligence is something you have to work for … it isn’t just given to you.… Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected. Or I will raise my hand and say, ‘How would this be solved?’ or ‘I don’t get this. Can you help me?’ Just by doing that I’m increasing my intelligence.”

I am simply saying that a growth mindset helps people to see prejudice for what it is—someone else’s view of them—and to confront it with their confidence and abilities intact

Those with the growth mindset found setbacks motivating. They’re informative. They’re a wake-up call.         

Runner's View of Sandy

Went for a run a week ago a day after the storm.  Sharing a runner's view of Sandy's devastation in the town of Maplewood.

November 1, 2012