Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The future of education?

I visited one of our schools this week. As I sat in a class it reminded me of the classes I had sat in when I was in high school.

The class was well organized. The discussion was good. Students seemed engaged. But I wondered if school could or should be more than what I was seeing.

After all, this is 2012. Should school continue to look like it did 40 years ago when I was in high school?

I know that students have different experiences on occasion but the majority of their experiences seem to be similar, if not identical, to the experiences that I had in high school.

I then went down the hall and talked with a teacher who told me about his attempts to encourage the use of technology with teachers in the building. The point of using technology was not to use technology but to facilitate teaching and learning opportunities with and for students in ways that would not be possible without the use of technology. He spoke of a teacher who was trying to create videos that students could watch at home and then he could use class time in other ways. In the current fashion this was the "flipped classroom" concept.

I then visited an advisory class. Here the principal was talking with students about the Khan Academy, an online tutorial site where they could get assistance in a variety of subjects.

I then looked at my iPhone and saw the Wolfram Alpha application. I can enter a formula and it will solve the formula for me.

All of this started me thinking about the future of school. Does school have to look like what it does today? Does school have to resemble what it looked like when I was young?

Part of me says school should look different. We have new technologies. Information is more readily available now than in the past. Yet classes look remarkably similar.

Is that because the teaching and learning relationship has to have a classroom setting that never changes? I would question that perspective. It seems to me that teaching and learning have to change based on the content, the context, and the goals of the learner.

Yet most of the classrooms I see have not changed dramatically since I was in school.

I am not sure what this means. But my visit today made me think about what school is like today and what it could or should be like tomorrow.

Art Takes Chances

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What can you do with band-aids? A student in Ms. Harvey's art class made this dress with band-aids. She then accessoried it with jewelry she created. Wee done!

The Craft of Acting

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Students in Ms. McKaig's acting class perform a scene from "Arsenic and Old Lace" today at Novi High School.

Monday, March 26, 2012

What do students need to learn?

I spent part of my morning reading to kindergarten students at Parkview Elementary. I read from a book that my Mom used to read to me when I was in kindergarten over 50 years ago.  As I sat in front of those bright-eyed and eager students, I wondered - what do they need to learn?

That question is partially answered by the state curriculum standards and the Common Core.

We attend to those standards. I know we could do better but I am confident that our teachers and administrators know the standards, create lessons that teach the standards, and assess the standards appropriately.

Again, we could do better but I am confident that we understand this important role.

As I prepared to read to those kindergarten students at Parkview Elementary I was concerned but not worried about the curriculum standards. We can find ways to address the standards. We can make sure that we are teaching them well.

Instead, as I sat in front of those kindergarten students, I thought about determination, failure, and the commitment to get things right. How do we teach our students these attitudes?

I thought about a presentation I saw recently from Myshkin Ingawale. In this presentation he talks about creating a machine that would help test for anemia. The most fascinating part of this talk was his self-effacing declaration that it took him and his team 32 tries to get the machine right.

Ingawale saw a need, thought he could help, but discovered that it was more difficult than he originally imagined. Instead of giving up he kept at it. After 32 tries, they had it right.

That is a skill that I want the students in my district to learn. It doesn't matter if you are the smartest person in the room if you don't have the power to keep trying when things go wrong.

What do students need to learn?

What do I need to learn?

I need to learn that I should learn from my mistakes, keep attacking a problem, and find ways around roadblocks.

Those are skills that they do not assess on our state assessments. However, those are the skills that will determine if I succeed or fail. Those are precisely the skills that I need to learn how to teach the students in my district.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Promoting Reading

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Students highlight good books at Meadows. A great way to post student-approved good books.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Friday, March 16, 2012

Celebrating Books

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Village Oaks celebrated March is reading month by hosting Breakfast and Books this morning. Parents and students took advantage of the Book Fair as well.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Favorite subjects or favorite teachers? Looking beyond test scores

I had a conversation with a friend yesterday. He asked, "What were your favorite subjects in school?"

I thought for a moment and remembered Miss Ely - 10th grade English. She treated me well. She encouraged me to write. She took time to say hello. She invited me to be a participant in her class. I can still remember activities from her class. I did a report on George Washington Carver. I baked peanut butter bread and shared it with the class during my oral report.

Was it English that I liked or did I like English because of Miss Ely?

I remembered Mr. Robbins - 6th grade. He treated me well. He made me feel secure at an insecure time in my life. He took time to sit with me, talk with me, and make me feel important. He did not have to do that - but he did.

Was it 6th grade that I liked or did I like 6th grade because of Mr. Robbins?

I remembered Coach Braig - two years of Latin. He was one of the cool teachers in our school. I was one of the uncool kids in our school. He talked to me like I was important. He said hello to me in the hall. He called me by name. I could always count on Coach Braig to make my day brighter and to make me walk a little taller.

Was it Latin that I liked or did I like Latin because of Coach Braig?

We hear a lot lately about "value-added" assessment. There is a push to make sure that teachers are helping students learn. Can the impact of Miss Ely and Mr. Robbins and Coach Braig be measured by the grades I earned in their classrooms or by the test scores I received in school?

I am sure there was a connection. I wanted to do well in those classes because I did not want to disappoint those teachers.

But a large part of the impact those teachers had on my life cannot be measured by a grade or a test score.

I am part of the educational establishment. I am charged with making sure that every student in my district learns. I want the teachers in my district to be able to demonstrate that the students in their classroom are learning. Ultimately teacher and administrator evaluations will be connected to student performance. My evaluation will be connected to student performance.

Yet, there is a part of me that understands that there is more to an education than grades and test scores. Some of what Miss Ely, Mr. Robbins, and Coach Braig taught me cannot be measured, graded, or examined on a spreadsheet. In fact, I could argue, that the most important part of who I am is connected in some profound way to things that cannot be measured from a test score.

As we proceed down the path of holding teachers and administrators accountable for student performance I ask that we pause and consider how we can measure the tremendous impact teachers have on the important things that cannot be accounted for on a scantron test sheet. I ask that we take the time to understand that measuring the things we can see and count needs to be complemented with an awareness that there is more to a teacher than just student grades and test scores.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Celebration of Learning

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Parkview 1st grade students shared their data notebooks with their parents today. These notebooks help students identify learning goals and monitor their progress. A great tool for taking charge of their own learning!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Self-portraits at Orchard Hills

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Students worked on self-portraits today in art class at Orchard Hills. Drawing hair is harder than one might think.