Friday, August 25, 2017

Poking the Universe

A group of John Muir teachers and school administrators experienced a professional development session recently as part of their involvement in the NASA Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. The meeting was conducted via Skype from astrophysicist Jeff Goldstein.

I was most impressed with the philosophical background of the program as to the “why” behind the process.  Mr. Goldstein gave the example as to how young children “poke the universe” and begin to determine the causes and effects from the time they are old enough to sense their world around.

Children are already predisposed to be inquirers and find out how the world and universe works. He mentioned that same way of thinking; that childlike sense of inquiry and investigation is what science is all about, and that is how the scientists they work with approach their work in looking at the universe.

Here was a key question: “How many of you science teachers give a set of procedures to your students to do a lab?” As a former science teacher, I did not want to raise my hand because I knew where this was going. He asked, “If you conduct your labs by giving your students a list of procedures, is that science?” I thought to myself, “Ouch!”

He noted that is not science, but it is following the recipe or doing the work of a technician and not a scientist. When we teach science (or any discipline at all for that matter) as a set of procedures or as a rigid recipe, students see the classroom and the learning as belonging solely to the teacher.
However, when we build the learning around inquiry-based, evidence-based learning, students own the learning much like they did as young children who “poke things” to see how they react.

The scientific method is not a set of procedures or rules as well, but it is simply “poking” around inquiry-based, evidence-based learning. And, he mentioned,  “Who says you have to have a hypothesis?” For example, a group of peer scientists just recently “poked the universe” by wondering what was beyond a certain part of space. After digging further, they discovered a whole new set of planets and systems.


A powerful part of the learning was this: He emphasized that the scientific method (remember his definition of the scientific method is inquiry based, evidence based learning) should be in all of our courses, across all disciplines. For example, a cook wonders what would happen if he added a little rosemary. He then experiments by adding rosemary and testing the results (aroma, taste, etc.). Or, an
artist wonders what would happen if she added texture to the painting. She uses a variety of textures, tests the aesthetics, the feel, the tone created, and adjusts.

All of this inquiry based, evidence based learning is embedded in the Student Spaceflight Experiments Program. John Muir students will be “poking” about the idea of how living things react, live, adjust, grow, divide, build, survive or thrive in a zero gravity environment in a space station that is in orbit. Looking forward to our kids “poking” around!

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Year of the Learner

We have committed our theme for this year as the "Year of the Learner" due to our increased desire to increase the focus on the learning and success of all learners in our Corcoran School Community.

I use the word desire because we have a strong belief that is the key to learning; having the "want to" to learn and improve.  Our resources, our efforts, our strategies and our district direction is to do everything possible to help all learners (staff and students) flow with that passion and desire toward learning and growth.  We are purposeful in creating an atmosphere where success is a must, and is inexorably tied to learning and achieving.  Learning is our way of doing business, and powerful learning is the outcome.

The change in focus is really about moving from groups of students perceived as "needing to be taught"

to . . .

. . . individual, capable, distinct and personal young boys and girls; young men and women as “learners” who are provided learning environments,  leadership and opportunities to break all pre conceived ideas of their learning limitations!

Our efforts are focused on determining what is necessary to see to it that learners learn!

We are committed to "learn" the following:
  • We have to continually learn to know our learners as learners and what they can know and do in their learning.
  • We have to continually learn how our learners learn and what motivates them and inspires them to learn and use what they learn in powerful ways.
  • We have to continually learn what our learners need to learn to be successful in today's challenging and changing world.
  • We have to continually learn what it takes for us to make sure our students learn and grow and achieve.

The table below is a good illustration of what we have learned about the best ways our students learn and how we meet those best conditions for learning:

Best Learning Conditions for our Learners
Our Focus
High Levels of Cooperation Among Classmates
Kagan Structures in Real Time, In Class Coaching
Focused Teacher Feedback:  Frequent and Diagnostic
Challenging, Realistic Goals for Everyone, Datawise Process, Continual Feedback for all Learners (Staff & Students)
Variable Time Allowed to Reach Levels of Attainment
Personalized Learning; Every Student Must Pass Prior Year CASSPP

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Technology for School Today

Our district is celebrating its thirteenth year of committed work toward teaching and learning with every modern technology tool possible for every student.  I could write a great deal about our journey including successes, failures, progress, detours and arrivals.

John Muir Middle School 2006
We have learned a great deal, and we find we have adapted and improved our work with the availability of more advanced technology learning tools.  Approaching eight years as a K-12 one-to-one district (6-12 students take devices home with free Internet), we need to take a step back and reflect on what we see in our classrooms and campuses compared to our embarkation 13 years ago.

The subtlest yet obvious characteristic of our classrooms is the seamless and transparent use.  It has been part of our culture.  Not only has it become a key part of the culture, but it has transitioned to a more and more sophisticated strategic part of the student learning.  The advent of digital curriculum and the more rigorous projects and activities teachers have grown to introduce and use have been drivers in our uses of technology for learning.

Corcoran High School 2009
Our understanding of how technology can be used to personalize student learning has grown tremendously.  Our schools are in the process of purposely and strategically creating personalized learning environments.

In our reflection, we have considered once again the "why" behind our commitment to use technology in our schools.  The following are the key "whys" for us based on what we have experienced and what we see as potential for our kids:
Corcoran High School 2013

We use technology to: 

1) Personalize their learning:  For the first time in educational history we now have the tools to provide the flexibility and the adaptability of learning for every child in every classroom.  Teachers can create lessons and activities that are:

  • Not limited by time and place  (Virtual capacity and asynchronous communication)
  • Geared for student skill level
  • Constantly providing relevant feedback and correction
  • Paced for the individual students' abilities and progress
  • Designed for the "flipped classroom."
2) Prepare students for the real world:  Imagine any of our students walking onto a college campus or a workplace today that uses typewriters and slide rules to do their work.  Digital literacy is a real and valid skill needed for students in today's college and career environment.  Using technology tools effectively is not just something our students will get to do; using them efficiently and professionally is a must in order for them to succeed in today's world.

3) Provide immediate access to timely and relevant knowledge, content, digital textbooks, curriculum and sources:  Imagine if your medical doctor was using a 1953 medical school textbook as a source for doing your upcoming surgery.  We all know anything short of the most recent and relevant information for our learning and practice is unacceptable.  So it is with the access of information for our student learning!

4) Create active and not passive learners:  Students are more engaged in their learning using technology tools and are active in reading, writing, annotating, creating, building, commenting, exploring, researching and actively watching and listening.  In lieu of only listening to a lecture or direct lesson, students can be involved in critiquing, commenting, adding, editing and manipulating key information and content.

5) Provide a learning environment that is consistent with the digital world to which they have grown accustomed:  Writer and speak Marc Prensky commented that many students "power down" when they come to school because they are so accustomed to the digital environment that exists in their lives outside of the school day -- in contrast to paper, pencil, overheads, etc.  These "Digital Natives" have marked differences in our day and age that require a different approach to teaching and learning than that which most of us have been used to.

6) Provide tools for collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking:  There are several skills and activities students perform with technology tools that are impossible to complete in the traditional classroom.  Students have a tremendous capacity to demonstrate their mastery of the "4 C's" in many cases only through the use of modern technology tools.

7) Provide learning experiences that go beyond the four walls of the classroom:  Students publishing their work online for the world to see, creating digital art to be displayed and shared with other students in schools across the world, posting projects presentations and videos via YouTube for their peers to view,  collecting, sorting and interpreting information from a local environmental biome to be shared with a partner class via video conference in another country are just a few of the many examples of how technology provides, real, hands-on and relevant learning experiences.

8) Provide access to rigorous coursework and college learning opportunities virtually anywhere in the world:  Access to free (I emphasize "free") online college courses and opportunities to take courses online from anywhere in the world have grown exponentially.  Any student at any age can take just about any rigorous, high school and college course for limited or no cost from any where in the world!

9) Provide tools that are relevant to a student’s career pathway and interest:  Every career and every professional uses some form of technology on a daily basis.  Student access to technology tools provides opportunities for students to do highly relevant pathway career work and preparation.  Technology dominates the workplace of most professionals and managers in business, and our students need to have the foundational technology related skills in order to begin to associate with and grow into career related experiences.

Friday, December 9, 2016

What Really Motivates Us; What Really Motivates our Kids?

A few years ago I wrote a summary about Daniel Pink's findings on motivation. I highly recommend spending a few minutes taking a look at the RSA Animate YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc.

I see this as even more relevant in our discussions and direction today about this whole concept of personalized learning and student achievement. The video challenges the "why" behind what schools do today, how we organize and approach our classrooms, how we attempt to implement teaching and learning, and what we have students do within and outside the school day to set them up for learning and success. Daniel Pink's findings create an opportunity to filter everything we do in light of the three key areas that motivate people: Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

Autonomy: Our desire to be self directed in our lives. That tells us that if we want true engagement in our work and in our learning,we have to be doing more complicated and more sophisticated "stuff."  We measure our curriculum and our approach to both the types of things we have kids know and do, and our expectation to such at higher levels. Does our curriculum, our planning, our expectations and our results match up to this? The big question here is are we afraid to let go, allow our students to try things, take risks and even fail? Our Einstein Hour approaches this concept.

Mastery: He defines this as the urge to get better at "stuff." He gives great examples of how people will go out of their way even without pay to get good at playing an instrument and even work for free to do highly technical things like create open source software material (free software that is now available world wide that is operating millions of servers). We can liken this to how students can get into hobbies, music, technology and video games - everyone is rewarded as they get better and better at something!

We can compare this to the types of opportunities we provide our kids to learn based on their own interests, pace and mastery. Do we develop lessons that provide choice, that provide relevant and timely feedback to determine their learning and mastery? Is what we are offering our students challenging, interesting and provides opportunities for them to contribute to getting better?

Purpose: All of us are more motivated especially when we recognize what we are doing has a more transcendent purpose. He posits and infers things are not always good if we disconnect learning from the purpose motive. This is when people are not inclined to do great things and the environment are not inspiring places to learn and work. He mentions that people are "purpose maximizers."

The challenge for all of us is, do we connect what we have students know and do to purpose, the big idea and to what Jim Collins calls BHAGS? (Big Hairy Audacious Goals). Is student learning about their personal lives, their desire to break limits and does it play into their desire to achieve? Do we challenge our kids to be the first high school graduates, college graduates, doctors, lawyers, teachers, etc. in their families. Do we succeed in connecting their learning to their dreams, goals and pursuits to make the world a better place for others and the world around them?
As you can see these are great guideposts associated with questions that will evoke high standards and the right types of results for each and every CUSD student.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Change and No Change?

For some of us who have been in education over the years, we see two things: 

  1. Things change and 
  2. Many things stay the same. I think the wisdom for all of us is to discern what we need to change and what we need to keep the same.
  • What has not changed: Reading and writing are more important than ever, and without Math foundations, students do not have a chance with the more rigorous curriculum.
  • What has changed: An area we strongly need to consider is the fact that student focus and attention spans have decreased dramatically over time. It is estimated that from 2 to 7 minutes we can continue to talk to kids before students are clueless.
  • What has not changed: Worksheets are still prevalent in classrooms throughout the nation, and the strategies, layout and the setup of many classrooms have not changed for decades.
  • What has changed: The examples and availability of research-based methods, varieties, access, strategies and tools to enhance and personalize student learning abound more than ever!
  • What has not changed: Checking for Understanding and Checking for Mastery remain one of the highest level strategies to ensure student learning for all kids, yet if we go into most classrooms throughout the country, teachers tend to call on only the kids who know the answer (hands raised).
  • What has changed: There are more tools, methods, techniques, software, and technology to help teachers check for understanding and mastery than we have ever experienced in educational history!
All of the above provide the rationale for what Corcoran Unified believes and does. This is why we are so proud of our staff who have had the humility and the wisdom to be able to move forward with our initiatives to make sure each and every student in our District is served.
 
We walk into many classrooms today that look much different than they did a few years ago with kids working in organized, structured cooperative groups (Kagan Structures); where students use technology to advance their learning using 21st Century Skills; where teachers track and monitor student learning by checking for student understanding and mastery using a variety of research based techniques and relevant technology; where more and more of our kids are doing more relevant reading and writing and more rigorous math; where more and more of our kids are engaged in their work solving problems, asking and answering tough questions and doing research to construct projects that make them think at higher levels; and, where teachers use a variety of direct instruction and have the wisdom to know when and how long to speak directly to students while using interactive strategies to make sure kids are involved and are doing more speaking using more academic language than teachers do throughout the day.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

What's in a Number?

Numbers are in every part of our daily life, daily routine, and in and around each and every one of
our own worlds.  Numbers are only important to the extent that have any meaning.

I can think of some numbers that affected me throughout my own personal and professional life.  The numbers really did not directly affect me, but the message behind the numbers made a difference to my life.  For example, the numbers 280 and 27 mean nothing without my explanation that those numbers indicate my total cholesterol number at age 27.  I had to react to the meaning behind those numbers and make some changes in diet, exercise and medication.

Our theme for this school year is "We are relationship driven," and this stems from our big emphasis on being "Improvement Driven," (our mission) and the means to get there is through being "Data Driven."

What does this all mean?  We want to know every reliable and relevant indicator of student learning, academic growth and progress.  We want to know exactly how each student in our district is doing, and we want to know every piece of information that tells us how they are doing.  With that information we can do a much better job of intervening and providing more support when we know immediately if our students are not growing.

Therefore, we are placing a huge importance on numbers that represent the most important element in our district: our kids!  And, that importance is only manifest if we understand each and every number that is relevant to our students' learning.  Learning is extremely important because our students are extremely important.  When the right numbers have meaning, we now understand we have to have an urgency to know, understand and respond to how our kids are doing, and how we can ensure they continue to thrive.

I am reminded of the story of what some people famously call the "Starfish Story."

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

What's in a number?  The meaning that makes the difference to each and everyone!

Friday, February 12, 2016

Who Owns the Learning?

Ideally students should own their own learning, and that is the goal of every teacher, every school, every parent, and every institution of learning.  Unfortunately, that is not what happens with every student who dawns our classroom doors.
Ackerly 2013
In order to get students to own their learning, we as adults and educational leaders in our classrooms and schools have to own their learning whether kids own it or not.  When we own it, we have the capacity and drive to bring each and every child to the place of their personal ownership of their learning.

The table on the below illustrates the power in this continuum.


The following is a description of the shift we need to make in order to create the student learning "ownership" environment we need to create: 

(From an article in the Reinventing Schools Coalition: (Gross 2014))

Our goal is to shift from teacher-driven to a student-centered environment allowing ALL students to learn. Here is what we need to consider:
  1. Learners need to know why they are there and how to be successful learners…having a Shared  Vision and Code of Cooperation
  2. Learners need to understand clearly what they are trying to learn and what is expected of them (transparency)
  3. Learners need to understand what quality and successful work looks like.
  4. Learners desire to be engaged in the self-monitoring, goal setting, and strategizing.
  5. Learners need to celebrate successes and stretch to reach new goals.

Gross, H. (2014, February 17). Voices from the Field: Owning the LEARNING!
«Competency Works, Retrieved February 11, 2016, from 
http://www.competencyworks.org/analysis/voices-from-the-field-owning-the-learning/
 
Ackerly, R. (2013, January 17). Education: Taking Responsibility vs Responsibility Talk - The Genius in Children. Retrieved February 12, 2016, from http://geniusinchildren.org/2013/01/17/taking-responsibility-vs-being-responsible/