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.