Dreams of Education

Redefining education one dream at a time

Redefining success November 18, 2013

Success

To laugh often and love much

To win the respect of intelligent people

and the affection of children

To earn the appreciation of honest critics

endure the betrayal of false friends

To appreciate beauty

To find the best in others

To leave the world a bit better

whether by a healthy child,

a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition

To know one life has breathed easier

because you have lived.

This is to have succeeded.

[Attributed to Elisabeth-Anne Anderson Stanley]

Last week, two Anastasis alumni visited us after school. “It feels so good here. It’s like I can actually breathe.”- Lexi

Wow. What a statement! We’ve heard this before. It may have been worded differently, or expressed through actions, but the sentiment is the same. Anastasis is a place to breathe easier.

Yesterday I was reading “Start Something That Matters” by Blake Mycoskie (chief shoe giver at TOMS), in it he tells the story of Frederick W. Taylor.  Taylor wrote a book called “The Principles of Scientific Management” that became the bible for the industrial age workplace. Unfortunately, this thought process bled into the education system as well. Mycoskie writes:

“Fundamental to his theory were the following ideas: Workers are inherently lazy and do not enjoy their jobs. Managers should break down work into the smallest possible tasks and supervise and control everything their workforce does. Workers should be paid according to their performance over a set amount of time. Workers are most productive when driven by monetary incentives.”

Look familiar? How many students have you heard lament that they have to come to school? Do your students count down to breaks? Do they live for unexpected days off? How many teachers talk about how lazy their students are in the teacher’s lounge?

How do your classrooms look? Do teachers routinely break down every task and project? Is every single learning objective prescribed by teachers and then supervised and controlled so that it looks perfect? I can’t tell you how many curricula I’ve looked through where this is rampant. I can’t tell you the number of primary classrooms I’ve been in where every shape for the project is pre-cut out of construction paper and the goal is to make it look exactly like the example the teacher made. No freedom, no exploration. No trust that students have the ability to learn and be curious on their own.

How about the belief that workers (students) must be driven by monetary incentives? That sounds like the current grading system to me. “If you don’t comply, you will be punished by an F.” If you play by our rules, your parents can be the proud owners of a “my student is an honor student” bumper stickers.

Is there anything more dehumanizing than this method of compliance? This method guarantees one thing: students who don’t want to be at school, and have the same shallow understanding of the world as all of the other students in the system.

As I was reading this, I was sitting in Starbucks watching a new round of employees being trained. The trainer has given each employee a piece of paper with a script of what they should memorize during the training. He walks them through the steps of what their day should look like over and over. As he does this, he quizzes each of them. He walks them over to the condiment bar, “You need to change out 3 things every time you are here. Whatever is low, you will need to restock. Check the creamers, if they seem low you will need to change them.” Then he asks a 20-something girl a question, “Why do you think it is important to check the creamer and change it often?” This poor girl absolutely froze. She didn’t bother to look down at her sheet to find out if the answer was there (I’m sure it was). She looked like a deer caught in the headlights. In my mind I was silently screaming at her, “FOOD safety! Bacteria and food born illness if you leave it to sit all day.” She said none of these things. Instead the trainer got a blank look and, “umm, I’m not sure.”

I’m convinced that this is the outcome of an education system that lives by, “The Principles of Scientific Management.” Because the answer had not yet been given to her, she had NO idea how to answer the question. Not even a guess. I’ve never worked at Starbucks, but I could use enough deductive reasoning and thought to connect the question with a reasonable answer. At the very least I would have frantically searched the sheet my trainer gave me for a clue.

It makes sense to me when alumni come back and say, “I feel like I can breathe here.” At Anastasis we give students freedom. Then we teach them how to properly manage that freedom. We show them the beauty of curiosity. We help them ask questions and search out answers. We engage them in discussion. We restore humanity. The alumni student went on to explain that the pace feels frantic in their high school. “But it’s not like it is frantic because we are learning more, it is like all of this information for the sake of information. I grew so much more here because you guys actually let us explore and be interested in things.”

As an educator my heart rejoices that they can recognize what we have done for them. But for these girls? I’m sad for them. I’m sad that they aren’t daily in an environment where their humanity is honored. I’m sad that they are going through the motions to get the grades to move into the next system.

How do you define success in your classroom? Do you look to test scores, how many of your students have made honor role, how many students turned in their homework on time?

At Anastasis Academy we define success differently. We want to laugh and love much. We want to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children. We want to appreciate beauty of learning. We want students to find the best in everyone they meet. We want to leave the world better. We want to grow things we can eat and share the bounty with others. We want to redeem the social condition, restore humanity. We want kids to breathe easier.

Success.

 

Meaning in the Journey October 21, 2013

|Kelly Tenkely|

I always enjoy reading Seth’s Blog.  His posts push me into new thinking and often have me making connections to what we do within education.  His “Tool vs Insight” post was no different, below is an excerpt:

How is your vocabulary? It’s a vital tool, certainly. Do you know these words?

a, after, and, as, die, eternal, first, gets, gun, have, in, is, job, life, me, mouth, my, pushing, saying, step, that, the, to, Tyler, waiter, you.

How about these?

a, am, and, anywhere, are, be, boat, box, car, could, dark, do, eat, eggs, fox, goat, good, green, ham, here, house, I, if, in, let, like, may, me, mouse, not, on, or, rain, Sam, say, see, so, thank, that, the, them, there, they, train, tree, try, will, with, would, you.

The first list contains every word in the opening lines from Fight Club, the second is the entire word list from Green Eggs and Ham.

Knowing something (vocabulary) is not the same thing as engaging art and meaning.  You can know each of the words listed above.  You can even identify each of their definitions on a multiple choice test.  Then what?  Without adding meaning to these words, they are pretty uninspiring, meaningless even.  But use some imagination and creativity, and suddenly those words tell a story.  They take us on a journey and suddenly the words matter.  Knowing isn’t enough.  A store house full of facts is pretty useless if students are never asked to actually engage them.

Inquiry is beautiful because it is in the journey of learning that meaning is created.  It is about curiosity, helping kids discover what they are interested in. Not only does inquiry act to engage, it’s actually been proven to be a better entry point into learning.  A Stanford research study into learning as a process revealed the following:

“We are showing that exploration, inquiry and problem solving are not just ‘nice to have’ things in classrooms,” said Blikstein. “They are powerful learning mechanisms that increase performance by every measure we have.”  Pea explained that these results indicate the value for learning of first engaging one’s prior knowledge and intuitions in investigating problems in a learning domain – before being presented with abstracted knowledge. Having first explored how one believes a system works creates a knowledge-building relevance to the text or video that is then presented, he said.”

Inquiry doesn’t make the facts (vocabulary) the focus, but rather gives meaning through the journey, the story, and the art. This can seem a rather obvious conclusion but it is fascinating how many schools strip away the journey to focus on the facts.  This is largely driven by policy and testing that requires the focus to be on the sound bites (facts) of learning at the expense of engaging the journey.  While this approach may result in some great data points that make us feel like we are improving our schools and doing the best for kids, at the end of the day it is an enormous disservice to children. Knowing vocabulary is not the same as experiencing meaning, and story, and art within words. I want children who can engage the world. Who are passionately curious about the world around them and want to dig deeper and add meaning.

Is this photo interesting?  Is it worth engaging?

Dreams of Education

 

 

 

 

 

How about this one?

 

Dreams of Education

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by: http:/flickr.com/photos/alicepopkorn

The first picture is a small portion of the second picture.  When we view something narrowly, we can miss the point entirely.

Too often curriculum narrows down a student’s view of a topic so much that there is nothing left worthy of engagement.  What they end up learning is very specific and doesn’t offer them any context.  Inquiry does the opposite, it gives students something interesting and worthy of engagement.  It shows them a fuller picture that urges them into a place of curiosity.

During our professional development time this week, I asked Anastasis teachers to engage the idea of inquiry.  To consider the role of the teacher, the role of the student, and the role of content within inquiry.

Role of the teacher within inquiry…

  • To be a learner- within inquiry, one of the most essential roles of a teacher is to first be a learner and to be transparent with that learning.
  • Within inquiry, teachers don’t limit learning by beginning with the end in mind.  Sometimes when the teacher has a very specific goal in mind, the rich learning experiences that could occur get sidelined because it isn’t the goal the teacher had for the learning.  For example, our students are learning about agriculture in kindergarten-first grade.  Typical standards for this age group would limit students to identifying parts of a plant and understanding that plants share similar characteristics.  While these are worthy learning goals, it limits the students by only expecting a minimum.  Our students were interested in germination, photosynthesis, and fascinated by the embryo within a seed.  Why limit?
  • To model curiosity and good questioning- students don’t always know how to indulge in their curiosities.  Many times they are so used to being asked closed questions (questions with only one answer), that they don’t know how to be curious by asking open questions (questions with multiple answers, or no concrete answer).  This has to be modeled for kids.
  • To be guides of learning- within the inquiry classroom, teachers are not directors of learning the way they are in a traditional setting.  The role of the teacher here is to be a guide for the learning.  It is being aware of when, and how, students may need direction and guidance.
  • To allow for students to own their learning- sometimes this means getting out-of-the-way of the learner.
  • To be aware- teachers must constantly be aware of and recognize student needs in the learning process.
  • To provide opportunities and help make connections- students don’t know what they don’t know.  It is a teacher’s job to orchestrate opportunities and offer materials that will provide the circumstances where students can explore and discover.
  • To come alongside students to help them learn how to think, NOT what to think.
  • To offer exposure to experts and experiences- as amazing as our teachers are, they can’t be all things to all children.
  • To facilitate students with understanding context and help them with discernment.
  • To offer opportunities for collaboration (both within the school and outside of the school).
  • To value a culture of thinking and curiosity.
  • To value student voice.

Role of learner…

  • To be open to questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • To be willing to fail, and work through the failure (failing forward).
  • To make connections between previous and new understanding.
  • To collaborate with others.
  • To be a risk taker.
  • To be constantly reflecting and re-evaluating.
  • To actively think, not just fact find.
  • To be open to other perspectives and ideas.
  • To be contributing citizens now.
  • To be learners in order to achieve rather than just achieving learning.

Role of content…

  • Content must be evolving, not rigid or stationary. (Boxed curricula is stationary, it doesn’t allow for evolution as students interact with it.)
  • To be applicable, valuable, and transdisciplinary.
  • To allow for student ownership over learning (not predetermined outcomes).
  • To meet social, academic, and personal needs of each student.
  • To be limitless in the learning it allows.
  • To provide the necessary conditions for students to question and experience their learning.
  • To be flexible and transient.
  • “Well, first thing you have to do is to give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we’re going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.”- Seymore Paperet

Educational psychologist Vygotsky said that, “children grow into the intellectual life around them.” (Vygotsky, 1978, p.88) It is important for educators and parents alike to consider what kind of intellectual life we are providing for children to grow into.  Is it a life full of factual soundbites?  Or is it a life full of experiences, problems to solve, curiosities to indulge, and meaning to discover?  Learning must be approached much more like a journey and less like a finish line.

The vehicle for this journey: inquiry.

 

40 Days to Personalized Education: A call to action September 20, 2012

*** If you need the cliff notes version of this post, skip down to the Call to Action section!

Last year I had a “hunch” about learning…specifically about curriculum.  That hunch turned into a full-fledged idea and a mission to do better for kids.  Everywhere.  Along the line I met some truly incredible people who taught me things I didn’t know how to do before.  Like wire framing (thanks @ianchia), and pitching ideas (thanks @houseofgenius), and how to go about picking up programmers (thanks@toma_bedolla).  Now I’m ready to share the culmination of all this work with you.

This isn’t just a post to tell you about what I’m doing, it is a call to action for everyone (yes, even you).  It is a request for you to join me in this mission in whatever form that may take.

I have a vision: to make personalized learning a reality for EVERY child. 

I know, it is big.  It is also doable.

For those who are new to following me, here was my original “hunch” written here,Dreams of Education:

“The problem with curriculum and textbooks is that they complete thoughts.  Curriculum and textbooks give the impression that learning has an end.  That when you have made it from cover to cover, the job is done.  I know in my own schooling this was true, I thought that school was teaching me what was important and that anything outside of the curriculum wasn’t important or relevant to my life…wouldn’t they have included it otherwise?  How did curriculum get this way?  Well, people realized that there was no possible way to cover every facet of learning, so they stripped it down to what they thought was important.  The problem? What is important to you may not be what is important to me.  What’s more, something that is very important to me may have been cut all together so I don’t even get the chance to know that it is important to me.  Humans tend to like things that are definable, we like things that we can put into a neat, orderly box and carry out in a predictable way.  It feels safe and manageable.  This is what led me to the following hunch:

What if curriculum was more flexible?  What if curriculum/schools/learning looked more like Pandora.  If you aren’t familiar with Pandora, it is an online radio station that plays the music that it thinks you will like.  You type in an artist or song and it creates a customized radio station just for you.  It is remarkably accurate.  Pandora almost never gets it wrong for me.  It is like they have a direct line to my brain and can predict what song I would like to hear next.  When it is wrong, I can give the song a thumbs down and it apologizes profusely for the error and promises never to play that song again on my station.  The other thing I love about Pandora: I can have multiple radio stations.  Because sometimes I really couldn’t think of anything in the world better than Frank, Dean, and Sammy; but other times  I also want a little Timberlake, Whitestripes, or Bangles.  What if curriculum looked like that?  What if learning happened as a result of typing in one subject or topic that a student was enamored with and a completely personalize learning journey began playing out for them?  What if students were led through a journey that was completely customized?  What if they had several stations mapped out for them?”

I believe this is possible.  I believe it is within our reach to create a completely personalized learning experience to every unique child.  I believe that we can honor humanity instead of treating our kids like widgets in a factory.  I believe that teachers should be teachers, focused on the needs and development of the child instead of teaching the masses through scripted curriculum.

This is The Learning Genome Project.

The Learning Genome Project will empower teachers and parents to become engineers of learning by providing each individual student the exact content they need, at the exact moment they need it.  The Learning Genome will enable students to explore the process of inquiry, experimentation, discovery and problem solving.  Instead of learning how to pass the next test, we will enable students to construct meaning and learn how to transfer that meaning to new life context.  At the hub, the Learning Genome is a platform that aggregates resources and, using a series of algorithms, provide recommendations of the BEST resources to meet the individual learning needs of a specific child.  The Learning Genome creates those serendipitous moments of finding just the right learning tool to meet the needs of children at the right time.

Much like Pandora finds that perfect piece of music, the Learning Genome will find the perfect piece of learning material to aid the student in learning.  The key to the Learning Genome’s success is crowd sourcing.  I will be drawing on educators around the world (that’s you!) to help me tag curriculum, books, lessons, videos, apps, websites and other educational content.  This collection of tagged content lives in the centralized ”cloud” and wil allow users around the world to find and access materials that best suit student needs.  By gathering information about the individual student’s learning style preferences, multiple intelligence strengths, social/emotional levels, interests and passion, the Learning Genome can help teachers to create customized learning maps for each individual.  This portion will be free. Every child deserves a unique learning experience.

In addition to the Learning Genome Hub (the aggregate), the site will include a complete Student Information System, planning tools, e-portfolios, e-learning, individual learning plans, assessment and blogging tools.  All of these will work seamlessly together for you go-to for learning and planning.

Changing the world here.

Call to Action

So…how can you help?  I’m glad you asked!

1.  Learn more about the Learning Genome at indiegogo.

2. Please consider investing in this mission (see the awesome perks that includes below).

3.  Blog about the Learning Genome with a link back to the indiegogo campaign (be sure to link to those posts you write in the comments below!)

4. Tweet about this project…a lot.  Let’s completely take over the Internet with tweets about the Learning Genome and taking over education for kids! Please make sure to link back to the indiegogocampaign so that others can learn about it! Use the hashtag #standagain (because after all, we are helping children “stand again” in their learning)

5. Offer your time as a Learning Genome Content tagger or beta tester

6.  Mention us on Facebook and like us on Facebook!

7.  Did I mention spread the word? Seriously, that is SO helpful!  You never know who might see that tweet and drop a couple thousand (or more) to make this project go!

8.  Time is of the essence.  I have 40 days starting NOW to make this happen.  eeek!  I need your help!

So, what are the perks to helping with this project?  

$5  gets your name on the Learning Genome Change Makers page.  You are changing education. That makes you a big deal.  I want everyone to know what a big deal you are!  I know many of you don’t think that your $5 can do anything.  Wrong.  According to my cluster map, I have hundreds of thousands of visits to this blog.  If each of you pitches in…we all win fast!

$10 Remember all those cool Bloom’s Taxonomy posters I made?  This campaign is now the ONLY place you can get them.  These are 8.5″ x 11″ versions of the poster.

$30 Learning Genome beta tester. You get the inside scoop and ability to play before ANYONE else.  I know, pretty cool.

$60 EXCLUSIVE A full size large-format print of my Bloomin’ Peacock mailed to you.  That awesome little Peacock looks even better large.  Did I mention this is the ONLY place you will get a big version of this?

$500 Even more EXCLUSIVE  you get all of my Bloom’s re-imagine posters in the large format.  Perfect for your classroom, library or as a gift to your favorite teachers.

$1000  My Searching for daVinci webinar for your school.  What better way to spend your professional development dollars than learning how to create a daVinci like culture of learning at your school?  Worth it!

$5000 For my corporate friends who want to see their logo in lights as a company that supports education and changing the world.  If you have an education company, The Learning Genome Project will be the place to be seen.

 

We have $85,000 to raise.  It sounds like a big number.  We can do it together.  I figured if I am going to lean on crowdsourcing to transform education, the funding should be crowdsourced too.  How awesome will it be to join together as an education community to say, together we transformed the way learning is done.  We changed things for every child in the world.  Yeah, it’s big.

 

From out of the dust, dreams #invisiblechildren March 13, 2012

In preparation for our next Parent University at Anastasis Academy, I’m re-reading Seth Godin’s education manifesto “Stop Stealing Dreams.”  In the manifesto, Seth proposes the following question:

 

“Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

For the first time in my 9 year education career, I can say, “yes!”  Of course I have to preface that with, we don’t really teach a “curriculum” in the traditional sense of the word.  Instead, we have inquiry topics that give us a rough guide for learning and the Common Core standards that ensure the basics are covered.  (And I do mean basics. Have you read through them all?  They are underwhelming to say the least.)

 

I found the following to be all too true in curriculum:  “There’s no room for someone who wants to go faster, or someone who wants to do something else, or someone who cares about a particular issue. Move on. Write it in your notes; there will be a test later. A multiple choice test.”

 

When I was dreaming of a new kind of school, I knew that it couldn’t be tied to a one-size-fits-all boxed curriculum.  I have yet to meet two children who are identical.  We are all unique, we all have interests and passions. We all have our own set of gifts and weaknesses.  To measure every student against a predetermined “completely educated student” model isn’t going to work. Why is it that we keep pushing this idea that every child should look the same upon exiting their formalized schooling?  My guess is that we do it because we are lazy, because it is easy to take something that is measurable and create a system around it.  Only, humans aren’t easily measured are they?  I feel like every standardized test score should come with an asterisk next to it that explains the intricacies of the score.  “This score is misleading because….” Followed by the multitude of reasons that the score doesn’t really offer an accurate picture at all.

 

At Anastasis, we aren’t in the business of measuring kids against some antiquated idea of educational perfection.  Instead, we are in the business of dreams.  We work to teach kids to be brave and connected.  We help kids realize their passions and go out into the world with empathy.  I’m considering adding the following quote from Seth’s manifesto in our staff handbook:

 

“We do not need you to cause memorization. We need students who can learn how to learn, who can discover how to push themselves and are generous enough and honest enough to engage in the outside world to make those dreams happen.” -Stop Stealing Dreams

 

It’s one thing to believe these ideals and it is another completely to live them every day.  To be brave enough as a school to stop the madness even as we are asked about standardized testing, curriculum, and grades.  I’m proud of our little community for their bravery.  I’m proud of the way they support and help each other through those times when they aren’t feeling so brave.  I’m proud of them for sticking with us when they can’t point to endless standardized data to back up their claim that their child is learning.

 

Every 5 weeks, we get together as a school community for Anastasis Serves.  This looks a little bit different each block based on what we are working in our inquiry unit, what needs the community has and what opportunities are available to us.  One of our incredible parents organizes Anastasis Serves.  She works hard to take into consideration what the kids are learning, and what they could do as a school community that would grow us as global citizens.  This block seemed to have some major divine intervention.  One of our teachers, Lance, has a ministry called Impact Edventures. Through the ministry, he had been in contact with the Watoto Children’s choir and worked to get them to join us at Anastasis.  Words cannot express the tremendous blessing this was for our community.  The Watoto Children’s choir is a program whose mission is to rescue an individual, raise each one to be a leader, and ultimately rebuild a nation.  The group from Uganda began as a result of an enormous population of orphaned and vulnerable children and women in Africa.  Many of the children that make up the choir have lost one or both parents to war and HIV AIDS.  Watoto provides a home and stability for these children and tours around the world to spread awareness of the conditions and hopes in their country through song. This is an incredible group of children and adults.  Each child in Watoto has the opportunity to travel the world and sing in the choir only once.  Upon returning home, the children train the next choir who will travel.  You can’t help but fall in love with these children and have your heart-broken over the stories they share.  They have seen tragedy, but what our students noticed more than anything was the unmistakable joy that these children have.  They are thankful, loving and happy.

Denver Post 2012

View the video of Watoto with our students here.
@Michellek107 prepared our students for the Watoto’s arrival by teaching them a welcome song in Swahili.  Our students sang to the traveling choir to welcome them to our school and community.  I do believe they were impressed with our attempt!  They helped us pronounce and enunciate some of the words and taught our students to dance.  It was an incredible morning of cultures colliding and an opportunity for our students to realize that children are children no matter where they are from.  All of the children ate lunch together and played together.  Anastasis families volunteered as host families for the Watoto children.  The Watoto choir put on another performance in the evening and many of our families made a special trip back to school so that they could spend more time with the incredible group.  It is hard to put into words the blessing that this day was for our community.  (To see more pictures of our day, check out this article in the Denver Post.)

This is learning.  This is what education is about.  Connections.  Collisions of human stories.

 

One of the things that the Watoto children taught us was about what their lives would look like without Watoto.  Some of the children shared their pasts as child laborers.  This is where that divine intervention I mentioned earlier came full swing.  The parent who organizes the Anastasis Serves days does so months in advance.  This Anastasis Serves day was to happen the day that Watoto left us.  The topic: Child Laborers.  This was an unusual Anastasis Serves because our students weren’t necessarily “serving” others.  Instead, the goal was to help students understand what child labor is and to help build empathy.  We used Red Card Kids Lesson 5 on Child Laborers as a guide for our day.  All of our students, 1st-8th grade, gathered together for the day.  We began by talking about the “work” that our students do at home, or a job that they have had.  We briefly discussed laws in the United states that permit children who are 15 and older to work as long as the jobs do not risk their health, safety, or moral development and don’t interfere with their attending school.  We asked students why they thought these laws existed.  Currently, more than 200 million children between the ages of 5 and 15 work up to 14 hours a day instead of attending school.  It is easy to talk about child labor, watch a video, listen to some statistics and promptly walk away unchanged.  We didn’t want this for our students.  We wanted them to really understand the hopelessness, anger, and resignation that these children feel.  We planned out a simulation of what it means to be a child laborer.

 

Each student was given a situation card.  The card described the new identity the students had for the day.  They learned what their home life was like, what struggles their family was currently facing and what their job was to be for the day.  Each student was given a hammer, protective eye wear and a brick.  For the next 30 minutes, students used the hammers to break the bricks into sand for our imaginary road.  There was absolutely no talking, no breaks, no water, no mercy.  If a teacher saw a student slow down, they would yell at them to pick up the pace and threaten to lower wages.  You could see the frustration and anger in the students eyes at the unfairness of the situation.  We didn’t let them stop if they started to get a blister or their arms got tired.  We were mean. When we were finished, the students had to collect all of the sand and gravel into buckets and haul it to the dumpster and then were marched silently back to their classroom.  Teachers decided what the wage would be for the work.  It wasn’t always a fair  wage based on the work done (fair being $0.35 total). Some hard-working students only received a dime.  Students were asked to go back to their situation cards and decide how they were going to spend their money.  They could use the money to pay rent, to pay for rice to feed their family, or a small toy at our makeshift store.

 

The empathy for those children they had played with the day before was enormous.  Anastasis students of all ages talked about the injustice of child labor.  Asked questions like “why don’t they just rebel?”  Got teary eyed as they realized many of their favorite brands employ child laborers.  Vowed to change the world.

 

I was amazed and proud of our students. They took the simulation seriously and honestly considered what life would be like if they couldn’t go to school. If they broke bricks 14 hours a day for $0.35.  What would happen to them physically if this was their life. Asked hard questions about what happened if a child became disfigured as a result of their job.  They jumped to each others aid when a bucket got accidentally dumped and needed to be gathered again.  This day was culture building.

 

This look into child labor happened on a half day leading into our spring break.  Incredibly, the kids didn’t just leave the hard day behind them. Instead they worked together to start a movement.  @leadingwlove’s class created this site and are working to make LSGW a 501c3 foundation.  Here is the note they added as a result of the child labor day:

 

To Anyone with a Willing Heart & a Compassionate Spirit:
Here at LSGW, we are starting a Revolution, a movement to make a change in the world, to respond to the needs of people with compassion and justice! We challenge you to join us in the fight to end the injustice that plagues the people of this world. We hope you will be moved to make a difference.
Welcome to the official site of LSGW**, Let’s Save God’s World Foundation. Our purpose is to reel in the next generation of changemakers. God has blessed us with many resources and materials to begin this new and exciting project. We hope to work along side all of you in our exciting journey to make God’s creation a better place. Please check out the advertising campaign that the students in Mrs. Lauer’s class have put together to promote our cause, and spread the word!
**LSGW is an educational non-profit foundation and an official middle school learning process at Anastasis Academy in Lone Tree, CO. 100% of donations and fundraising go to the cause!
Enjoy and Make a Difference!
- Written by Lexxi, Jake, and Mrs. Lauer

 

I believe that these are the children who are going to change the world.  These are the children who are going to put an end to child labor.  These kids are generous enough and honest enough to make those dreams a reality.

 

This is the reason I can confidently answer “yes” to Seth’s question, “Does the curriculum you teach now make our society stronger?”

 

What Dreams May Come: A Sneak Peek into Anastasis Academy November 11, 2011

It’s a pretty incredible thing to see dreams come to fruition.

For me it started with an obsession and passion for creating rich learning environments where every student was recognized as an individual. In that first post I wrote:

“I have a dreams of education. I have dreams of the way that schools should look. I have dreams of kids who find their passions. I have dreams of schools as rich learning centers.”

I had dreams of stripping the “vanilla” away so that passions could emerge.

Dreams of ditching that boxed curriculum that we call an education and watching the factory model fade into the rear-view mirror.

Dreams of ending the practice of viewing teachers (and students) as expendables.

I had dreams of schools that were beautiful, that were designed with students in mind.

Dreams that education would stop looking so much like the McRib.

Dreams of breaking free of the box, of valuing students and teachers,  of using the right tools, of a school where a student’s inner da Vinci can break through, of a school that customizes learning.

I shared dreams of more fabulous failures.

The dreams started trickling into reality in March of this year (2011).  In March I started getting some hints that these dreams weren’t really all that far-fetched.  By May I had officially started a school.  In August we opened the doors to Anastasis Academy with our first 50 students in 1st through 8th grade and had hired a dream team of 5 truly incredible teachers to lead them.  In four short months we went from dreams to reality.

At Anastasis Academy, we lease space from a church building throughout the week.  We have our own wing with classrooms, a playground, a gym and a kitchen.  All of our furniture is on wheels.  This makes it easy to adjust space daily based on needs, it is also a necessity since we use shared space.  Twice a week we move all of our belongings across the hall into a storage room (if I’m honest, this is the part we could do without!).  We can’t complain about the space.  It is pretty incredible!

You will notice that we don’t have rows of desks.  No teacher’s desk either.  We have space that kids can move in. Corners to hide in, stages to act on, floors to spread out on, cars to read in.  We are learning how to learn together, learning how to respect other children’s space and needs, learning how to discipline ourselves when we need to, learning how to work collaboratively, we are learning to be the best us.


You won’t see a worksheet at Anastasis. We use iPads.  That isn’t to say that we ONLY use iPads, in fact, you’ll often see us building, cutting, pasting, writing on a whiteboard/chalkboard and even paper.  We do a lot of blogging, a lot of reflecting, a lot of Evernotting, a lot of cinematography, a lot of discussing.

Every morning we start with a 15 minute walk outside together…as a community.  We invite parents and siblings to be a part of our morning walk. Occasionally we have the dogs join in on the fun.  After the walk we come inside as a whole-school for a time of devotions. Again, this is a time for us to build community, to foster the culture we want for our school.  Families are invited to join us every morning.  We always have at least one family and, many times, multiples.  We pray with each other and for each other. We have hard conversations and funny conversations. We think together and challenge each other.

Matthew West joining us for devotions!

Our inquiry block is a time for hands-on transdisciplinary learning.  This is my VERY favorite time to walk through classrooms.  It is incredible to see the joy in discovery.  It is incredible to have a second grade student with dyslexia discover an app to make stop motion animations, teach himself how to use it and proceed to stand up before 7th and 8th grade students to explain how stop motion works.  I wish I could bring you all through the building during this time.  Every time we have a visitor the students pause long enough to describe what they are doing, the learning that is happening. I often have to pick my jaw up off the floor. These kids are amazing.


We have no curriculum. At all. Zip. What did we do instead? We hired the very BEST teachers we could find.  We gave them a base level of skills that we wanted students to have- an outline if you will.  We used the Common Core Standards as our baseline.  We don’t use the standards like most schools do. We use them to make sure that our students have the building blocks and foundations of learning in place.  And then we let our students and teachers GO. The standards are not a weight we are tied to, they are the underpinnings that make it possible for us to soar and take our learning anywhere.  When you look at the Common Core standards they are pretty underwhelming.  I’m glad they are! They provide us with just enough momentum to propel us forward and then off we go on a journey of learning!  We also have our big inquiry questions in place.  From there, we go where the learning takes us, bunny trails and all.  It is pretty fantastic.  Today one of our primary students came out to see me and said, “Look at this boat I found in this new library book. Can I try to make it?”  My answer: “Absolutely! What materials do we need?”  Together we made a list of all the materials I needed to pull together for him.  Tomorrow he will build that boat he is fascinated with and find out if it works the way he has planned.  That is learning!  Tell me what boxed curriculum allows time for that to happen? None. That is why we don’t have it.

In the afternoons we have more “content” area subjects (i.e. math and language arts).  In the primary grades this means students building the skills they need to support their inquiry.  In the intermediate grades this means honing those skills for better communication and more thorough inquiry.  Again, we don’t work from a boxed curriculum. We find the lessons, approaches, and materials that work for the individual student.  Sometimes this means working with manipulatives, sometimes it means exploring measurement outside, and sometimes it means using an app.  It changes daily based on the needs of the students.

We have mixed age level classrooms.  We do this for a lot of reasons.  Most importantly, it is good for older and younger students to work together and learn from each other; it is vital that a child be able to work at their developmental level and progress as they are ready to; and it deepens inquiry when students with different perspectives work together.

Once every five weeks we invite the parents to join us for Parent University.  This is a time for us to help parents understand this new way to do school.  Detox, if you will.  It is a time for us to show parents what best practices in education look like, why grades aren’t all they are cracked up to be, why play is important.  It is a time for us to think and laugh together. It is a time to get questions answered.

Also every five weeks, we hold a “Meeting of the Minds”.  This is a parent/teacher/student conference where we all get together and set our road map for the next 5 weeks.  Students write goals with the help of their teacher. They have ownership over what they have done the last 5 weeks and tell mom and dad what they have planned for upcoming 5 weeks.

Every Friday we have a learning excursion or an opportunity for an “Anastasis Serves”.  Learning excursions are field trips all over the place that help students start to recognize that learning doesn’t just happen when we are at school.  Learning happens everywhere we are and, if we are paying attention, all the time.  Anastasis Serves is a time for our students to give back to the global community.  Sometimes this is a door-to-door scavenger hunt for donations, sometimes this is learning about orphans around the world, or packaging cookies and letters to send to our troops.

We don’t do grades, we do assessment all day every day while we learn.  We don’t do homework, we pursue our families and passions at home.  We don’t do worksheets, we do interesting (sometimes frustrating) work. We don’t do boxed curriculum, we do on-demand learning.

We do mistakes. We do community. We do collaboration. We do messy. We do play. We do fun. We do technology. We do learning.

How do we do all this? We have a 12 to 1 student teacher ratio (or less).  We have incredible students, parents and teachers.  We have stinking smart board members who are invested in our success and trust our judgement calls.  We set our tuition at $8,000 (per pupil spending in our district) to show that even though we are private, this can be done in the public schools.  We started with nothing…well almost nothing, we had dreams.  There was no capital raised, no fund-raisers, no huge donation. We started the beginning of the year at $0 and put blood, sweat and tears into it.

This is not to say that we have it all figured out, that all of our students are perfect, that all of our staff or families are perfect. We are perfectly imperfect as every school is. We have days when the kids are BOUNCING off the walls, we have disagreements, tired teachers, stressed parents, a founder who has occasional melt downs (that would be me), students who need extra love and support, tight budgets, parents who demand different, scuffles, sniffles and band-aids…lots of band-aids.  There is nowhere else I would rather be. No other group of people I would rather work with. No other students whose germs I would rather share. This is my dream.

There are moments throughout the day when I am stopped in my tracks by the realization-this is my dream.

 

Education is life: a call for more fabulous failures March 12, 2011

Filed under: Curriculum,Philosophy — ktenkely @ 12:47 am
Tags: , , , ,

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending a Charlotte Mason philosophy internship.  You know that you are doing what you are meant to do when the thought of a 8 hour day of education philosophy training sounds like fun.  I love the discussion of education, learning, and humanity.  I marvel when I read the works of Charlotte Mason, this is a woman ahead of her time.  While I don’t subscribe to all of the Charlotte Mason philosophy, at the core, much of what she believed holds merit and is important in the discussion of education.  As I read, narrated, discussed, and observed classrooms, I jotted down notes…of course, because I am a blogger, those notes look suspiciously like a post. :)

Before I get into the meat of my thinking, here is a little background on Charlotte Mason (1842-1923).  Charlotte Mason was a British educator who devoted her life to improving the quality of education.  Charlotte fought for education for all, believing that all children deserved a quality education regardless of their social status or class.  She believed that education was an atmosphere, discipline, and life.   The Charlotte Mason philosophy is most widely used as a home school curriculum but is also used in classrooms around the world.

First I have to put this quote out there because it is just so fantastic: “Textbooks are sawdust for the mind-children need food.”  Couldn’t agree more!

Every philosophy of education has two parts: an anthropology (a belief about human nature- what does it mean to be a person?) and an epistemology (understanding the nature of knowledge).  It was Charlotte Mason’s belief that children are whole persons (as opposed to limited beings who will one day arrive at person hood).  This is an important distinction because it drives what she believes about the nature of knowledge.

“The reason is, perhaps, that we regard a person as a product, and have a sort of unconscious formula, something like this: Given such and such conditions of civilization and education, and we shall have such and such a result, with variations.”

“We attempt to define a person, the most commonplace person we know, but he will not submit to bounds; some unexpected beauty of nature breaks out; we find he is not what we thought, and begin to suspect that every person exceeds our power of measurement.” (emphasis added)

For me this emphasized that children are not products. They are not widgets to be passed through a factory where they will be stripped of their individuality and person hood by being fed sawdust (boxed curriculum) and measured by a standardized test.  Every child exceeds our power of measurement. By measuring and tracking students in this way we are limiting them.  Measurement is quantification for purposes of classification. This type of measurement leads to the “carrots” and “sticks” that we see in education.  We dangle good grades, pizza parties at the end of the week, and graduation in front of students like carrots while at the same time using the “sticks” of failure to coerce students to act in a way that we have deemed acceptable.  Assessment on the other hand helps students formulate the next steps of learning based on current weaknesses.  Did you see the distinction there?  Measurement seeks to satisfy our insecurities by giving us information that can be used to classify.  Assessment seeks to inform our decision-making process for next steps.  The difference is that assessment challenges students so they can know the satisfaction of growth.

What we do right now is teach students to avoid shame by gaining praise.  Isn’t that the way our grading system is set up?  Kids play the game to win. Some decide they can’t win the game and stop trying (the C and D students who have so much more potential but refuse to play by our rules). Others decide that the certain failure isn’t worth even entering the game and drop out all together.  They think, “this game has nothing to do with me, I’m not playing anymore.”  Is it any wonder that some of our most creative, innovative minds couldn’t wait to get out of school or dropped the game all together?  What are we, as adults, showing students we value here?  It certainly doesn’t teach children that we value them as people.  They pick up on this.  This is precisely why Monika Hardy has to let her students “detox” from the system before they can fully enter into the Innovation Lab space.  We have to stop regarding students as “incomplete and undeveloped beings (who will one day arrive at the completeness of man)”.  Instead we need to see students as “weak and ignorant persons, (whose ignorance we must inform and whose weakness we must support, but whose potentialities are as great as our own).  The “ignorant” language may feel a little harsh from our cultural standpoint but all she means here is that they are uninformed and don’t yet know what they don’t know.  I love how she ends that passage she says, “We cannot do otherwise than despise children, however kindly or even tenderly we commit the offense.”  So many schools are committing that offense. Couldn’t this be a teachers job description?  It is our job to shed light to ignorance and support students in their weakness?  Isn’t that what learning is all about, discovering that there are things we don’t know and strengthening our areas of weakness?  Allowing room and opportunity for fabulous failures.

Because children are persons, they must have liberty.  Charlotte makes the distinction between liberty and license.  License says I get to do what I want all the time.  We all know this culture well. We are immersed in the “do it if it feels good” culture in the United States.  It isn’t that those things are always bad or wrong, but to live by chance desire makes us slaves to our own will.  What we must do is train children in such a way that they properly manage their freedom.  Understanding that they could do whatever they want to do but that they shouldn’t always follow those “chance desires”.  This is what it means to act as an adult, knowing our liberty while properly managing it.  Within this managed liberty, we introduce children to learning opportunities they may not have pursued on their own, knowing that sometimes deep satisfaction takes time and incubation.  The Green Dot that I mentioned in this post. Exposing children to what is good, true, and beautiful and encouraging them in their weakness to that place of deep satisfaction.  Struggle and delight…both are essential for growth.

I love Charlotte Mason’s careful attention to “Living Books”, the idea that children can enjoy and appreciate good literature. That we don’t need to water down and strip literature down to the facts for students to learn (i.e. textbooks).  As children read together they should narrate back what they are reading, to offer those ideas the chance to solidify and take hold.  This is the narration portion of reading. During narration teachers are not to “tease them with corrections”.  I observed this many times throughout the day, students narrate as a class telling back what they can remember from a passage.  After one student has narrated back as much as they can remember the teacher asks the group, “is there anyone who has an addition or correction to make?”  Students self-correct, collaboratively add to the narration and then return to the text.  At this time, students go back to key phrases, and ideas and follow-up with their own understandings, questions, and reflections as a class.  The important part to this process is that the object (in this case a book) must be worthy of study.

“…mere information is to it as a meal of sawdust to the body; there are no organs for the assimilation of the one more than of the other.”

“Look at any publisher’s list of school books and you shall find that the books recommended are carefully desiccated, drained of the least suspicion of an idea, reduced to the driest statements of fact.”

Don’t you love that language?  I don’t know about you but my education resembles that statement, particularly the history books that I encountered in school… carefully desiccated, drained of the least suspicion of an idea, reduced to the driest statements of fact.  That pretty much sums it up!

Charlotte Mason didn’t believe in coddling children.  In an age where over-protection is a culture and every effort is made to make sure that kids are safe (to an extreme), this is one quote that I especially appreciated:

“Let us hear Professor Sir Jagadis Chandra Bose, the Indian scientist on one of his conclusions concerning the nervous impulse in plants, ‘A plant carefully protected under glass from outside shocks looks sleek and flourishing but its higher nervous function is then found to be atrophied. But when a succession of “blows” (electric shocks) is rained on this effete and bloated specimen, the shocks themselves create nervous channels and arouse anew the deteriorated nature. Is it not the shocks of adversity and not cotton wool protection that evolve true manhood?”

This had me thinking about the way we carefully protect students from the outside shocks of technology and social media…only to later find students atrophied.  Part of learning is making mistakes in an environment where those “blows” are not detrimental to the point of demise, but rather cause evolution of thinking.  Later she follows with:

“But teaching may be so watered down and sweetened, teachers may be so suave and condescending, as to bring about a condition of intellectual feebleness and moral softness which it is not easy for a child to overcome. The bracing atmosphere of truth and sincerity should be perceived in every School; and here again the common pursuit of knowledge by teacher and class comes to our aid and creates a Current of fresh air perceptible even to the chance visitor, who sees the glow of intellectual life and moral health on the faces of teachers and children alike.”

Kids can smell watered down teaching from a mile away, they don’t want anything to do with it.  Kids curiously seek out active engagement and experiences that they can learn from.  Often what we offer is far from either of these because what we are seeking (certainly in U.S. education) isn’t a love of learning but for a love of marks. We build our classrooms around success and failure. The problem with this, is that children come to label themselves (as we have labeled them first) as either successes or as failures in school and consequently in life.  What we should be teaching children is that every day they have a new brain, it looks different from yesterday because new connections and relationships were made. This is a far different message because it lets students know that they are never finished growing. That every day there is growth to be made, something to be added.

Education is life.

 

Indiana Wesleyan University is a Christian College offering a range of courses including its popular Master in Education program.
 

Asking the right questions January 11, 2011

Today’s #edchat topic for discussion on Twitter was: In a time of cut backs in education for the sake of the economy, should sports and extra curricular clubs take a back seat?

Those “extras” we are referring to: the arts and physical activities (sports).  For me, this #edchat topic succinctly summarizes what is wrong in education today.

There is something wrong with a system that considers the arts and physical activities as expendable.  Being “educated” has come to mean one thing: having a critical mass of a certain kind of knowledge so that one can perform well on a test.  What type of knowledge have we deemed important?  Literacy, math, science (and in some cases engineering and tech to round out the STEM initiatives).  Aren’t we more than this?  I like to think that I am more complex and “whole” than the sum of these few subjects.  Isn’t there more complexity to life than just literacy and STEM?

Who has determined that these tests accurately measure all there is to know about being successful, being human?  I would like to meet those who create these tests. If what shows up on the tests is reflective of who they are as “whole” people, I think that they must be very one-dimensional and dull.

Want to know a secret? I don’t think I want my students to be “successful” if a test is the only measure of success.  I want my students to be thinkers and problem solvers, to discover their gifts and talents and use those to shape a better world. I want my students to be creative and innovative. I want my students to be whole.  If we truly believe that students are more than just the sum of the subjects taught in school, how can we think of cutting out the programs that make them more whole?

The problem with the conversation is that it has become an either/or scenario.  Either we cut the “extras” or we have massive debt. Either we cut the “extras” or we have to cut one of the “more important” subjects. This isn’t an either/or conversation.  Those “extras” are part of learning.  The “extras” are part of what makes us uniquely human.  Those “extras” are not special and separate, they are a part of that wonderful tapestry that makes us human.  To cut them out and treat them as expendable is to treat students as a machine whose sole purpose is to have a single outcome: perform well on a test.

I think the problem goes even deeper.  When you ask students, parents, or most teachers why we want them to do well in school, the focus is usually on graduation.  We want them to graduate…with honors.  Why?  Because, then they can go into debt to pay for college (of course!).  Is anyone else looking at this problem with jaw on the floor?  What happens after college? We search for a job where we can follow directions and earn a paycheck that we can use to pay off our college debt.

College used to make sense.  In a world that wasn’t well-connected, where you couldn’t flip on your computer and be connected to an expert for free, we relied on college to be a place to go and learn to think from the best.  Learning isn’t reliant on institutions any more.  Learning happens in-spite of the institutions.  I seriously struggle with the why of a university experience in the year 2011 (I struggle with the why of schools the way they look right now too).  When I think back to my university experience, what I remember is those few (3) professors that I had that made a difference in my life. I still have all of my lecture notes and correspondences from those professors. They were exceptional for what I needed.  Outside of those 3 professors the biggest impact was my life outside of academics. The rest of the experience: worked through so I could have the piece of paper that said I did it.

Back to the #edchat topic: should we cut the extras in light of a struggling economy?  This is the wrong question to ask. The question should be: In light of a struggling economy, how can we adjust our budgets and priorities (priorities being those things we spend money on) to include the “extras” as part of an education that meets the needs of the whole child?

We try to keep answering these questions with the same unimaginative thinking that dug us into this hole.

Just for a moment let’s stop and think about the arts and physical activities.  How many math and physics problems in textbooks use sports as a story problem?

Can you see where I am going with this?  Why are we teaching math and physics through artificial story problems out of an antiquated textbook?  Why aren’t we saying, “let’s go test this out with a game of baseball”?

We aren’t thinking creatively enough about how to solve these problems. We try to segment, and rank importance, and test. Instead we should be looking at how to solve the problem in new ways.  Life is complex.  When you look at nature it doesn’t segment itself off into subjects that are done separately.  Nature is art, science, math, language, engineering, physical all in one. It happens together seamlessly.

Watch a baby, or any young animal, as they figure out life. So much is happening simultaneously that involves language, math, science, physical activity, engineering, and art.  This is how we learn to walk, talk, engage others, and keep ourselves safe. This is the way that life happens and it is the way we learn.  The real problem is, as soon as we enter school, we stop life from happening and try to erect artificial boundaries and understandings to get a single outcome.  We strip away “extras” that teach life skills like pride, respect, collaboration, teamwork, and citizenship. We reduce students to the sum of 5 subjects.  Is it any wonder that depression levels are at an all time high? Is it any wonder that we have a population that is obese?  Is it any wonder that every advertisement we see promises us a better life?

We need to be more creative, we need a paradigm shift in the way that education is done. Our thinking has to shift away from one where certain subjects are more important than others. We have to reconsider priorities and how money is spent.

Think about how dollars are spent in your school-most likely a large amount is spent on:

  • Boxed curriculum (heavy emphasis on those 5 subjects, heavy emphasis on one result, heavy emphasis on meeting one type of students needs.) The boxed curriculum is purchased and taught so that students will do well on the standardized tests.
  • Standardized (or other forms) of testing
  • Copy budgets (anyone know someone who prints off EVERY email that lands in their inbox?)
  • Textbooks (out of date as soon as they are published)

In my mind this isn’t rocket science.  Adjust your priorities and the money will be there.  The real problem is that right now our priorities are all out of whack.

I propose a new question:

In light of a struggling economy, how can we adjust our budgets and priorities (priorities being those things we spend money on) to include the “extras” as part of an education that meets the needs of the whole child?

If we can think of new ways to answer that question, the original question will be a non-issue.

 

Incomplete thoughts October 19, 2010

This video caused one of those hunches I was talking about in my post When Hunches Collide.  I saw this video last Thursday and immediately typed out a blog post but didn’t publish it because it somehow felt incomplete.  I thought I would give myself a day to let my ideas percolate a little more, but each time I came back to it I was left with the same incomplete feeling.  (I may very well need therapy to undo the lie that I learned in school: things that are incomplete are not worth turning in.)  I have watched this video 7 or 8 times now and each time I watch it, I notice  something different.  I think I believe if I keep watching it, this incomplete thought will reveal itself… it doesn’t hurt that each time I watch the video I feel like I am witnessing genius unfold. Those RSA animate guys know how to create!

In the video, Robinson talks about divergent thinking, the ability to come up with multiple solutions or answers to any problem.  He notes that there is a divergent thinking test which measures divergent thinking ability; at a certain level, one can even be considered a divergent thinking genius.  Robinson describes a linear test that was done with kindergarten students that followed them through the age of 15.  In kindergarten 98% of the students tested at the  genius level.  The percentage of students that test at the genius level drops steadily as the students get older.  Aside from getting older, formal education is the one thing these students had in common.  Robinson conjectures that we all have this capacity for genius level divergent thinking.  What happens in education?  We are taught that there is one correct answer and one way to arrive at that answer.  You see this all the time with kids and math.  They come home to complete a homework assignment and have an absolute come apart when they can’t remember the way they were shown how to complete the problem.  A parent steps in to help solve the problem, even arriving at the correct answer (as verified in the back of the book), but the child isn’t satiated.  Cue whiny voice and copious amounts of tears: “That isn’t the way that my teacher showed me how to do it *sniff* and we have to show our work the way we were taught or we don’t get credit.”  Not only are kids taught there is only one answer, they are also taught that there is only one acceptable “right” way to arrive at that answer.  Why has education been reduced to this?  I believe it is because that kind of education fits nicely and neatly into a box;  we can give a scantron bubble test to validate our methods.  Robinson notes that this one-right-answer approach is in the gene pool of education.  We want to  have the best education in the world and we try to answer that call by creating false measures to validate our feelings that we have the best education.  Forgive me for the metaphor, but it is like the dog that returns to its own vomit.  Divergent thinking is killed, creativity is stifled but test scores are high.  We want it all laid out nicely on paper: how many are we graduating, how many are going on to higher education?  But do high test scores really equate to better educated individuals?  Of course not.  High standardized test scores reveal students who can take tests.

Robinson’s mention of genes is what really caught my attention.  I have been thinking a lot about what genes currently make up education as we know it, and what genes make up learning.  In fact I wrote about the beginning of an idea here and asked for your help here.  Pandora (the radio station) works based on a set of “genes” or attributes that make up music.  It is called the Music Genome Project, modeled after the scientific research Human Genome Project.  The Human Genome project sets out to identify the sequence of chemical pairs that makeup DNA and then map them based on their location within the DNA and their function.  I’m not really a scientist (I just play one on my blog), but my understanding is that if we had a mastery of the individual genes, we could begin to isolate them and have a better shot of ending genetic diseases.  My thought is this, if we could map out the genes of education (read: learning) we could isolate the “diseased” genes in the current education gene pool and transform them accordingly.  If we could map out the learning genes, we could tailor learning to meet the needs of every student, Pandora style.  Right now education is ignoring all of the hundreds (thousands?) of genes that make up learning and focusing on two: logical mathematical and reading.  There is nothing wrong with these two genes.  They are important genes.  But we can’t ignore all the other attributes of learning.

And this is where my thought lies incomplete.  Is it possible to take on this kind of project?  Learning is incredibly complex and multifaceted…but then again so is music and DNA.  I don’t think it is an impossible task and yet I’m not sure what to do with it either.  I’m not sure that we can really transform education until we have the ability to truly customize it.  Until we can customize education, it will end up falling into a new set of standards.  They may be an improvement on the standard but they will still be missing something vitally important: the ability to meet the complexity of individuals.  Please understand, I am not recommending that students learn only those subjects they are interested in. I believe students can be interested in every subject if it is approached uniquely to meet their learning needs.  I use history as an example: in school I would rather have teeth pulled than sit through a history class and read through a textbook.  You can imagine my surprise when I got out of school and discovered that I really enjoy history, as it turns out what I don’t enjoy is textbooks. Learning has to be customized, it has to take into account the individual.  I believe mapping the genes of learning could bring us one step closer to realizing a customizable education.  So, I invite you to help me complete this thought.  Comment with your hunches, pass on your ideas and maybe those hunches will begin to collide into big, actionable ideas.

(Great advice from @mikemcsharry that helped me finally push publish “an imperfect idea launched will always beat perfection delayed indefinitely.” Thanks Mike!)

 

Learning Attributes October 7, 2010

In my Post “When Hunches Collide” I talked about Pandora, the free Internet radio station.  I posed the question, what if learning happened more like Pandora, more customized, individualized?  I started digging deeper into Pandora which is based on the Music Genome project.  The Music Genome Project is an effort to “capture the essence of music at the fundamental level”.  It uses almost 400 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them.  Each song is represented by a vector ( a list of attributes) containing approximately 400 “genes”.  Each gene corresponds to a characteristic of the music.

This had me thinking, would it be possible to capture the essence of learning at the fundamental level?  Is learning too complex?  I want to ask for your input on this, if we were to come up with attributes to learning what would they be?  I have created a Google form to capture your input. The Google form only contains one place to input an answer but if you have more than one idea you can add them all to the text filed.   I’ll collect everyone’s answers and post the results here.  In the comment section of this post, you can give a guesstimate of how many attributes learning has…or at least how many we can come up with ;)
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When hunches collide September 28, 2010

Lately I have had the overwhelming feeling that education is on the brink of something big.  Something that will so dramatically change the way that we think about school and learning that we may hardly recognize it as being such.  I feel like I am on the brink of something big within my own thinking, but it is like I can’t quite grasp it.  It is elusive like the word that is just on the tip of your tongue.  More accurately it is that my mind is racing with so much that I want to explore, but I don’t have time to slow down and think deeply about it because I feel like the run away trail of thoughts is leading to something important.  As I read through my Twitter stream and Google Reader I realize that I must not be the only one to feel this way.  I can’t be the only one with sticky notes all over the house, and scribbles on the back of receipts, and notes on my iPhone, tweets to myself, voice recordings in various apps.  Yesterday, I ran across this video that is an illustration of a TED talk by Steven Johnson called Where Good Ideas Come From.  In it, Johnson talks about how good ideas come in the collision between smaller hunches so that they form something bigger than themselves.  You have to create a way for those hunches to come together to form a breakthrough that is bigger than the sum of their parts.  I’ll let you watch the video (about 4 min. long) and then give you my thoughts.

As it applies to me:  This was really encouraging, I’m not the only one who thinks this way, who has a lot of hunches but can’t quite string them together into something coherent…at least not yet.  But, I am connected.  I am constantly letting my hunches collide with other hunches through collaboration on Twitter, blogs, and face to face conversations.  I’ll follow this line of thinking a little later in this post.

As it applies to students: Are we allowing students time to have good ideas?  Are they even provided time in the school day when they can even begin to have the smaller hunches?  If they are given that time, do we ever allow them to collaborate and let those hunches collide?  Is it possible that children could solve the world’s problems if we gave them time to develop their hunches and collaborate to the point of breakthrough?  As I think about great inventors and thinkers, it strikes me that the invention often happened in spite of their schooling (and often outside of it) instead of as part of their schooling.  This video reinforces the idea many companies are beginning to use of the 80-20 rule where employees are given 20% of their work time to sit and work on what they want.  Often what ends up happening is that the hunches begin to collide and breakthroughs in thinking occurs.  Google does this and has been wildly successful.  What if students were provided the same opportunities?  What might that look like?

Here are some things that have been percolating in my mind for the past week.  I have been meaning to write about each one separately but hesitated because I couldn’t pull the full vision together yet.  But I don’t have to be the one with all of the answers, I can offer my hunches, see what hunches you have in return and wait for the collisions and breakthroughs.

1.  The problem with curriculum and textbooks is that they complete thoughts.  Curriculum and textbooks give the impression that learning has an end.  That when you have made it from cover to cover the job is done.  I know in my own schooling this was true, I thought that school was teaching me what was important and that anything outside of the curriculum wasn’t important or relevant to my life…wouldn’t they have included it otherwise?  How did curriculum get this way?  Well, people realized that there was no possible way to cover every facet of learning, so they stripped it down to what they thought was important.  The problem? What is important to you may not be what is important to me.  What’s more, something that is very important to me may have been cut all together so I don’t even get the chance to know that it is important to me.  Humans tend to like things that are definable, we like things that we can put into a neat, orderly box and carry out in a predictable way.  It feels safe and manageable.  This is what led me to the following hunch:

What if curriculum was more flexible?  What if curriculum/schools/learning looked more like Pandora.  If you aren’t familiar with Pandora, it is an online radio station that plays the music that it thinks you will like.  You type in an artist or song and it creates a customized radio station just for you.  It is remarkably accurate.  Pandora almost never gets it wrong for me.  It is like they have a direct line to my brain and can predict what song I would like to hear next.  When it is wrong, I can give the song a thumbs down and it apologizes profusely for the error and promises never to play that song again on my station.  The other thing I love about Pandora: I can have multiple radio stations.  Because sometimes I really couldn’t think of anything in the world better than Frank, Dean, and Sammy; but other times  I also want a little Timberlake, Whitestripes, or Bangles.  What if curriculum looked like that?  What if learning happened as a result of typing in one subject or topic that a student was enamored with and a completely personalize learning journey began playing out for them?  What if students were led through a journey that was completely customized?  What if they had several stations mapped out for them?

It has always bothered me that I only had access to the teachers I had access to.  Let me explain that a little: I had some really incredible teachers growing up; my first, third, and fifth grade teachers were beyond exceptional.  I think about them often and model my own teaching on what they did.  I had an incredible creative writing teacher in high school.  I had an Algebra teacher who made me believe that I was a gifted math student.  I also had years with so-so teachers, teachers who didn’t really inspire the best in me.  That is not to say that another student didn’t connect with them and remember them years later.  It always bothered me that I didn’t get to pick ANY teacher in the world to be my teacher.  I knew that there were amazing teachers out there, why didn’t I get to learn from them?  Would my education have been different if I was matched up with the very best teachers in the world?  Would I be a different person if EVERY teacher I had inspired me the way that the 5 had?  Maybe what I needed was a mix of educational e-Harmony and Pandora.  A way to be matched up with the very best teachers for me alongside a curriculum path mapped out based on my passions.  That isn’t to say that I would ONLY be learning what I felt like learning, but if Pandora can get my song preferences right, and introduce me to some I didn’t know I liked, why couldn’t a curriculum do the same?  I’m not quite sure how that all plays out which is why it is hunch #1.

2.  What if every single school was built like an athletic team?  A dream team of passionate educators.  What if schools were marketed according to the dream teams and students could attend with the team that made the most sense for them?  Athletic teams are hand selected to meet certain needs, every football team needs someone who can throw well, someone who can run well, someone who can block, a strategist.  Schools are no different, they need teachers with different strengths and abilities to make up the dream team.  What if schools traded teachers every few years within the district, state, country, or world so that other students had access to those dream team teachers?  Forget about bad teachers, if schools were built this way only the best would be hired.  Maybe if we had dream team schools, teachers would begin to be viewed by the public as the professionals they are.  Schools would be known by the incredible professionals that make them up.  When the community starts viewing teachers as professionals, the pay scale should begin to shift to reflect that.  Dream teams would show the community and students that education is valued and important.  What message are kids getting now?  At this very moment a documentary and numerous media events are painting the problem with education as being directly in connection with “bad teachers”.  As a student, do you think education is valuable if you are being told that your teachers are bad?  Of course not!  We need parents to stand up and shout for their team (school) to tell the world that their teachers on their dream team are the best in the world.  How do we make that happen?  Again, I’m not quite sure…which is why it is hunch #2.

3. Most local businesses and larger corporations like to have their employees involved in some type of community service.  My husband’s company is involved in several community service ventures but they are more involved with the Boy Scouts of America.  They donate money, celebrate accomplishments, and show up at big events.  Since companies are already doing this (most half heartedly because they aren’t particularly passionate about it), why not use it to improve our schools?  What if the hours that companies committed were to schools?  Businesses could pledge time each year to be involved in the school.  Large companies could be involved throughout the year, smaller companies more sporadically.  Those within a company that naturally gravitate toward working with kids may be more involved.  Let’s get professionals in the schools showing kids where their learning is leading them.  Let’s give our students time to work along side a welder, carpenter, graphic artist, CEO, fireman, chef, restaurant owner, grocery store manager, etc., etc., etc.  Kids need to see what is possible and that learning is important.  Some don’t learn that until they are out of school.  How do we make the shift in the way companies think about serving in the community? Again, I don’t quite have it nailed down: hunch #3.

4.  The documentary Waiting for Superman has just come out in select theaters around the United States.  As a result people are talking about education as they never have before.  They are being critical of education and the school system (and they should be…it has been a long time coming).  There is a lot of talk about what is wrong and what isn’t working.  For the record, I think they are completely missing what is really wrong with education and focusing on the low hanging fruit (money, bad teachers).  Now that the focus is on education, why aren’t we standing up and doing something big?  Why are we letting Oprah and anchormen talk about education as if they know something about it?  What if each incredible educator in the nation put together a 60 second Superman/woman video?  60 second videos that show what is good in education, what is working, and offering ideas for change…solutions.   What if those videos went viral?  What if every teacher in every state wrote their local news stations and gave them access to the videos?  Would parents and community members start to get a more realistic picture of what is happening in education?  I’m ready to make this one more than a hunch!

5. Yesterday I was catching up on some Twitter conversation, I had just missed #cpchat where administrators get together for a live Elluminate session and talk education, leadership, and learning.  I saw a comment from @Cybraryman1 to @gcouros saying: “Wish we could start The Twitter Academy with all the great teachers and supervisors here. It would be a phenomenal school.”  I plunked myself right into the middle of this conversation and responded: “why can’t we start Twitter Academy? Let’s stop wishing and do it!”  What resulted was immediate excitement from several educators chiming in and calling dibs on their part in Twitter Academy.  I made up a hash tag #twitacad and before I knew it, a logo had been created by @mrsenorhill.  

Now, I’m not sure about everyone else, but I was serious when I asked why not?  I was serious when I said let’s stop talking and do it already.  The only people getting in our way is us.  Why a Twitter Academy?  Well see #1 paragraph 3 and you will have my answer, then take a look at #2.  A dream team.  Why not?  This is still hunch #5 because I’m not really sure how to make this a reality.  Could the dream team be virtual?  Could the dream team help to make #1 a reality?  Ideally Twitter Academy would be an actual location…but since I haven’t yet convinced you all to move to beautiful Colorado, I’m not sure that it is realistic.  But, what nuggets could we take of this idea (and those hunches above) to collide and create a breakthrough here?  I don’t think it is impossible, we just haven’t come up with the exact framework yet.  Those of you who attended the Reform Symposium, may have caught Monika Hardy and her students presenting on TSD innovation Lab.  They are on to something here and I think that this is the beginning steps of what Twitter Academy could look like.

Alright, now it is your turn, what hunches do you have?  What ideas can we bring together and make breakthroughs with?  How can we take steps to radically rethink education and then take action-today?  Who wants to be involved in Twitter Academy and what ideas do you have that will make it a reality?  Maybe it is arrogance or ego on my part, but I feel like I have been dropped into this point in history with connections with all of you for a reason.  I refuse to believe it is just so that we can talk education.

I believe it will be us.

We will be the individuals whose ideas collide together and transform education.

 

 
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