Curriculum

Summer Dreams: A glimpse into inquiry-based learning

Every summer has the same rhythm for me. Most days consist of reading (also known as feeding my soul) and planning for the upcoming school year. Though I truly enjoy every season in Colorado, the rhythm of summer is my favorite. It gives me time to dream and to prepare for the upcoming year. Summer for me is an indicator of space. Space to take deep breaths, to learn from others, and to iterate and dream.

Anastasis is a school without curriculum; by that, I mean that we don’t purchase a curriculum from a big publishing company. I haven’t found a curriculum that knows our students (with names) the way that my teachers know our students (with names). They don’t know our students the way I know our students. Summer is the time that I build a framework for Anastasis teachers. An inquiry guide. Inquiry is the philosophy that drives learning at Anastasis. I love inquiry because it is a natural differentiator. Within an inquiry philosophy, students meet the learning where they are. Inquiry is a transformational, life-changing framework. It’s one that empowers kids.

12 years ago (with a lot of help from my PLN, blogger alliance friends) I learned about, and fell in love with, the International Baccalaureates PYP Framework. Through blogs, Twitter conversations, and the Reform Symposium Conference, I got a behind the scenes look at inquiry within the PYP happening in countries and classrooms around the world. There are six themes within the framework: Who We Are, Where We Are in Place and Time, How We Express Ourselves, How the World Works, How We Organize Ourselves, and Sharing the Planet. I have yet to find any learning under the sun that doesn’t fit into one of these six categories. We use this framework at Anastasis as our launching point. In the summer, I choose a lens for our Primary, Intermediate, and Jr. High students to explore each inquiry Framework.

This is the time when I get to dream. My dreaming takes shape as a lens, a question, several lines of inquiry, and some provocations that teachers and students might dig into. These dreams and frameworks turn into absolute masterpieces when my teachers and students get ahold of them. Each of us comes with our own history, our own worldview, our own experiences, our own connections, each of us knows our students (with names). And this makes the “curriculum” richer. The true beauty of inquiry is the way that it grows and meets everyone who interacts with it.

As I dreamed up the Where We Are in Place and Time block, I came with my own background and ideas. When my teachers and students got ahold of it? MAGIC!

Here are the lenses I offered:

Primary: Children in the past live differently than we do today. (Within this I shared some lines of inquiry including: how has school changed over time, what kinds of games did your parents play as kids, how has transportation changed over time (how did this impact exploration and migration), how has food and access to food and food technology changed over time, what has been the impact of invention over time, how has technology changed over time, what is a timeline, how did migration and exploration change how children in the past lived, and how has literature and books children read change over time?)

Intermediate: People migrate with different reasons and with wide-ranging effects. (Within this, some of the lines of inquiry included: what are the reasons people migrate, what is the emotional impact of migration, what are the effects of emigration and immigration, what is manifest destiny, what is the Oregon Trail, what human circumstances and challenges lead to migration, what is the history of migration, how has transportation throughout time impacted migration, what is the cultural impact of migration, what is the governments role in migration?)

Jr. High: Migration happens for a variety of reasons. (The lines of inquiry included: what is the history of migration, what are the reasons for migration, what is the impact of migration-to the areas being left and the areas where relocation takes place, what are the hardships and successes of migration, how did transportation impact migration, how does perspective impact migration, what is the cultural impact of migration, what is the government’s role in migration, what is the emotional impact of migration, what are the effects of emigration and immigration?)

Watching this inquiry block unfold in real time as teachers and students engage it, I’m again reminded of the beauty of inquiry.

Anastasis Academy inquiry immigration

Our Primary students just got to experience an immigration day. After reading, “Ellis Island-a History in Many Voices” by Louise Peacock and exploring immigration through books, videos, and discussions, students experienced their own Immigration Day. Our incredible primary teachers had students dress as immigrants coming to America for the first time. Each received a country of origin and mini backstory. Each created and packed a suitcase filled with the items they would choose to bring with them on a long journey. Each item lovingly considered and included in the small case they were allowed to bring aboard the “ship.” Students were divided into classes on the ship. First class got the best seats, on top of the table, second and third class on the deck below, under the table. Each student received a passport and papers they would need to keep with them. Students had five different stops when they arrived to “Ellis Island:” Medical, Information, Baggage, Passport, and Interview. They were examined by a nurse and doctor, eyes, ears, throat, and skin checked. At the information room, students had to fill out a form which included information from their passports and questions regarding their life in America. Students were interviewed by officials, asked questions about their plans and intent in America. How would they earn money? Where did they plan to live? At each room, if our student immigrants were approved, they would receive a stamp in their passport and sent to the next room. Each of the five items that the students packed in their suitcase was closely inspected with questions about why they chose those items. Students watched, Coming to America by Neil Diamond. Pictures were taken for passports and a new identity, and nationality were granted. Each student created a reflective journal about their journey to America with illustrations.

Inquiry is immersive. Students get to experience their learning.

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Our Intermediate and Jr. High students have had the opportunity to experience their learning during this block in different ways. Our intermediate students visited 4 Mile Historic Park where they stepped into the past and saw the world through their ancestor’s eyes. One of our Anastasis teachers immigrated to America from South Africa. She shared her long immigration journey with students including the absolute joy at being declared a US citizen. Next, our students heard from a parent who is considered an illegal immigrant, though he has lived in the United States since he was two years old. He was able to share his experiences with the immigration process in America. Colorado refugee students joined our students for an afternoon of learning, soccer, dancing, and lunch. Anastasis students had the opportunity to hear their stories of fleeing a country and finding refuge in the US, as well as connect with them through play. This week our Jr. High students tutored refugee students in English and Math at their home school. In the coming weeks, these students will visit the Mango House (a non-profit that provides services to refugees) and attend a citizenship ceremony.

Inquiry is so much bigger than a curriculum guide. It’s about connecting students with stories and growing their awareness. It’s about seeing people. Inquiry is immersive learning. This is bigger than a worksheet or a research paper. This learning is absolutely transformational.

Take a look at some of our student reflections after the immigration stories:

We often don’t understand the circumstances in our world until we experience them. As we listened to the two people talk today, I realized how much sympathy we need for people that are immigrating to our country. As Miguel said, “The sun rises for everyone.” It really struck me how much joy we can find if we try to. We are often so doted on and spoiled that we expect the joy to come to us. Though sometimes we need to go out and change our perspective. My biggest shock today was how happy these two people were despite their trials. I hope I can apply their outlook on life in my own journey. -Anastasis Student
Everyone wants to see the sun but the sun rises for everyone, you just have to look for it. When people see an immigrant, they think “criminal, illegal, job stealer”, they don’t think, “person, mother, father, sister, brother.” People don’t like people who are different from them, but if everyone were the same, we would end up with a society like The Giver. You cannot judge a book by a cover; you cannot judge an immigrant without knowing their story. – Anastasis Student
I have traveled the lands and witnessed the world unfold. I’ve seen God, in seminaries and in the ground we stand on. I’ve been on an odyssey, a grand tour of our world, yet I see the light covered by darkness. I watch as two sides fight, spewing lies and frustration, placing more cement over the towering wall, looking down at us. Both sides making one massive monster, in the shape of a barrier. Now the wall has become a lens, now we face the beast. -Anastasis Student
How can you say it? How can you think it? How can you be against it without knowing it? “You have to go through hell to get here.” Immigrants are people who go through hell. The hell they face isn’t just because of the long journey. It is because of the rejection, the unfairness, and so much more that I would not be able to imagine. But, “the sun rises for everyone” (Miguel). Life will get better. With a positive attitude, a goal, and faith, the sun will rise. -Anastasis Student
It was amazing to hear the stories of Mrs. Fun and Miguel. They both have amazing stories and some things that would be very frustrating. It is not so easy to migrate like how some people say. “You have to go to hell to get to America.” Sometimes you just have to walk in their shoes and see what people have to go through to get here. It was good to see the long hard journey to become a legal citizen and the other side of seeing the troubles of trying to help your family while also worrying about becoming a legal citizen. People just have to see what people have to go through to come to this amazing country. It is easy to just say that people should come here the legal way, but we don’t realize the long, hard, expensive journey that it actually is. -Anastasis Academy
God always has the right path for you. You have to be passionate even if you think you were left behind because God has a wonderful plan for you that will come in due time. “The sun rises for everyone.” (Miguel).  It took Mrs. Van De Vyver 15 years to become a U.S citizen, and Miguel is still trying to become a citizen after 25 years. Today I was inspired to always keep a good attitude and keep a smile on my face. -Anastasis Student
There’s a long road ahead for the destination we sit comfortably in. Year after years and the road continues. 20-year journey and still the road goes on. “The sun rises for everyone” ( Miguel). Soon you will be able to travel with joy and comfort. Though one person can succeed, there are many more still walking on something they wish to be an odyssey. The dreams sit sweetly in their minds with a hint of opportunity. Let your mind soak in this perspective and live with a new lens. -Anastasis Student
Without the mountain, there is no summit. I sit on a hill watching the sunset over the horizon. If only the sun could last forever, I thought. But of course the light doesn’t last, but neither does the dark. Instead a perfect balance is created. This is the balance that holds the knowledge of the world. Without this balance, the world is broken, and the cycle of the earth will cease causing life its self to fall out of our grasp like sand. But here and now is the present and so here I will dwell shouting praise to God atop the mountain because God is the father of life. And life is in the present. This is why darkness was created.  -Anastasis Student
You guys!!! These are 11-13-year-olds reflecting on a shared experience of exploration, story, and seeing people. Show me what textbook can produce this kind of empathy, this level of understanding.
I thought about waiting to post this until after the final experiences with the Mango House and the citizenship ceremony, but honestly, I was too eager to share this hope.
This process of inquiry isn’t always neat and tidy. As principal dreaming in the summer, I often don’t know exactly what it will look like. It’s the result of passionate teachers, our amazing field trip coordinator, and students who keep pushing into learning they are immersed in.
Inquiry is immersive. It’s about story. It’s about connection. It’s about awareness. Inquiry is where the real learning is.
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Unintended consequences of a system

Schools are places where all of humanity collides. When students enter school, they come just as they are. For educators, the human condition is apparent. The brokenness is apparent. Students come to school with all of their differences be they political, social economic, racial, academic, or theological. They come with all their fears, insecurities, doubts, anxieties, trauma, shame, guilt, hopes, dreams, passions, interests, excitement, and a desperation to be loved.

When students enter our classroom, they come in search of sanctuary. A place where they can be safe and feel included. To ignore this is to ignore that as educators we are in the very business of humanity and community.

Schools, and indeed our classrooms, are the very place that our society is formed. We must place the focus on the humanity in our classrooms. On who they are. On the stories that enter our space each day. To place the focus on anything other than the students is to erode their sense of self, place, and belonging. When we don’t take the time to get to know the children and stories in our classrooms, when the focus is on knowledge acquisition, on curriculum, on Pinterest worthy classrooms, on tests, on being a “blue” school, we ignore this humanity.

In the wake of the shooting in Florida, I again feel stripped bare. I again wonder when we will look at ourselves in the mirror and ask the right questions, respond in the right ways. Look at the unintended consequences of our current narrative and systems. I wonder when we will be able to change.

I’m a strong believer that everything matters. Our language, the structures we put in place, the way we speak about our values. It all matters. Students pick up on the undertones, those things we aren’t even naming aloud. Kids have an internal BS meter that goes off when our words don’t match the systems. When our words don’t match our actions. They can spot a disingenuous spirit a mile away.

I’ve read the articles and Twitter posts placing blame on the erosion of values in our country. Sometimes they point to the removal of prayer from schools. Other times the finger gets pointed at violent video games and movies. Sometimes it’s the song writers and artists that get the blame.  There is talk about this being a cultural problem.

I agree. It is a problem with our culture, but not for the reasons listed above. It’s not the lack of prayer, or video games, or musicians, or movies. It’s because we continually send the message as a society that you don’t matter. That you’re not worthy. We rarely say it aloud in this way. In our words, in our finger pointing, in our actions, in our systems this is the message that gets sent. You don’t matter.

Let’s explore some unintended messages being sent in our current system:

Subjects/tests/grades: Unintentionally share the message that only some skills are worthwhile and that if you don’t have them, there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are only worthwhile if your passions and skills match up to those we’ve decided are worthwhile.

Grades: Unintentionally send the message that your worth comes from a number. You are worthy if, and when, you perform.

Homework: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t be trusted to be a learner. We have to tell you what to do and how to spend your free time. What you value isn’t as important as what we value. Downtime is not important. Rest is not important. Boredom is not important.

Behavior charts: Unintentionally sends the message that the only way to get you to comply is through public shaming. You can’t make good choices on your own.

Standards: Unintentionally sends the message that we get to determine what is important to learn. If we haven’t named it as a standard, it’s not as important or valuable.

Curriculum: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t think or explore on your own because you aren’t capable without a map where we tell you where to go and how to get there. You are a computer to be programmed.

Assigned seats: Unintentionally sends the message that you can’t be trusted to choose where to sit. We don’t care to get to know you, so by making you sit in the same place, we can look at the chart to know your name.

Grade Levels: Unintentionally sends the message that your age is the most important consideration when deciding who you should spend time with.

Tests and Grades: Unintentionally sends the message that competition is better than collaboration. Being the best is what matters.

Classroom space: Unintentionally sends the message that nothing is alive. That we don’t need a connection to life, or growth, or fresh air. Classrooms are enlarged cubicles. You’re learning so that you can trade one cubical, for a smaller cubical when you’ve been “trained” to our approval. This is what your life is destined to, get used to it now.

Gun laws (protection of the second amendment and all firearms): Unintentionally sends the message that we value the gun more than we value you and your safety. A gun is more worthy of our protection and activism than you are.

Armed teachers: Amplifies the message that you are not safe at school. School is not a place of sanctuary.

Increased core class time: Unintentionally sends the message that movement isn’t important, free time isn’t important, music isn’t important, art isn’t important. There is no value outside of the narrow band of academics we say have value.

We’ve created a morally corrupt society because we’ve unintentionally created a model that systemically tells kids that they don’t matter.  We look only for outward measures of success. We fail to help kids look at how to care for their inner lives. We’ve taken away the dignity of the child with so many of the systems we’ve put in place in schools.

Until we name the brokenness of the system out loud, it can’t change. Until we confess to each other, we remain unchanged and the world remains unchanged. By naming it out loud, and looking at it together, we begin to take away its power to do harm. To hide, deny, or pretend that it doesn’t exist is to allow the hurt and stripping of humanity to fester and grow. We bond over our shared brokenness. We invite change when we name the brokenness together, out loud.

We need to tell the truth. Humanity collides in all of its brokenness and beauty in our classrooms. We’re all on a journey. We’re in this together. We all give and we all receive. We all have a place. The world is interconnected, and we are connected. We belong to each other.

The unintended and underlying messages we send with our systems and policies, and language matter. They ultimately shape the ways we think about ourselves and others.

 

 

 

Crafting an Inquiry Block and Helping Others “See”

The thing about inquiry…once it has you in it’s grasp, there will be no escaping it. It’s magic. You begin to realize that everything is connected and you’ll want to know more about all of it, and also change the world, because you’ll see things that you haven’t before.

It will be gloriously frustrating (time is still finite) and fun (because learning is breathtaking and wonderful!).

Inquiry is the way to indulge in all of the beauty and wonder in the world.

It unleashes the possible.

You’ll find yourself frustrated that you wasted so many minutes on “learning” that was less. That you spent so much time calling memorization and regurgitation learning. That you believed that learning happened as a result of what a teacher, or curriculum, or test told you was important. That as soon as the homework/project/test was over, that learning was over.

Inquiry is bigger.

Wider.

With inquiry we aren’t just inviting collaboration between disciplines, but also exploring the space between and beyond the disciplines as well.  Inquiry ignites interest and passion.

“People who are curious inquirers have a learning advantage, they will always be able to teach themselves the things they need to know, long after their formal education ends.” (Whiplash, Jeff Howe and Joi Ito)

Every summer I design the framework for our inquiry blocks. I begin with the IB’s PYP questions (because they are brilliant and I have yet to find a topic that doesn’t fall within one of the six questions). With those in mind, I choose books to read, videos to watch, and generally just approach life with curiosity. The only rule: the books/videos/content has to be a little random. In other words, I choose things that I don’t know a lot about, without an agenda about why I chose them, and they can’t have too similar of a theme. For example, this summer I read “A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design” by Frank Wilczek, “Flow the Psychology of Optimal Experience” by Mihaly Csiksczentmihalyi, “Brand Thinking” by Debbie Millman, “Get Backed” by Baehr|Loomis, “Youthnation” by Matt Britton, “Innovation is a State of Mind” by Jame O’ Loghlin, “Intention” by Amy Burvall and Dan Ryder, “The Innovator’s Mindset” by George Couros, “For the Love” by Jen Hatmaker, “Ask the Dust” by John Fante, “What is the Bible” by Rob Bell, and “The Little Paris Bookshop” by Nina George, “Cooking for Picasso” by Camille Aubray. I also watch copious amounts of TED talk videos and spend an enormous amount of time following random web link bunny trails. Totally random. But when you read things with the 6 inquiry questions in mind, suddenly everything starts to connect and you see things you may not have before. As I read I take a MILLION notes…because I love notebooks and remember things when I write them down. Then when it comes time to actually design the inquiry block, I have this incredible common place book to pull from. Seriously, this is my most happy place of happy places!

Degas said: “Art is not what you see, it is what you help others see.”

I feel like this is the way I spend my summers, immersed in art that helps me see.

This is what I hope for our inquiry blocks, that it would help our students see. To make beautiful connections, and marvel in the wonder of learning.

We’re just getting started into one of my favorite inquiry blocks every year, “How We Express Ourselves.” This year our lens is: There are many different ways to tell a story (primary); Our imagination allows us to express ourselves creatively (Intermediate); Through the arts, people use different forms of expression to convey their uniqueness as humans (Jr. High)

When I read the books above every one of them seemed to seep into this inquiry block. They all had insight and new ways of “seeing.”

As questions come to me, I jot them down. These become our lines of inquiry.

  • Storytelling happens through different mediums including visual arts, words, poems, music, dance, drama, metaphor, photography, icons, math, science.
  • We express our own identity through the medium we choose to tell our stories through.
  • Cultures throughout time have expressed themselves through story.
  • Different types of literature tell different kinds of stories.
  • How are stories told? What is the structure of stories?
  • How do fossils tell a story of the past?
  • Why is sequence an important component of story?
  • What tools do historians use to help them tell a story?
  • How do we distinguish fact from fiction?
  • What are sources of inspiration?
  • What role does perspective play in expression?
  • How can limitations and constraints make us more creative?
  • Are there mathematical formulas that are “beautiful” to the human eye?
  • How do animals and humans receive different types of information through their senses, process the information in their brain, and respond in different ways?
  • How do we visualize sound? What is cymatics?
  • How do vibrating materials make sound?
  • Observe and create a model of waves to describe patterns in terms of amplitude and wavelength and demonstrate how waves cause objects to move.
  • Perspective and where we find beauty (including through math and science).
  • What cultural artifacts tell us about people who lived in a place and time.
  • In war, what is the significance of destroying art and culture?

You can see how one line of thought leads me down some bunny trails! Look at how many standards this block hits across ALL disciplines. If you, or a student, is particularly passionate about one of those lines of inquiry, it probably gives rise to all sorts of new questions…which is precisely how it works in the classroom.

When I work on the framework of an inquiry block, I’m really just setting the stage where our collective genius can collide over common problems. This is true of teachers and students at Anastasis. We all come with different backgrounds, and histories, and inspirations. The above list represents the connections I made BECAUSE of the different provocations and background that I have to draw on. But we all come with that, both teachers and students.

What results is beautiful and unique to this place and time with these people. We could look at these very same lines of inquiry every year until the end of time and gain new insight and make new connections every time as our experiences evolve and our community changes.

Of course, to help give some guidance, I offer provocations to my staff that will give us some common language and make sense of some of my more *seemingly* random connections.

The provocations for the How We Express Ourselves inquiry block above:

TED Talk: The Beautiful Dilemma of Our Separateness- Sally Taylor talks about finding her place in art.

CONSENSES– The most brilliant game of artistic telephone where each artist expresses the previous artist’s expression in their own favorite medium.

TED Talk: Embrace the Shake- Phil Hansen finds beauty in the limitations and constraints.

TED Talk: Making Sound Visible Through Cymatics– The science and art of cymatics, a process of making sound waves visible.

 

Can you see the depth of learning made possible? Rather than limiting learning with a specified goal, we’ve given students depth. We’ve shown them the beauty in learning.

da Vinci said it best, “Learn how to see, realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Learning Alive: Trusting Students to be Learners

As educators, we are profoundly connected to the stories of our students. We know which students had breakfast, who fought with their brother on the way in, who feels anxious in social settings, who is celebrating a big flag football win, who is mourning the anniversary of losing a parent, who believes they are stupid, we know the one that feels isolated in their classroom. We know that every child comes with a unique story, a history that none other shares. It is our business to honor the humanity in our classrooms. It is our sacred duty to honor the identity of each student in our care.

Boxed curriculum falls short of honoring the identity of your students. It wasn’t created with them in mind. It was created for a number. It was created for an outcome. Created for an average.

This isn’t to say that curriculum companies aren’t trying. They work to offer differentiation strategies, they work to “personalize” pacing. But in the end, one problem remains: they don’t know the Students-with-Names in your classroom. They don’t know the stories that walk into your classroom each morning. Can’t possibly know the dynamics of your classrooms when all those unique stories collide and create a community of learners. I’ve been involved in education since 2003, and I’ve never had a duplicate story. Never had a community of learners that interacted in exactly the same way. As educators, we have to be agile.  Each day. Each hour. Each minute.

Boxed curriculum is far too static for the dynamic stories that fill a classroom. Unfortunately, it is boxed curriculum that dictates the learning in most schools. Walk into any classroom and you will see purchased curriculum. Schools even go so far as to brand themselves by the type of curriculum they’ve purchased. In the end it’s all the same. Static. Even the differentiation found in boxed curriculum is written as something that we do on behalf of students. “We will do something to our instruction so that the student can be more successful at meeting the requirements and goals set by norms.” This type of differentiation believes that by tweaking the way teachers  teach, it will make students better fit the system.

At Anastasis, we don’t purchase any boxed curriculum. At all. We are identity honoring, and we have yet to find a curriculum that takes into account the many stories that fill our building. The boxed curriculum packed full of differentiation strategies can’t hold a candle to what we’ve chosen to be guided by: Inquiry. Inquiry is a natural differentiator, but it isn’t something done on a student’s behalf; rather, inquiry empowers students as their own differentiators. Inquiry opens up the world of learning. It’s connective and has depth. It’s limitless. It honors identity by putting students in the driver seat.

Boxed curriculum gives students a map of a city. It details the exact destination, the route that must be taken, the transportation that must be used, and even the time that a student should arrive at the destination. Boxed curriculum’s goal is to get students to a destination as quickly as possible. Often students don’t even see why the destination is important or how it connects to the pre-determined stops along the way.

Inquiry opens limitless possibilities and puts students in charge of charting their own course. Instead of a map of the city, they are given a globe. They get to choose the route, destination, the transportation they will use. They get to decide where they will slow down to spend extra time exploring. They get to experience the joy in the journey. With inquiry, we offer provocations that set them off, but the journey, that’s for the student. The things they will see and experience, the connections they will make, the growth they’ll experience, the collision of ideas with classmates, it will be theirs.

The beauty of inquiry is that it honors the individual. It sends the subliminal message that we trust students to be learners, that they are capable, that they can do meaningful things without outside scripting. It demonstrates the deep belief that we are all learning beings. It reveals to kids that their interests/gifts/passions ARE learning. Suddenly they recognize that all learning is connected and living. That learning isn’t about school, it’s LIFE.

To reduce learning down to a scripted curriculum is wrong. It’s insulting. It puts learning in a box, limits it. It insinuates that learning has a beginning (Chapter 1) and an end (the test). It tells kids when they hit road blocks that their is something wrong with them (“I guess I’m just not good at math/reading/science/writing/history), instead of something wrong with the route chosen for them.

Inquiry is about a growth mind-set. Students see when they hit a hard spot in learning that there are ways to push in. They realize that they can chart a completely new path of discovery. They begin to see that maybe learning isn’t even contained to the continents and traditional modes of travel. They explore the possibility of choosing the moon, rockets as a mode of transportation. When this is possible why would we only give students a map of a city and try to tell them that it is learning?

Inquiry is identity honoring. It’s learning alive. A living curriculum.

 

 

School is so much more than learning all the right things

The first question that I get asked when people find out that I’ve started a school: what makes Anastasis Academy different? And this is a tricky one to answer, because the truth is EVERYTHING makes us different. It’s hard to describe something that no one has seen before, so you begin to relate it with ideas and concepts that people are familiar with. The more I’ve talked about Anastasis, the more I’ve begun to really recognize what it is at the heart that makes us so different. It is our starting point and driving force: students-with-names.

That may seem like a strange comment to make, “students-with-names,” because, of course they have names! But in education, we make a lot of decisions without these specific students-with-names in mind. We make decisions for students as if they are a homogeneous group, or worse, a number.

As if they don’t have special interests/passions/gifts.

As if they don’t have something unique that the world needs.

At Anastasis Academy, we see the potential of students-with-names and help them believe that they are capable of realizing that potential. That it is worth the risk of being fully alive. That they can be vulnerable in community.

When we talk about education, too often the focus is on learning all the right things, equipping kids with the right content and answers. But the truth is, a great school is about so much more than learning all the right things. A great school is about connecting humanity. It is about finding the educators who can draw students out, who can foster humanity and connection. Who see potential and help others see it, too. Who help kids embrace their worth and value.

Because we start from this place, from students-with-names, every other decision we make has to honor that.

So we can’t think about curriculum as a one-size-fits all.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t assess in a way that minimizes the individual and the learning journey that is happening.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have large class sizes that prohibit us from getting to know the stories of students.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t pretend that worksheets, tests, and grades are what learning is about.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t let technology be the teacher.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t have restrictive classroom space.

Because, students-with-names.

We can’t rely on typical professional development to prepare teachers.

Because, students (and teachers)-with-names.

When your goal is honoring the humanity, EVERYTHING else must shift to help meet that goal. Everything must be adjusted outside of the assumptions we make as adults about what education “should” look like.

Last week, I asked every Anastasis teacher to come to school on Tuesday with sub plans with one caveat- don’t “dumb it down” for the sub! Just continue on with whatever you were doing. That was all of the information I shared. On Tuesday morning, we all met in the office. I had slips of paper with every class name on it. Each teacher chose a name. This was to be their class for the morning.

Teacher Swap!

My goal was a simple one, build community and empathy among the staff. If you’ve met the staff at Anastasis, you may have wondered at this goal (these are the most amazing people who have incredible empathy and we have a pretty tight community). Something different happens when you are in a classroom that isn’t yours, teaching students you don’t normally teach. You begin to see things through new lenses, different perspectives. You begin to problem solve differently. We had a Jr. High teacher with our 2nd-3rd grade, our 4th-6th teacher with our kindergarten. Teachers who normally teach young students, teaching some of the oldest. It was outstanding!

During our Wednesday staff meeting, we talked about the successes and challenges that were faced. We remembered what it is like to be a “new” teacher again, the fish-out-of-water feeling that comes from having a loose inquiry plan with a different age group. It revealed the way that each class ladders up and prepares these students-with-names for the next part of their learning journey. It reminded us not to set boundaries and expectations too low; these kids are capable of greatness! It revealed to the teachers of the older students why the teachers of the younger students are ready for recess at 10:00am on the button. :)

In a few weeks, teachers will begin to go into each other’s classrooms as an observer. My hope is, that the time spent teaching in each other’s classes will provide them with greater insight and more thoughtful observation.

In February, we invite you to come visit us. Join us to see first hand how a focus on students-with-names impacts everything that we do (including our approach to conference PD!)  The 5Sigma Education Conference is an opportunity for you to see first hand what makes Anastasis such a different learning environment. On February 19th, our students will tour you through our building, they’ll walk you through classes and talk to you about their learning experiences. We have two incredible keynotes by equally incredible people. Angela Maiers is our opening keynote. If you aren’t familiar with Angela’s work, I encourage you to take a look at her here, and learn why she is the perfect person to kick off our “students-with-names” focused conference. Bodo Hoenen is our closing keynote. Bodo has a passion for making individualized learning possible for children who have been largely forgotten.  In between those keynotes, will be sessions, panels, featured speakers, conversations, and plenty of inspiration. On February 21st we’ll take a field trip together.

This is our second 5Sigma Education Conference, if you were at the first, you know what a powerful weekend this is. If you weren’t with us last year, you will not want to miss out this year! Check out what last year’s attendees had to say about the weekend here.

Register today and take advantage of early-bird pricing!

Have something that needs to be added to our conversations? The call for proposals is still open! Click on the link above and head over to the “Propose a Session” tab.

Learning is vulnerable, community needed #edreform

Community is important. I would argue the MOST important.

And yet, when reformers talk about how to make education better, community never even enters the conversation. Standards (to make us equitable), testing (to make sure we are hitting the mark), technology (will solve all of our problems!), rigor (because, don’t we all want to describe learning as rigid and unmoving?!).

We are just beginning year 5 at Anastasis Academy. Magic. Lightening in a bottle. I wish everyone could see what happens here (incidentally you can come to our February conference for a peek). It is difficult to put into words the incredible moments that have become our “normal.” As I reflect on what it is that makes our school so different, I’m increasingly convinced that it isn’t the place, it’s not the technology we have access to, it isn’t that we’ve ditched tests/grades/curriculum. No, what makes this place incredible is the community. It is Who We Are (our first inquiry block every year). It is detox week. It is the way that we intentionally focus on building community first. It is the way we work so hard to help our students (and teachers) understand who they are.

Each of our students (and yours, too) is unique. They have unique gifts and talents. Strengths and weaknesses. Fears. When we talk about education, we must start here.

Learning is vulnerable. It puts us in a place of true vulnerability, we don’t know, we are explorers. We may look foolish at times. Because learning is such a state of vulnerability, we must have strong community in order for learning to thrive.

Too often, education has been focused on what a student isn’t.

They aren’t a strong reader.

They aren’t good at math.

They struggle with writing.

They don’t measure up.

When we start with Who We Are, we invite students to change that focus. We invite students to see all that they offer. The things that make them AWESOME!

This week I’ve again been reminded about how incredible Anastasis teachers are at building community. In one of our intermediate classes, students were “speed friending.” This is an exercise where students pair up and have 2 minutes to talk with each other. The only rule: no small talk. They aren’t allowed to talk about things like favorite color, food, where they live, etc. I had the privilege of walking in on the middle of this Speed Friending exercise. Boys and girls matched up for 2 minutes before they move on to the next student. Every single group was having really awesome conversations. Kids were animated. Smiling. Learning about each other. There was a lot of laughter and exclamations of “me too!” Their teacher joined in as well.

In the class next door, a jr. high class, community was being built by sharing ‘war’ stories. “Everyone has to tell a story about how they got a scar…or when there was a LOT of blood. Who wants to go first?” Students sit in a circle and hands instantly shoot up. Stories that begin, “this one time…” get shared. It’s like being around a campfire at happy hour (minus the fire and drinks). Everyone participates, they all ooh and aww over each other’s stories. Each new story reminds the others of another “this one time…”. The caveat: they are only allowed to share one story. “We don’t have time! Guess you’ll have to tell that story during lunch!” Instant camaraderie. Community built.

Today, day 2, I stopped by the Jr. High classroom. They’ve just started into A Wrinkle in Time. Soon, they hit the word “tesseract.” None of them knew what it was or had a good guess about what it could be. Their teacher stopped and said, “all right, we are going to the prototype lab. You’re going to get in teams and build a tesseract, you can do some research, but then your goal is to build a model that you can use to explain it to the rest of the class. You’ll also come up with a hypothesis about what is going to happen in the book. When you’re finished, you’ll share with the class.”

The kids researched and got to work building. Working together to solve a problem. Looking through materials and options and coming up with BRILLIANCE! They had a limited amount of time, limited resources, and still weren’t quite sure how it related to the book they were reading.

Learning is Vulnerable  Learning is Vulnerable  IMG_3007  Learning is Vulnerable

The results were dynamite. I mean, really quite well thought out and well designed. The kids gathered back in a Genius Lab to share their final product. Each group shared their understanding of tesseract. It’s a 4th dimension that might exist…but we can’t really understand even what it is or what it means because we can’t see it. The last group was composed of 3 boys. One new student, one student who has been with us from the beginning, and one student who is dyslexic and struggles greatly with reading. Our long time student began the presentation by describing his understanding of the second, third, and fourth dimension. He did a great job of helping describe that which he didn’t really understand. Next, our “struggling student”:

“Well actually, I believe that tesseract, this 4th dimension, could be related to black holes. When I was in Mrs. Weissman’s class (2 years ago) I studied black holes. Light collapses and if our bodies went in a black hole, they would be crushed. Everything gets crushed in a black hole, including time. Some people think that if we went in a black hole, we could go really quickly from one place to another, like I could move from far away to here in, like, a second. Teleportation. It’s like time stops existing.” He then picks up the book and points to the cover, “I think that this picture here is depicting this.”

It is at this point in his presentation that exclamations get yelled out, hands thrown up in the air and squeals rise. “Oh my gosh!!! That is what is happening in the book, he figured it out!” “That is why it is called a Wrinkle in Time!!” “Oh my gosh! We have to keep reading…”  All kinds of inferences and predictions and excitement ensued. This “struggling” student is THE hero. Even better, his teacher from 2 years ago gets to witness the whole thing, she has stopped by while her students are at recess. It’s like all learning is connected. It’s like we planned this brilliant moment…only we didn’t, not really. This is the beauty of community and inquiry.

Our new student adds additional brilliance and insight about how this new vocabulary could be connected to the story they are reading.

Day 2. Chapter 1.

Tell me where in your curriculum that moment happens. What test reveals the absolute brilliance of the “struggling” student that is now the hero that classmates look up to? What standard would have connected learning about black holes with this moment in a Wrinkle in Time? What technology leads to this moment? What ‘rigorous’ program allows for a new hero?

The truth is, that moment happened today because yesterday (and every day) we took the time to build community. We had fun together so that today, the second day of school, everyone felt comfortable presenting, getting excited together, and cheering each other on. All of that takes the kind of vulnerability that is only possible when camaraderie is fostered.

How do we build community? In all kinds of way. We start every year with detox week. Identity day. Ice blocking. Experiential learning/camping trips. Dance parties. Daily walks to start our day. Mentorship. Daily whole-school Metanoia. We do life together Every. Single. Day.

What should reformers be focusing on? Community. Who We Are.

As my friend Wes often says, “we can’t begin with what we are, we have to know who we are.”

Could not agree more!

Meaning in the Journey

|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.