It hit me this morning after reading Seth Godin’s post “Lousy tomatoes and the rare search for Wonder” that schools are like supermarkets. Seth writes that supermarkets stock “waxy, tasteless tomatoes from Chile, Mexico and Florida” mainly because it keeps the price cheap and the store profitable. Also someone just might need a tomato in the middle of the night in winter and any tomato might do. He also wrote…
“Over time, as institutions create habits and earn subscribers, they often switch, gradually making the move from magical (worth a trip, worth a conversation) to good (there when you need it). Most TV is just good. Magazines, too. When was the last time People magazine did something that made you sit up and say, “wow”? Of course, you could argue that they’re not in the wow business, and you might be right.”
Here’s where I see the problem with schools. Schools are there because students are required to go. They were designed to deliver information in a form that just doesn’t work today. Today’s students are used to getting what they want when they want it with “on demand” everything. How can we expect our students to accept a waxy tomato when they are used to salsa with a spoonful of guacamole?
Everything in our lives is changing because of supply and demand. Schools will change because students are leaving for other options or dropping out. Schools will change because we are not meeting the needs of our children. Even online schools need to restructure how they deliver their curriculum. Today’s Kindergarteners use technology. 3rd graders have cell phones. I can guarantee that more than 75% of elementary students text their friends. More families are switching from TV to the Internet or Netflix or other ways to watch what they want when they want to watch it. Less families are subscribing to newspapers and magazines. Information is there at their fingertips now. I have CNN, NY Times, and lots of my shows on my iPhone.
Google is restructuring YouTube Edu to have curriculum matched to standards on playlists. iTunes University is in your pocket. Mobile learning is going to level the playing field for all children. Each child will find what they want or need using different apps. Thousands of apps are being developed every day.
So where does the teacher fit in this new world? The teacher is the guide, the advisor, the co-learner in this world of wonder. They design the environment that lets students take risks and find what they need to meet their learning goals based on their personal learning plan. Who knows what school will look like in a few years? There may be a physical school or learning center where learning can happen anytime, anywhere. A teacher cannot compete with the “Wow” that our students have with games and apps that are new each day. Think of a place where students question everything and it is our job as teachers to encourage questions, provide opportunities to build things, fix things, experiment with new ideas, collaborate globally, and push students to explore outside of their comfort zone.
So the teacher’s role has to change. How about teachers as learning agents for the search of wonder?
Most schools today are not able to make the necessary changes they need to make to be a 21st Century school. It’s not just about technology, teaching, and learning.
Here’s what I see:
- Schools putting in wifi and maybe enough bandwidth for one device per user.
- Training teachers on the specific devices and software with a few examples for the classroom.
- A few schools going 1:1 at school. Very few school-home connections.
- Very little community and parent involvement at the school.
- Most funding for 1:1 is soft money with little available for ongoing support.
- Top down mandates and decisions about types of technology allowed.
- Firewalls and blocking software that do not give access to most Web 2.0 tools and social media.
- Focus on increasing student achievement (i.e. raising test scores).
- Lots of talk about student-centered learning with only pockets of best practices.
- Cuts in arts, physical education, counseling, libraries, and technology.
- In-flexible curriculum where students have no say in their interests or passions.
- No emphasis on the skills and values employers are looking for in their employees. See post.
- Most educational conferences still focus on testing, technology, and status quo and not on real change in the classroom. Talking about the future is sexy but teachers don’t think it’s doable in their classroom.
- Teacher education programs are subject-specific silos and tenure-driven organizations. [source]
- Collaborative planning time, if there is any, is mostly used for lesson plans tied to textbooks and tests.
Change is difficult. Everything is changing around us. Our children are not prepared for today. Just ask your neighbors who have their children who graduated from college who are not able to find work. This is a national crisis. Media and politicians point fingers at schools and teachers as the problems. This is not right. Everything is changing. All of us need to pull together and look at how society is changing. It is all children we are putting at-risk now. Teachers need to be valued instead of blamed for all the ills of society.
I work with public and private schools — high poverty and wealthy schools around the country. Change is slow no matter what type of school.
High poverty schools keep trying different strategies. One year it’s the technology. Another year it’s professional learning communities. After that, something else. The problem with high poverty schools is bigger than one thing. Teacher retention is an issue. Social issues in that community play a big factor. Families in crisis is such a big issue that children get lost in the system. They come to school barely able to function. Teachers can only do so much. Class sizes are too large and many teachers are inexperienced to deal with many of the issues they children face.
With wealthy schools, the test scores tend to be high so parents and teachers don’t see a need to make changes. In fact, there is a concern about taking some risks then seeing scores fall. The issue for these schools is not academic achievement, it’s more of a social issue. The students from wealthier schools have issues they are not talking about: drugs, eating disorders, pregnancies, depression, wrong career choices, children graduating and not finding jobs, etc.
Nothing will happen if the school or district doesn’t support change and talk about the real problems at hand.
I am looking for schools that really want to make change and address the real issues that are happening with their students, teachers, and the school community. I know a few making some amazing strides where students shine and show entrepreneurial skills like the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the Duke School in Durham, North Carolina where the university, teachers and students design innovative curriculum together.
I’m going to look for examples, interview people, rant, yell, shake up some systems. It’s all about our kids now. I challenge myself, you, and all of us to roll up our sleeves and get to work. It’s time to plan and develop a vision for local communities so their students can be global citizens of the 21st century.
Are you ready?
We are educators. All of us. If one child drops out of school early, the whole community suffers.
We need to create the conditions that value all children especially our at-risk children. In Oakland, I saw how devastating the dropout rate was long ago when I was writing Digital High School grants and mentioned my concern. Young black boys were dropping out before eighth grade and it’s worse now.
Today only 30% of African-American males are graduating from high school in Oakland. This is wrong. We spend more money on prisons than educating our children. This is more than wrong. We need to start early educating, mentoring, and building community to raise our children — all children. Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland, who was on the school board and understands the problem was on the panel of Class Action this morning (9/4/11) with Christopher Chatmon and Mitchell Kapor.
If children dropout and there are no jobs even for educated youth, what happens to these boys? Oakland Unified School District is taking action. They formed a task force called African-American Male Achievement with Chris Chatmon taking the lead. They are starting young with community schooling opening the schools and gyms with programs like Math and Science Academies. Mitchell Kapor from the Mitchell Kapor Foundation wrote…
“We will all lose if we persist in doing business as usual. Our state cannot continue to claim the mantle of innovation if we continue to ignore the human capital that exists in our communities. We cannot remain competitive in the global marketplace by investing more in filling up prison and jail cells – with disproportionately more poor people and people of color – than in creating an educated workforce.”
Chris Chatmon said on Class Action this morning: “The school system was not set up to meet the needs of black and brown boys. The street culture is stronger than school culture. We need a process of engaging and motivating by taking them through a value education.” Jean Quan is coordinating schools and the community. One big thing is keeping the libraries open.
I love Oakland. I have worked with Oakland schools for years and saw the potential in every child. I am very excited that Oakland Unified School District has this task force and is working with the city and community leaders to make a difference in our children’s lives.
Here’s my take on it:
If we want to keep brown and black boys in schools and help each child reach their fullest potential, schools have to change. The schools still have top-down management issues. Doors are closed. Teachers are lecturing and teaching to the test. I walk through the halls and see kids not connecting and drifting off. They get bored and in trouble. Then it starts spiraling down. Like Chris mentioned: we need to make them co-designers of their learning so it is relevant to them. They not only need more role models, they need to find a purpose, a passion that gives them some hope that their lives will be worth something.
I see these kids. They are smart. But they are told they are not smart. We need to look at what “Smart” means. It is not how well they do on a test. We need to find different methods of assessing what they know and can do. I believe in these kids and am passionate about saving each one. I am only one person but there are more like me out there who want to help make a difference. I have seen the best teaching in Oakland and I work around the country, but teachers are caught in a bureaucratic system that keeps them from innovating. Unless there is a grant, there is no money to help build a new type of curriculum. Unless we “think out of the box”, we continue with the same prescriptive curriculum that does not engage our children.
How about creating a K-12 Innovation community school in Oakland where all learning is centered around each child? Each child is part of a team similar to Finland.
Each child is with one teacher for K-3 and this community has parents, mentors, and community members part of the team for that child. Bring in a teacher education program from a local university and create teams Then another teacher can be assigned as advisor from grades 4-8 so there is consistency to monitor progress. Collect artifacts of learning and reflect via portfolios. Design new learning environments that foster creativity and inquiry. For 9-12 each teacher is an advisor for 20 students who guides them in the portfolio process and finds support in the community for internships, shadowing, interviews, building resumés and interviewing skills, and counseling on career and college readiness. Check out my post on Skills and Values Employers Want.
These are just a few ideas that can help all children and especially those at-risk.
Sharon Eilts, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a middle school (grades 6-8) special education teacher for students with autism spectrum disorder. I met Sharon through the Google Certified Teacher program. I have been following her discussions on social media about special needs and the use of technology so I wanted to find out more. I asked Sharon some questions about her curriculum where she graciously shared her answers with me so I could share them with you especially since it is Special Education week & Autism & ADHD Awareness month.
Q1: I am really intrigued about your social studies curriculum. Can you give me some background on the curriculum and why you developed it?
A1. Firstly, it’s a social skills curriculum which I started developing because when I was transferred to the middle school, there was no established curriculum there. I learned about the people, like Michelle Garcia Winner, who have well established therapies and interventions as well as CAP (Comprehensive autism program), but I was pretty much on my own. I wanted the kids to be safe, learn how to have friends, not be bullied, and be as independent as I could help make them. I wanted others to see what these kids can do, not what they can’t.
Q2. What are the Touch/Talk/Trust concepts of social distancing, boundaries, and relationship specific behaviors? What types of activities did you use to learn they concepts?
A2. Those are from the Circles I materials. I believe that is an important concept that curriculum teaches. I incorporate a variety of activities, taking concepts from various curricula. We read, discuss, role play, video appropriate and inappropriate behaviors, de sensitize for teasing and name calling, yes do worksheets too. I try to give the students as many opportunities to practice social skills in a safe environment.
Q3. Why did you have the students create comic strips using ComicLife? Were there any surprising outcomes from this activity?
A3. All students are so in tune with technology. It has been part of their lives from the beginning. I wanted the students to create a story that other students might enjoy reading. I also want them to have some anonymity which Comic Life provides. What amazed me was that there were students who had some difficulty expressing their feelings verbally, but who were able to share significant information through this medium.
Q4. What does it mean to be a “Social Thinker?”
A4. Successful social thinkers are those, in my opinion, who can manage the vagaries of complex change. My students with autism cannot which means they are able to navigate the world of consistency, rules, and regularity, but have varying degrees of difficulty with non-verbal communication, sudden unanticipated changes, or situations that cause them great internal stress.
Q5. I feel many of your lessons could benefit all children. Can you share one lesson that you feel could be adapted for all middle school children?
A5. Wow, all of them would work for middle school students. I think the activities which allow students to participate in the projects, project-based learning if you will, would be very beneficial. It give the students the opportunity to be creators of their own learning within a framework, of course. They get the chance to learn how to do things, learning the what along the way through experiences.
Sharon compiled a great list of resources with her curriculum. Here’s a few of the resources:
- Social Skills for Middle Schools
- Online interactive sites for students on idioms
- o http://larryferlazzo.edublogs.org/2009/07/03/the-best-sites-to-help-ells-learn-idioms-slang/
- Cyberbullying Websites
- o http://www.quia.com/jg/66234.html
- o http://www.funbrain.com/idioms/
- o http://www.voanews.com/learningenglish/theclassroom/interactive/
- o http://www.vocabulary.co.il/idioms/
- o http://www.vocabulary.co.il/idioms/idioms-game-slang-game/
- o http://www.readwritethink.org/files/resources/interactives/idioms/idiom_1.html
Thank you Sharon for sharing your ideas and projects. I really like what Sharon said “giving students the chance to learn how to do things, learning the what along the way through experiences.” To see more of what is happening in Sharon’s classroom, go to her class website is http://sites.google.com/site/mrseiltsclass.
When you do a search for “What Employers Want” you do not see high test scores anywhere on any job descriptions. We are training our kids for the types of jobs that are not there anymore. If you look at the world now, everything is changing: business, government, banking, and education. We are in a transitional period with many of us kicking and screaming afraid to go where we have to go. The world is going to change if we like it or not.
I still hear “if it was good for me, it’s good for my kid.”
This is unbelievable! That kid is going to be living on that parent’s couch when they are in their 30’s because there will not be any jobs for them. Wait a minute! That’s happening now. Read this article “Is there a doctor in the house?”
So what are the skills employers are looking for? Skills most sought after by employers according to Randall Hansen, Ph.D and Katherine Hansen, Ph.D are:
- Communications Skills (listening, verbal, written)
- Analytical/Research Skills
- Computer/Technical Literacy
- Flexibility/Adaptability/Managing Multiple Priorities
- Interpersonal Abilities
- Leadership/Management Skills
- Multicultural Sensitivity/Awareness
No test scores here!
Kelly Services listed the same skills. Everywhere I looked the same skills.
Check out the 12 Hot buttons from Salary.com
- Results – they are less concerned with your past experience and responsibilities. What did you accomplish?
- Figures and numbers – did you increase revenue at your last job? did you underpromise and overdeliver even if you worked at a non-profit or volunteered?
- Awards and accolades – share if you have received any awards or been recognized for excellence.
- Blog or website – this shows you have good communication skills, but make sure your website looks professional.
- Staying Power – be careful of changing jobs that don’t last two years or less.
- Up-to-date skills and education – be on top of all the latest technology and innovations in your field.
- Ideas and initiative – Be ready to hit the ground running and solve problems without waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
- Attitude – be enthusiastic, flexible, and postitive.
- Leadership skills – be willing to take on more responsibility to improve a product or process.
- Growth potential – go beyond the job description.
- Creativity – ability to think outside the box and solve problems.
- Hobbies – be passionate about something outside of work.
No test scores here!
I’m still looking. If universities base their admissions on high test scores, then maybe we need to rethink higher ed. Uh oh! I’m touching on something here that could get very messy.
How do you teach creativity and passion?
Found an article on Ambition: The Fire in the Belly Employers Want by Jane Genova.
“Those hiring and promoting learned from the downturn and intense economic volatility that’s it’s no longer enough to do ‘just a job,'” says Michael Francoeur, Dale Carnegie Training instructor and executive coach. “Employers now know that what kept their business growing or even saved it were the employees who saw beyond their job description. They pushed to do whatever was needed at the time. Often their most important contribution is persistence. The ambitious stay with a project, no matter how bad things seem. That’s usually because they have the confidence to believe in themselves. The less ambitious would have become discouraged.”
I see that ambition similar to finding someone’s passion. When you are passionate about something, you fight for it. There are no punching time clocks. I’ve watched game designers work way into the night so excited about this or that. Maybe there is that passion about finding a cure for a terrible disease or a new type of transportation that is economical and safe for the environment. Maybe we need this type of passion to come up with strategies to fix our economy or climate change.
So I decided to look for top personal values employers look for in employees:
- Strong work ethics
- Dependability and responsibility
- Possessing a positive attitude
- Honesty and integrity
- Motivated to grow and learn
- Strong self-confidence
No test scores again!
I’m putting this out there to you — teachers, parents, professors, administrators, students. Maybe our whole system needs shaking up. Are we teaching these skills and values?
Students will need to graduate with these skills:
- The ability to act independently and solve problems on their own.
- Strong interpersonal written, oral, and social skills to collaborate with colleagues.
- Strong global literacy to understand people around the world.
- The ability to acquire the information they need to do the job.
- The ability to learn new skills as corporations change strategies to stay competitive.
The CEO of UPS wrote: “ We look for employees who can learn how to learn.”
So what does school like if we teach these skills and values and teach our students to learn how to learn?
Personalized learning means that learning is centered around the students. The students drive their learning around their passion, something they are interested in. Teachers guide the process. Sounds easy but it is a big shift in thinking for educators. Maybe the process can slowly evolve by transforming your classroom by using 20% of the time for passion-driven learning.
Sir Ken Robinson said in an interview for the Vancouver Sun last week, “It isn’t that everyone has to learn different things, although eventually our interests will take us in different directions,” he continued. “But in terms of the things we want all people to learn … personalized learning is finding the best ways to engage with people with different interests, passions and ways of thinking. It’s what good teachers have always known, he added. “That their job is not to teach subjects, but to teach students.”
20% Time at Google
One concept Google is where employees work 80% of their time on Google projects and the other 20% of their time they can devote to any project they want. Google found this to be very successful both in employee satisfaction, but also their workers have come up with projects that have made a difference in peoples lives! They can use the time to develop something new, or if they see something that’s broken, they can use the time to fix it. During the 20 percent time, engineers developed features in the labs and other very popular tools. Google teachers realized the idea of using 20% of your time on something your passionate about seemed like a good idea for schools.
Projects of Interest
Brian Van Dyck (vandyck.brian@gmail) from Buchser Middle School in Santa Clara, California implemented 20% time in both his 6th grade Math class and 7th Grade Technology classes. Brian fashioned the 20% guidelines much in the same manner they are implemented at Google. Students choose their own projects of interest based on the scope of the course outline. For instance, in Math 6, students can pursue any project directly related to the content standards of the course. One Math 6 student chose the construction of 3 dimensional models of geometrical shapes to explore the connection with ratio and scale. This student went one step further and explored computer based interactive models that allowed for the manipulation of size, volume, surface area etc…. As a result there is a fabulous collection of wooden 3D geometrical shapes for use in Brian’s own instruction. In his technology courses, students explored self paced independent learning of some introductory computer programming languages. These “Self Taught” projects included ALICE, SCRATCH, BYOB, Processing (to control robotics), Android App Inventor, and JES (Python). As it is related to the course standards, these students took it upon themselves to learn these tools and create some fantastic projects.
To help manage the 20% time project work, students follow a course syllabus outlining the required learning activities/projects and course standards. This syllabus acts as a checklist of sorts. Students check in with Brian during guided practice and independent student work time to show him artifacts and evidence that they are on track for the completion of their required tasks. Any student that has successfully demonstrated that they are on track to complete these requirements may use guided practice and independent student work time to pursue their 20% projects.
At most Google sites they have something called “Beer and Demos” where Googlers share their completed and often uncompleted work over beers during their presentations. Brian has a “Rootbeer and Demos” day scheduled every 2 weeks for students to showcase their 20% project progress.
Break Through Time
Gemma Rennie (email@example.com) and Georgie Hamilton (firstname.lastname@example.org) from Learning Hub 2 at Stonefields School, Auckland, New Zealand (http://www.stonefields.school.nz/) have their 20% time as Breakthrough time. This is where all the children from Yr 1-8 choose what interests them and organise their learning time for one day a week. is a learning organization that designs learning to cause learning for each learner. Stonefield develops each learner holistically to create curious individuals who relate well to others. The four rocks in the Stonefield’s logo represent the four elements of the learner.
Breakthrough time encourages students to pursue their passion. Here’s an example of Savannah performing a concert for the other students. She learned how to play the guitar, organize a concert, and promoted the concert herself. http://stonefieldsrocks.blogspot.com/2011/07/savannah-performing-rockin-robin.html
This is just the beginning of my posts on 20% time. I used to do iSearches with students in the early 1990s. I talked to teachers in Orinda USD who did Magic Boxes where students chose a topic to study once a week. I believe we are going to see more focus on student-centered learning and personalizing learning. This is one aspect that is very interesting and could be adopted by teachers even if they are concerned about keeping test scores up. Motivation and engagement really matter.
I provide coaching for public schools that work extremely hard to bring up their AYP (overall test scores) by focusing on motivating students to want to learn. I have been working with schools since the early 90s. I realized early in 2003 that NCLB (No Child Left Behind) was set up for public schools to fail.
No matter what a school did — they could not meet the goals. You see – many students don’t really care how they do on the test because they don’t see how this impacts them. The test is more about how the school and teachers are doing. Teachers are evaluated on the scores even though they are told they are not. Now I do see some schools taking the data to differentiate instruction but it still is teaching to the test. Teachers burn out. Principals are reassigned. Schools close. Communities suffer. (Survey on issues surrounding NCLB authorization)
Some schools are now becoming creative by bringing back project-based learning, inquiry, creativity, but many of the good teachers that taught like this left or retired. New teachers who are content experts who go through a few weeks of training are thrown in a classroom with little classroom management or even an idea of what project-based learning (PBL) is. They stay 2 years to forgive their loans. Actually I don’t blame them. Teaching is hard work. It sounds pretty neat for people who want to make a difference and are told they would be a great teacher. It’s just that teaching is different since NCLB was put in place.
With NCLB, for the last 11 years, a whole generation of students and teachers only know to teach to the test. It’s going to take some work to change these beliefs and move to a more student-centered model. It’s supposed to be all about our kids — right? Read about Virginia and NCLB
Making teachers accountable based on test scores alone hasn’t been working. There are ways to create a team (parent, teacher, child) to monitor learning progress. The Reggio Emillia Approach designed in Italy after World War II is centered around the pre-school child where the teacher monitors progress, guides the learning, and brings in the parent and the learning environment as support. This is being looked at closely in the US as an approach for K-12.
To really make a difference in a child’s life, there needs to be a smaller teacher to student ratio, time for reflection, group and individual work, hands-on activities, problem-solving, learning to question, etc. Some schools are starting early with students as part of an advisory group – they keep the same teacher or advisor through their elementary years. This is what they do in Finland. Teachers need more collaborative time to plan and learn from each other.
Right now teachers are barely keeping their heads above water – hoping to cover the curriculum. Other countries have found that if you teach students to question, be critical thinkers, they don’t need to be spoon-fed all the information. They just need to learn how to find the information themselves, analyze it and synthesize it in their own words. It is a matter of going deeper (Depth not Breadth). Teach them how to fish instead of fishing for them. If they understand how to think critically, ask the right questions, be creative and innovative, use the appropriate tools for the task at hand, then they can compete in this global marketplace. Not all students are college-bound. Maybe we need to rethink learning goals and what is appropriate for each child. School is just starting and we can make a difference.
This is a critical time and we don’t want to leave any of our children behind.