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Making a Difference

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Rethinking 21st Century Skills

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.

Science Leadership AcademyI 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?
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Building Community Schools to Save our Children

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."

Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/05/08/ED5L1JD5MR.DTL#ixzz1X0GJpsNx

Oakland Boy DrawingChris 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.

Idea:
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.
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Skills and Values Employers Want

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.”
Kids Coming HomeThis 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
  • Planning/Organizing
  • Problem-Solving/Reasoning/Creativity
  • Teamwork
 
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
    1. Results - they are less concerned with your past experience and responsibilities. What did you accomplish?
    2. 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?
    3. Awards and accolades - share if you have received any awards or been recognized for excellence.
    4. Blog or website - this shows you have good communication skills, but make sure your website looks professional.
    5. Staying Power - be careful of changing jobs that don’t last two years or less.
    6. Up-to-date skills and education - be on top of all the latest technology and innovations in your field.
    7. Ideas and initiative - Be ready to hit the ground running and solve problems without waiting for someone to tell you what to do.
Creativity
  • 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
  • Adaptability
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Self-motivated
  • Motivated to grow and learn
  • Strong self-confidence
  • Professionalism
  • Loyalty
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?
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Fail Better

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Thomas Edison

"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." Robert F. Kennedy

For the past decade, we have been teaching with the idea of only one right answer. Failure was and is not an option. But the real way to learn is to try, fail, and try again. We learn from our failures. We also predict the future based on our past. However, we can learn from the past and all the failed predictions.

"Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time, more intelligently." Henry Ford
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Let Go and Let Learning Happen

Barbara Bray writes about teaching and learning. It is about kids, their lives and letting go so they can learn. Stop teaching tools and testing them about facts. Read more
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Who dunnit?

I cannot even tell you how exciting it is to work with teachers who are so passionate about teaching and coming up with ways to motivate and engage their students. This last week was like that. I am working at two middle schools in Oakland who just finished testing.  Madison Middle School is preparing for a Math/Science Expo on June 7th. I love this!

It's all about teamwork, collaboration, inquiry, roles and responsibility.

Think CSI. The eighth grade kids came up with the title "CSI Oakland" and we're putting together five crime scenes. Shhhhhh! We cannot let all the crimes out of the bag yet. Think money stolen --- window broken --- locker vandalized and more. We have fourteen suspects. Cannot tell you who they are, but they have mugshots with prison numbers, sour faces, and aliases. Read more

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Getting Back to Learning After Testing

I work with several public middle schools who are in the middle of testing. The mood and morale is awful. Students are complaining of headaches and some are skipping school. Teachers are asking me to help them create projects now so as soon as they stop testing, their students can get back to real learning that is connected to what is relevant to them.

Students need to be part of the design team developing questions about what means something to them. One topic we are working on is a six week project on Global Climate Change. We took a template of an existing project and cloned it. That was easy. Now the hard part.. designing group activities where each child has a role and responsibilities. The product they will create in their group is a 30 second public service announcement (PSA) about a topic involving Global Climate Change.

We brainstormed ideas for activities:
  • class will view a video on Global Climate Change.
  • the class will brainstorm ideas for topics about climate change using Inspiration.
  • students will group by topic (4 to a group).
  • each group will mindmap ideas and questions about their topic. They need to come up with at least ten questions. Refer to Developing Questions for Critical Thinking using Bloom's Revised Taxonomy.The will post their questions around the room and on a comment on the website.
  • group roles could include: researchers, actors, director, camera person, graphic artist, writers.
  • each group will be responsible for a category with questions and answers for the jeopardy game.
  • groups will research their topic on the Internet and find the causes, effects, and how people can change the effects.
  • each student will calculate their carbon footprint.
  • all topics will be pulled together as the jeopardy game and played in class. The jeopardy game will be embedded in SlideShare and the project website.
  • the class will Skype with a local TV meteorologist about weather and the climate. Each group will choose one question to ask and discuss with the meteorologist. the Skype session will be recorded and saved to the website.
  • each group will then write a paragraph (100 words) about their topic and hand it to another group for feedback.  Questions to consider: Is it informative about the topic? Is there a call to action for the audience?
  • each group will use the feedback to create a storyboard with no more than 8 scenes and present to two other groups for feedback and approval.
  • each group will design or find the graphics, costumes, charts, etc. for each scene and practice each scene so the PSA is no more than 30 seconds.
  • each group will film and edit their PSA.
  • groups will show off their PSA to each other.
  • class will showcase their PSAs to school and parents.

This is big. It will take six weeks but these 6th grade students will always remember what they did and be proud of it. My job is in the background. This is too much for a teacher to do alone if they have never done anything like it before. I'm their coach.

This is so much fun. I want to do more. I am working with several other teachers to design different projects, playshops for teachers and more. One cool project is a CSI project. I'm working on that today. I wish learning could be like this everyday where students own it. Teachers are pulled in so many directions and spending months to prepare for tests that impact the school not the child. This is very upsetting to me. It should all be about the child -- the learner.

In the future, we'll look back and shake our heads for taking creativity and critical thinking out of schools for a whole generation of kids.  It's time to bring joy back and make learning relevant to the real world.
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Learn More. Teach Less.

There is a lot of controversy about professional development especially now when budgets are tight. I haven't blogged for some time because I have been steaming about what is happening in our schools -- for our children. This is their future we are messing with. Okay so here I go. I'm going to rant a little. Are you ready?

I'm a coach. I go into the schools and watch what teachers have to do now. In most states, it's testing time. Some schools are off this week. For the past 5-6 weeks, teachers have been teaching to the test. I don't know about you, but to stop everything and teach to the test is outrageous. Is this really for our kids or to keep the school open? Or to really leave every poor child behind? Forget projects. Forget engagement. I know. I know. Accountability. Student data. If the data takes in account more than standardized tests. How about authentic assessment? A collection of evidence of learning.

What do our children need for their future? I can tell you it is not about knowing FACTS and how to answer a multiple choice test. That is unless they want to play Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. The jobs they will need expect them to know how to be creative, innovative, and be able to discern what they find is a fact or an opinion. News is bombarding us on the Internet and TV. Most children have cell phones but they are not allowed to use them in most schools. Why? Why are we so afraid of them. Cell phones are great tools and will become more of a factor in our lives. Just watch! There are more cell phones than landlines now. Students use their cell phone even more than the TV or computer. They rarely read newspapers anymore unless it's on their phone. How do they know if the information they read online is biased, propaganda, or a big fat lie? We used to teach life skills and connect to real-world activities. We need to change the focus on facts and show students how to use information effectively, find it, evaluate it, and then even publish. I bet the majority of your students use some form of social media like Facebook and Twitter. I bet if you had students use their cell phones in school, they would be able to read, write, and publish using them. Ask them to text each other notes and brainstorm ideas with a mindmap.

Today the focus is on basic skills: math and reading. In some countries, children don't start school until they are seven. We expect our children to start reading in Kindergarten. I remember when Kindergarten was where kids learned how to socialize. A good friend of mine retired when she was spending more time teaching the kids how to bubble in a bubble for the test then having them sing or dance.

This is a tough time because of the economy. We are focusing on building "High Quality Teachers," but we take away what teachers need to become effective.  The problem for me is the definition of a "High Quality Teacher." It is different depending on your bias about testing. Is a "High Quality Teacher" an expert in their content field but have no skills on how to do group kids for teamwork. One of the main characteristics needed in many high paying jobs is teamwork and collaboration.

If we really want our students to understand the concepts in the standards, then let them teach each other -- co-design with your students projects that make sense. Students want to make a difference. I bet if we asked our kids to come up with questions about climate change, they would come up with hundreds of questions. Let them take one question and brainstorm more. Then design a public service 30 second movie to broadcast on YouTube. Just imagine how many standards they would meet and understand after a project like this.

Think about a project you did in school as a child, if you did. Then think about what you learned from a standardized test. What do you remember? I know we need some background information, but let's be more creative about it. I remember making a paper maché relief map in third grade. I don't remember much of anything else that year.

I cannot sit in a lecture anymore myself. I cannot even imagine children today sitting still for five minutes. Teachers are teaching more and students are learning less. They may get it for the test, but do they retain it?

I'd like to challenge a school or district to try a pilot with several groups of students. Follow them over several years. With one group (your control group), everything is like it is now. Then another group, have them make a movie with their Smart phone, do projects, teach each other. Test the groups the same. I wonder who will retain the information more. I'd love to be part of it. Let me know if you want to try this.
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Brand Yourself

What is your Unique Selling Position (USP)? How do you stand out in a crowd or in social media so you are remarkable and different enough to get noticed by an employer or client?

You can do this by branding yourself. The job market is tough and sending thousands of resumés may not be the right way to get that "job" you want. I am older than most job-seekers but I learned some things about using the tools available to get known. I read this article from AARP and thought I’d share and adapt the tips for you.

  1. Find your passion. It’s all about what you believe in and thinking and looking positive about it. Believe in yourself and what you are doing. If you do, others will too. "Accepting yourself is the most important ingredient in the self-confidence formula."
  2. Give an elevator speech.Come up with a short 60 second pitch that comes across who you are, what you do best, and why others should believe in you. Make it authentic, strong, and personal and make it stand out from your competition.
  3. Validate your passion.You believe in what you are doing. You are positive about it. Find others that do to. Encourage your believers to share your passion and get the buzz out all over the place. Find your "Google Quotient" using the Online ID Calculator (www.onlineidcalculator.com) to see how many relevant hits your name generates in a web search. Use social media like Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter to build your PLN (Personal Learning Network).
  4. Promote your passion. Design business cards that promote you and your brand and give them out to everyone after your elevator speech. Link to your website that promotes you also. Have all of your contact information so people can find you.
  5. Come up with your look. Come up with your look and dress the part. You may have a signature accessory, color, or shoes. Just look as professional as you can with crazy boots or wild glasses.

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Perspective and Empathy

Holidays bring out the best and worst of people. The economy is putting stress on all of us no matter what your income. If you are poor, you are probably having more problems than just not having enough money to pay bills. I work with a high poverty middle school and am so in awe of children who put up with so much. One of the 6th grade teachers is doing "I am from" poems.

I read poems that tore at my heart strings. One boy wrote about living in a house with drunks and his mother dying of alcoholism. He had other things in the poem that I'll share later when they create their digital stories with their poems. Other students wrote about unbelievable issues of lives unknown to me. I had to go out of the room and cry.

I'm so involved with my own life that I forget what our children are going through. All of us have more issues now than ever before because of the economy. Poor children are going through the most. They have no voice. Social services are overwhelmed and underfunded. They can only do so much. Schools have cut counselors and teachers are younger and don't have the background or experience to deal with these issues. We are leaving more of our poor children behind than ever.

The reasons why they give up or leave school is more than the school's problem. It is society's problem. It is a matter of taking on their perspective and having empathy for their situation. It is our duty as adults to listen and to try to figure out what is happening to the child.

So I go back to my years in middle school: a white middle class 11-13 year old girl in Maryland. I remember wanting to be popular and liked. It was not the best time of my life. I was scared and didn't know what was happening to my body. I was changing. I cried a lot for no reasons. I loved this boy or that boy. If they didn't talk to me, I was devastated. So my perspective of middle school might have been the same as many young white middle class girls. I don't even remember my teachers or the classes I took. I do remember sewing class and wearing one of my creations in a fashion show. But forget math or history. I don't remember any of that. I remember I lost my best friend to Hodgkinson's disease. That was awful, but I never knew anyone who had been shot or murdered.

This group of children I'm working with all know someone who has been shot. Many of them had a relative shot, a family member in jail, very rarely have breakfast or food on the table. I cannot even imagine what they go through. One child sleeps in the bathtub because that is the only safe place. Families are in trouble all over the US. If you are in trouble, there's probably anger, yelling, crying, and everyone in the family is impacted. We cannot forget the children. What adults do in their homes or at school impacts the children.

Some children internalize everything so you never know there's a problem. They smile on the outside and are so hurt on the inside. What I love about these "I am from" poems is that sometimes one child who is really in trouble opens up and writes what is happening to them. I believe our job as educators is more than teaching to a test especially for children at-risk and in crisis. Help your children to open up and share their feelings. Look at their perspective on life and have empathy for them. That's what the holidays are about: sharing and loving each other -- kindness and compassion.
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