Two things I learned in Utah

Just got back from a whirlwind tour of the Waterford Early Learning Institute in Salt Lake City. I’m usually pretty cautious about recommending educational programs or software, but I have to say that I’m pretty impressed with Waterford. It provides a solid foundation for literacy, numeracy and science concepts for preschoolers up through Kindergarten and first grade. Based on decades of best practices for teaching young children, there is some high quality research that indicate incredible gains for children using the program as part of a balanced literacy and mathematics curriculum.

I know it’s a time of budget cuts, educational woes and misery, debate over who is to blame (teachers and unions being the most popular scapegoats at the moment, followed by poverty) … so when will we get a dose of common sense in the discussion? If we invest wisely (and we’re not talking millions here, for heaven’s sake) in our youngest learners to insure they are on a path to solid literacy and numeracy understandings by they time they are 7 years old … just think what we would end up saving – money and time that we would certainly have to spend on special education, legal fees, intervention programs, school reform headaches, incarceration, rehabilitation – you name it. A lack of prudent investment in young children will result in wildly increasing (and most likely ineffective) spending on those kids as they get older, struggle, and do not become happy and productive members of society. I’m not saying Waterford is the answer (and I don’t receive a penny if someone buys the program), but it sure is a tried and true option. The folks at Waterford are a dedicated bunch, and all their energy is focused on creating a personalized and effective experience to support young children as they develop into happy and successful learners.

So that was the first thing I learned … well, I guess I didn’t learn it – it’s a bit of a no-brainer. But the visit to Waterford really brought it home. The solutions are out there.

And the second thing … Utah is one beautiful place! Salt Lake City, ringed by snow-capped mountains, is a comfortable city, both modern and old-timey all at once. The folks are reserved, but warm. And the famed Park City resort – although I felt a bit like I was in a Disney-ized realization of an old mining town – couldn’t be beat for its beauty. Old miner’s homes at the bottom of the hill, million dollar resort homes heading up to the ski slopes – and all around, the snow capped mountains in the crisp, sharp sunlight. Worth a visit.

How to present data

If you’ve never seen Gapminder … you really should check it out. It’s one of the clearest graphical representations of world data that you’ll find – and it’s easy to use and highly interactive.

Now there’s Gapminder Desktop – making it even easier to save and display graphical information. Watch this charming explanation from Hans Rosling and you’ll be hooked.

Science Visualization Studio

Dr. Horace Mitchell

They take data from scientists around the world and create animations and video to explain – offers these analyses free to anyone in the world:

Archive of information – not highly organized: intent for others to use the information as needed

“The mission of the Scientific Visualization Studio is to facilitate scientific inquiry and outreach within NASA programs through visualization. To that end, the SVS works closely with scientists in the creation of visualization products, systems, and processes in order to promote a greater understanding of Earth and Space Science research activities at Goddard Space Flight Center and within the NASA research community.

All the visualizations created by the SVS (currently totaling over 3,000) are accessible to you through this Web site. More recent animations are provided as MPEG-4s, MPEG-2s, and MPEG-1s. Some animations are available in high definition as well as NTSC format. Where possible, the original digital images used to make these animations have been made accessible. Lastly, high and low resolution stills, created from the visualizations, are included, with previews for selective downloading.”

NASA eClips

NASA eClips™ are short, relevant educational video segments. These videos inspire and engage students, helping them see real world connections. New video segments are produced weekly exploring current applications of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, topics. The programs are produced for targeted audiences: K-5, 6-8, 9-12 and the general public.

NASA eClips™ offer unlimited flexibility in the classroom for timing, sequencing and pacing instruction to meet the needs of students and classroom instructors. Educational material for this program is selected based on national curriculum standards identified by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, or NCTM, the National Science Teachers Association, or NSTA, and the International Society for Technology in Education, or ISTE.

Curriculum Mapping tool introduced as part of SAS

Pennsylvania school districts will be interested to know that the PA Department of Education is unveiling a Curriculum Mapping tool – free – as part of the Standards Aligned System (SAS). I was able to start using the CM tool last week in Harrisburg and it is comparable to many of the commercial products on the market (Rubicon Atlas, OnHand Schools, Performance Pathways, etc.). While all the bugs are still not worked out, it’s pretty user friendly and highly customizable. The Curriculum Mapping tool was developed to provide PA districts equity in access and resources. Many schools that have never had access to this type of tool will now be able to effectively work on curriculum development. Schools already using a pricy tool might want to consider the cost benefits of switching over.

More than likely PDE will be rolling this out through local Intermediate Units, so stay tuned.

Google Search Stories

By now, everyone’s probably seen this charming video:

Of course, Google now makes it unbelievably easy to create search stories by plugging in some search terms, selecting music, and voilá! What a great project to do with kids – quick and simple story-telling, 21st century style (and a great way to teach inference!)

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Chris Lehman, Principal of SLA – Keynote at PETE&C

Four biases …
1) School 2.0 is progressive education with 21st century tools (go back and re-read Dewey) … it is easier than we think … we finally have the tools to realize Dewey’s dream
2) Citizenry … not workforce – our job is not to co-create, with our students, the 21st century citizens. By doing that, we’ll get the workforce we need … and the activists, artists, parents, etc
3) Educators, parents, and students know more about school than politicians … but how do we regain that power we have ceded to others
4) Public Education is the cornerstone of the US democratic experience – without it, we don’t have a true democracy; RttT is about segmenting and fragmenting us by creating groups of winners & losers

The Great Big Question: How can we have so many passionate, dedicated educators in our schools and still have so many problems?
-overwhelming majority of teachers care passionately about children and work very hard, so why is there a problem?
-we must fix the system: put a good person into a bad system and the system will win every time

The world in which we live: the maddening paradox of education 2010
We graduate more students from high school in this era than we have ever before in our history (not just numbers but by %age) … and yet, we talk about our failing schools and “the good old days” (which weren’t actually so good)

Data Driven Decisions
-assumes that you use good data — but good data is not cheap or easy to collect
-the data we use to measure our students is the cheapest data available (the multiple choice scantron test)
-in fact we have great data on our students – it’s the work they do every day and we need to make that matter again

Accountability = External … Responsibility = Internal
-we have ceded control
-we live in an era of accountability
-we need to change the language because it trickles down
-if we want to own our schools and our kids, we must take responsibility ourselves – that will trump accountability

“Just a teacher” syndrome
-too often we resign to the idea that “I’m just a teacher”
-teachers have great influence
-don’t sit back and allow school to “happen” to students – fight for what we believe in

How? We organize …
-not in the unionization sense … unions cannot rest on the notion “we know what’s best for teachers” because that loses the higher ground to groups that say “we know what’s best for kids”
-teachers need to lead the way
-we should call politicians on the carpet, but we don’t
-if we don’t want to stop this happening to our schools, we must stop them

Education … not training
-today we are training students to follow directions or do a job that may or not exist
-in reality, the jobs aren’t there but it’s easier to blame schools than the lack of jobs
-if we want kids who can figure out what it’s going to look like, it’s not about teaching them to take a test, it’s about teaching them to think

A big problem … a lack of humility
-“I did everything I could, it’s not my fault the kids didn’t get it” … we have to admit that we fail: if a we fail a child, then we failed
-Politicians claim they know all there is to know – “we just have to do it” … nothing but hubris

A related problem … the discussion is a-historical
-it’s as if we never tried to fix schools before
-“schools need to be more like businesses” … we’ve done that – that’s why we follow the factory model
-we need to be better scholars of our own profession and know what came before us
-“why do we do it this way?” because we always have

“What the school system needs to understand is that its strength lies, not in the strength of the central organization, but in the strength of the individual school, not in making one school like another, but in making each school a distinct unit. The need of the system is the preservation of its units, so that each school can keep itself alive, wide awake, responsive to its people, easily adaptable, the best of its kind.” – Angelo Patri – A Schoolmaster of the Great City (written in 1917)

“What’s Good?” is a better question than “What’s New?”
-we chase the new …
-the best collaborative tool is the one we agree to use together

Tell a Better Story … We Must Have Vision
-we need a better way to talk about education

You Can’t Standardize
-how do you have differentiated instruction and standardized testing, standardized curriculum
-differentiated instruction, differentiated schools
-if differentiated instruction is good, then so are differentiated classrooms, differentiated assessments

We Learn Best When It Matters To Us
-“If you want creative workers, give them enough time to play.” – John Cleese
-MIT media lab – lifelong kindergarten
-“All children are artists but we beat that out of them in school.” – Pablo Picasso

Things are Different … How Do We Deal With That?
-kids are learning differently … in too many schools, we ask kids to divorce themselves 7-1/2 hours a day from the way they live their lives
-it’s as if we deny them the oxygen they breathe …
-however, if discipline is your first priority, you’ll never get to your second
-rather than ban cell phones, let’s teach kids to use them well, use them intelligently

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” – Alvin Toffler
-What do we have to unlearn in our schools?
-As teachers … what are we willing to unlearn and relearn? What practices are outdated?

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” -John Dewey

So what do we do? Ideas are easy … implementation is hard …

Have a vision and build everything around that vision
-bring people together, build consensus
-what do we believe? how does our school reflect that?
-refer to Coalition of Essential Schools 10 core values; Christian Long Learning Manifesto

What do you want for SLA kids?
-thoughtful (meaning, full of thought)

… if they are, they will be able to figure the rest out

Caring Institutions
-we teach kids, not subjects
-for a mission statement to matter, you must be able to point to systemic processes that do it
-change your language: stop saying “I teach science” … say “I teach kids science”

Advisory Program
-every adult has a group for 4 years of HS … 20 students
-powerful for students – they always have an advocate
-powerful for parents – they always have a point of contact
-powerful for teachers – they hold each other accountable

Inquiry Driven
-what are the questions we can ask together?
-true inquiry … the one question we never know the answer to: “What do you think?”

Student Centered
-it’s not about us, it’s about them
-cannot say “I taught it, they didn’t learn it”

Teacher Mentored
-kids need adults, especially in this changing world
-teachers that kids see every day can be the most important adults in their lives

-we can learn from many
-schools are not babysitters
-schools cannot be black boxes
-technology can help – you don’t need to be IN the school to be part of the school

-synthesis works: my idea is better when it intersects with yours and is made better by it

-school has to matter
-dare kids to do work that matters – when you do, they will do it well

-the day has to make sense
-we ask kids to shift gears too rapidly (especially in a 42-minute period day); then we’re surprised when they don’t remember what happened in 1st period
-integrate the subjects thematically so that they all make more sense

-we need to think more about thinking
-won’t remember details, but will remember how to think, learn

-assessment as real and transparent
-the best assessment is of the work the students do

Understanding Driven & Project Based Classrooms
-how we organize the learning
-traditional classrooms are recall-based: at the end of a unit when you really want to know what the kids have learned, what assessment do you give? If it’s a test, then the project is the assessment (otherwise you do assessment-based learning with projects along the way)
-projects have to be about REAL work – challenging, rigorous, and authentic
-if you really want to know if kids have learned something, make them do it, apply it, transfer it

What do we gain in this model?
-authenticity, engagement, learning

What do we lose?
-the illusion that we can measure everything a child has learned
-the idea that we can have it all look the same
-the idea that this is easy … because this is hard?

Technology Must Be Like Oxygen
-ubiquitous, necessary, and invisible
-part of what we do all the time
-we have to stop talking about it so much
-it’s not about a “blog project” … the ideas must come first

-why do we take away cell phones, ipods?
-what are the kids doing wrong?
-paraphrasing Neil Postman: certain technologies are not additive, they are transformative (i.e. the printing press)
-we have schools + computers … but what we really need is brand new schools
-we have to give kids access to the tools but then we have to change our pedagogy

-we can invite the world to our schools
-use moodle to create a walled garden; use droople when you want to publish

-we have to be willing to transform our role as teachers
-we still have one last thing to teach our kids and it’s the most important: wisdom

The role of technology in writing

New report on the role of technology and its impact on young people’s writing … from the UK National Literacy Trust:

Most young people write regularly and young people write technology-based
materials, such as text and instant messages, most frequently. While owning a mobile phone
does not appear to alter young people’s writing behaviour, having a profile on a social
networking site or having a blog is connected to enjoyment of writing and confidence in writing.
Young people today use computers regularly and believe that computers are beneficial to their

We believe it is paramount that the school curriculum reflects and utilises writing forms that
young people enjoy and engage with, in order to demonstrate that writing is more than a
compulsory task: it is an essential life skill.

Full report (pdf): Young people and writing: Attitudes, behavior and the role of technology
Executive summary (pdf): Young people and writing: Executive summary