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This year ISTE put on what appeared to me to be the biggest education extravaganza to date. The number of participants was said to be somewhere between 20 and 22 thousand educators. I never verified that number but based on the food lines it seemed likely to be true.
Of course there was apparently a huge number of connected educators in attendance. I say apparently, because in reality I don’t believe it was so many. Many connected educators volunteer to do sessions. Many are also bloggers. A natural gathering place for them to gather, interact, and network is at the Bloggers Café, or the PLN Lounge. Twitter has added a whole new dimension to these education conferences where educators connected to other educators through various Social Media can meet up face to face. This enables real-time collaboration with people who have had a virtual relationship with each other for a while. Even if there were a thousand connected educators meeting at the Bloggers Café all at once (and there weren’t), It would seem to those gathered that the entire conference was connected. Of course this ignores the 21,000 other educators who were not connected.
I guess my take away for this is that being connected networks you with more people to have a good time with, as well as extend collaboration, but a majority of educators have yet to discover this. One would think that would be a lure for more educators to connect, but of course the only people who recognize these benefits are those who are connected. I imagine most of the people reading this blog are connected as well, so I am probably and again spinning my wheels on this subject.
I found this year’s conference to be a bit overwhelming. To me it seemed that many of the events and some sessions were trying very hard to create an atmosphere that was experienced with smaller numbers from previous conferences. That intimacy however, was lost with the numbers of participants this year. There were some invitation only sessions, as well as paid sessions with smaller numbers that I did find more enjoyable, but again, I attend many conferences and do not view them through the eyes of a new attendee. I might be too critical here.
I loved the fact that connected educators were actively backchanneling sessions and events. Tweets were flying over the Twitterstream as the #ISTE2014 hashtag trended on Twitter. Photos were much more prevalent in tweets than in past years, because that process has been simplified. That picture process has both good and bad aspects attached to it. It is great to see the session engagement. The pictures from some of the social gatherings however, may paint a slightly distorted view of conferencing by educators. It may give an impression that the social events outweighed the collaboration and interaction. The social events were fun, but it was as much a part of networking as any of the conference.
The vendor floor was beyond huge this year. It was quite the carnival atmosphere at times. If anyone would benefit from collaboration at these conferences it would be the vendors. There is a great deal of redundancy in education products. I wish more vendors would take a pass on the bells and whistles of their product and talk more about pedagogy and how their products fit in, as well as how they don’t. That requires an educator’s perspective, and not every product designer seeks that out. Those that do seek that perspective however seem to attract me more than the others.
One vendor had a closed booth with dollar bills being blown around inside. People lined up for a chance to step inside to beat the airflow for the dollars. The attraction was obviously the lure to get folks in, but who paid attention to the product? There were some products that I will address in a subsequent post, which I rarely do. These products were exceptional and should be recognized.
As ISTE came to a close this year, my reflection was that bigger is not always better. I was also mystified by the choices in keynotes. If one was to judge by the tweets about the keynotes, one was somewhat of a miss, one was on the mark, and one left many wondering why it was a keynote at all. I must admit that I did not view the keynotes in the lecture hall, but on screens in the gathering places in the conference. I enjoy the keynotes better when I can openly comment and yell at the screen if I have to. It would seem that I was not alone in these endeavors.
It should be noted that ISTE this year did have people’s Twitter handles on their nametags, an innovation. Of course mine was messed up, but who am I to complain? Now I wish they would take another suggestion and do an unconference, or Edcamp segment in the middle of the conference. This would allow educators to further explore those subjects that they learned about in earlier more conventional sessions. It would also break up the “sit and get” mentality of a conference. It would take as little as an hours worth of sessions.
For as much as we hear that we need and want innovation in education, I would expect to see it first in Education conferences. They are hyped to be conferences led by the innovators in education, but there is little that changes in conferences from year to year. We are still sitting through lectures and presentations with limited audience engagement. We are not yet directing our learning, but attending sessions devised and approved a year in advance. I realize that change is hard and takes time, but our society is demanding that we as educators do it more readily and now. We need to change in order stay relevant. How does an irrelevant education system prepare kids for their future?
I have been thinking lately about professional relationships and what role they play in how we learn as professionals, and as people. It would be difficult to learn much in total isolation. We are social beings, so exchanging ideas and opinions is a natural occurrence for us. I think we tend to seek out people with whom we can share things. We have personal relationships to share personal things, professional relationships to share professional things, and casual relationships to handle everything else. These relationships validate, negate, or modify our ideas. We learn from this.
Our culture’s support of these relationships may best be reflected in our support of the Restaurant and Bar industry. I guess these casual, and personal relationships are as much a part of that industry as food and booze. Places of business, and education are where professional relationships mostly reside. Although many faculty have been known to gather on a Friday afternoon at a watering hole outside the school district limits.
Many of these relationships are very fluid depending on our need to share and learn specific things at various times of our lives. People come and go in our lives continuously. Many of us have people that we refer to as our mentors. A mentor, I believe, is a person who heavily influenced us at specific times in our careers by exchanging, supporting, questioning, and validating our ideas about our profession. All of this is based on trust, which can only be established within a relationship.
Professional relationships prior to the 21st Century were, with the exception of the occasional pen pal, a face-to-face endeavor. As educators, professional relationships were most often within the school building in which an educator worked. Depending on the size and quality of the faculty, as well as the school’s culture, this was a hit or miss proposition for professional learning. If an educator was limited in professional relationships within the work environment, he, or she could attend classes in local colleges seeking out professional relationships with other teachers attempting the same collegial connections. As the rates for taking courses, continued to rise, higher Ed became a very costly drain on a teacher’s salary. Local, statewide, or national education conferences also provided exposure to more professional relationships, but many teachers were not privy to attending these conferences on a regular basis.
I was recently made aware of the principle of 10,000 hours. That is the theory that it takes 10,000 hours to completely master a complex skill. If there ever was a list of complex skills, teaching would be at the top. To make it even more complex it is also a moving target. Teaching today is constantly changing and evolving. In order to stay relevant and up to date, today’s educators need to be in touch with those changes. They need to embrace, experiment, and improve, or reject new pedagogy and methodology in education. They need to absorb and understand new and developing content that pops up every day. Education is not a static profession.
Educators, more than ever, need to be able to take a new idea and “run it up the flagpole”. The responses to that idea however need to come from people who have a clue. The relationships that educators count on need to be with people who are relevant and open to new ideas. This type of educator may not be found in large numbers in all schools across our country. Relationships with people who are rooted in the past will be of little help in a world driven by technology and a need for evolving an education system to meet the needs of kids who will not be living in the 20th century.
If technology is seen as the problem in driving the culture too fast for education to adjust and keep up, it may also be seen as a solution to that very same problem. If relationships are the stuff of better learning, then let technology provide better ways to relate. It is technology that can expand an educator’s relationships beyond the limits of a school, or district, or state, or even a country. Relationships with other educators, without the expense of taking costly courses are made possible. Contacts can be made with leading thought leaders, authors, and renowned experts in the field of education. Webinars are rapidly replacing the lecture halls. Through technology face-to-Face interactions are now possible with multiple people in multiple locations. The potential for meaningful relationships through technology are endless.
All of this is taking place today with connected educators worldwide. It only takes about twenty minutes a day, at any time of day, to maintain. That 10,000 hour goal will be whittled away after awhile, but it would go more quickly with more time spent in these relationships which are both uplifting and thought provoking. Those factors encourage more engagement with each visit to the connected community. Learning becomes self directed, authentic, and, dare I say, fun.
The big picture of this can be overwhelming to a novice. It is a mindset change that requires understanding the culture of connectedness before a real immersion can take place. Educators need a basic knowledge of digital literacy to get started. This will quickly, and very painlessly grow with continued connectedness. There are several connected communities to help educators get started. The Educator’s PLN is a start. www.edupln.com.
Twitter is probably the best way to experience the need and benefit to connectedness in developing both professional and personal relationships with other educators. Remember that in a group of like-minded people, as smart as any individual is, the group is always smarter. Of course, if you are reading this online, you are probably already connected and all of this makes sense, since you have already drunk the Kool-aid. Please print it out and share with an unconnected colleague. To better educate our kids we need to better educate their educators.
Do you remember the film “Starman" (Jeff Bridges plays a being from another planet)? There is one scene, where he is in the car with the leading lady and observes her speeding through a yellow traffic light. Unsurprisingly, he learns to respond the same when he encounters a yellow light later in the film. There was no intricate lesson plan or core curriculum involved, but Jeff Bridges’ character learned something from his environment nonetheless. Let’s use this example to begin our exploration of the hidden curriculum-the learning that occurs as students are shaped by their environmental experiences.
A big part of understanding the hidden curriculum concept boils down to the word "hidden". First, let’s focus only on this term. It is necessary to debunk the idea of “out of sight, out of mind” when we think of the hidden curriculum. Although hidden implies that something is beneath or under the radar, this does not mean forgettable. Further, when we don’t see things physically, this does not indicate insignificance. For example, think about all the important health risks associated with lead (most commonly found in paint and toys) BPA (material found in some baby bottles) or bacteria. In contrast, let's acknowledge the benefits of some of the things invisible from the naked eye-such as ultra violet light (detection of counterfeit bills, signals food on flowers for insects, sterilization of equipment).
After considering the value of hidden material, I wondered about its impact on my students. I decided to try an informal experiment to get a better idea. Typically, I begin each of my classes with a question, thus a couple of weeks ago I asked my students to share (in writing) their thoughts on their learning outside of class work and homework. Below is a few of their responses:
"We were able to use all of our notes on a final test in high school. So that taught me how to stay organized."
"In my chemistry class, you could sell a Cadillac converter for $80."
"During a highschool play, even if it's funny, its known backstage to be quiet and nobody has to tell you..."
"During the group activities I learned to come to an agreement without taking total control."
My student’s responses spurred interested as to how other students would define their experience with the hidden curriculum. I soon discovered a student blog on hidden curriculum. There were various accounts on how the hidden curriculum provided insight about others. For example, I was fascinated to see what the students learned about teacher behavior (the students concluded that teachers could be more punitive-based than thought provoking). In addition, the hidden curriculum was a great resource in learning about their peer’s needs. For instance, both physical survival lessons (such as when classmates ate large food portions at lunch because of the lack of food at home) and rules for academic survival (such as students storing items in classrooms because the school could not afford lockers) were imparted by peer behavior.
In addition to learning about others, the hidden curriculum provides self-awareness as well. I found a powerful article about a medical student's schooling experience, that highlights the struggle of going against the rules dictated by the hidden curriculum. The student retells the process of confronting his feelings (conflict of instinct versus hidden curriculum expectations) as a necessary step in developing as a learner, a professional, and a member of society.
After a while, it occurred to me that the hidden curriculum's impact on students is huge. It varies with the culture of the learner (think again of the film "Starman" and how the adjustment to a new culture made him more prone to follow). It differs with the ability of the learner (or inability to pick up on environmental cues such as students with Autism, Attention Deficit Disorder, or those with cognitive-based learning disabilities). Further, teachers may need help in guiding students through the unwritten or unspoken rules for success in the classroom. Strategies such as the use of scripts to assist in getting the needed information, identifying a safe person to approach for help, and exploring commons idioms are all ways teachers can help.
I will conclude with an excerpt from a radio ad that allows us to hear the consequences of forgetting to address the hidden curriculum in our classrooms:
In Biology, I learned I’m fat, stupid.
In English, I learned I’m disgusting.
In Gym, I learned I’m a joke.
The only thing I didn’t learn is why no one ever helps…
To hear the complete radio ad please visit Public Service Announcement Central Website.
So, am I wrong about the impact of the hidden curriculum? The next time you develop a lesson plan for your students, why not take a second or two and consider the hidden learning that may accompany your lesson? Let me know what secret lessons are embedded within your classroom/school-and how your students successfully rise to the hidden curriculum challenge.
In case you forgot, Earth Day is just around the corner! To help you celebrate, we’re sharing three activities from a book we’ve been reading called The New 50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth.
Pack a no-garbage lunch
You may not know it, but lunch trash is the second-largest source of waste in American schools! Every year, Americans discard 380 billion plastic bags and nearly 2.7 billion juice boxes—and just think about all of the other items that we turn into trash every day!
To cut down on waste, try packing a no-garbage lunch. Here are a few tips to get you started:
Be a Water-Leak Detective
Even a tiny leak can waste a lot of water. For example, a leak that fills up a coffee cup in 10 minutes will waste 3,000 gallons of water in a year! Cutting down on water waste is not only good for the environment, but it can also be a useful learning activity at school.
For example, students at the Homestead-Wakefield Elementary School in Bel Air, Maryland investigated their school to find leaks; then they analyzed how much water was being wasted by leaky faucets in their school. After crunching some numbers, the students all wrote letters explaining the problem and sent them to the faculty to find solutions.
Here’s a simple way to check toilets for leaks:
Raise awareness about endangered species
When students hear about “endangered species,” many of them think about animals that are thousands of miles and many continents away. Unfortunately, there are many endangered species in our home states. In Michigan, where we live, the northern long-eared bat, the Kirtland’s warbler, the Hine’s emerald dragonfly and the piping plover are all on the endangered species list—and these are only a few of the species listed! So what can students do about this?
**This story is an excerpt from the book, Classroom Classics, coauthored by me and my longtime teaching colleague, Bob Mandell. The book is available at: https://www.createspace.com/4273928
School Unrest-Civil Disobedience
I graduated from high school in 1964 and went on to a large university in the southwest from 1964 to 1968, majoring in History and English. During the last semester of my senior year I was accepted into a special student teaching program cosponsored by the university and the local public school system. It was a pilot program that placed student teachers on team teaching teams from grades 7 through 12. I was assigned to the 12th grade team at Monzano Senior High School, a large school in the suburbs. My two teammates were Jerry and Melissa. We were scheduled to teach three senior classes in the fall of 1968 under the supervision of two experienced English teachers who had taught for many years at Monzano.
My 12th grade team spent the spring semester preparing for our student teaching the following fall. Long range unit plans, weekly lesson plans and daily lesson plans were hashed out and revised. Since the decade of the 60’s was caught up in the turbulence of the Civil Rights movement, we focused our planning on the concept of non-violent means of protesting against social injustice, We incorporated the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi, father of the Indian independence movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, social activist in the American Civil Rights movement, as well as, the somewhat violent nature of the Black Panther Party and the Mississippi Freedom Marches. We also brought in the teachings of Henry David Thoreau, the 19th century American author and philosopher of the Transcendental Movement.
When school opened in the fall, we eagerly and enthusiastically greeted our students at Monzano. We were convinced that we would make an impact on their lives even though we were not much older than they were. They were excited about being taught by young student teachers and welcomed us into their classrooms, ready to absorb knowledge we imparted to them. The first grading period passed and everything went smoothly. Our mentoring teachers and the administrators of the school were pleased with our work.
Along about the middle of October, it came time for Monzano High School to celebrate its annual Homecoming. Classrooms were decorated with school colors, plans were made for the Homecoming dance on Friday night and there was much anticipation about the big Homecoming game to be played against a rival school on Saturday afternoon. However, on the Friday before Homecoming week the football coach told the team that they were not to attend the dance because he wanted them to be well rested for the game. Needless to say, the players were down and the entire student body was up in arms about the coach’s decision. When school was dismissed that Friday afternoon, there was a lot of grumbling as students headed home for the weekend.
During the weeks prior to the week of Homecoming, the seniors in our classes had read and studied Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience”. They also had exposure to Gandhi’s concept of “satyagraha” and Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. All of this was in keeping with our unit on peaceful and non-violent rebellion. Neither I, nor my two teaching colleagues had any idea what was in store for us when the students returned to school on the Monday of Homecoming week.
When our students reported to class first period on Monday, we noticed a lot of whispering and low chatter among them, all the while keeping us out of hearing range. This went on in our other two classes as well. Students throughout the entire school seemed to be quietly buzzing about something in the hallways between classes and in the lunchroom at noon. This continued throughout the school day on Tuesday. My colleagues and I thought something was up, but we had no idea what.
The school day began as usual on Wednesday. Fifteen minutes into third period, around 10:30, our entire class got up and walked out. Not only did our students walk out, but the entire school as well! By 10:25, the whole student body was assembled on the lawn in front of the school. The students had made a huge banner that read” LET THE FOOTBALL TEAM GO TO THE HOMECOMING DANCE!” The banner was hung between two trees on the lawn in front of the school. Another banner held by students read” NOT FAIR FOR FOOTBALL PLAYERS NOT TO ATTEND HOMECOMING DANCE!” The principal, Mr. Duncan, was on the front lawn speaking with the students when he abruptly turned and headed back inside the school. The next thing we heard over the public address system was” Mr. Wycoff and his 12th grade team, report to the principal’s office immediately.” I remember turning to my two colleagues and saying,” We could be getting fired before we even start our careers.”
As we filed into Mr. Duncan’s office, we were greeted by other administrators and other school officials. Also present was the head football coach and his coaching staff. Mr. Duncan turned to us and said” it is my understanding that the organizers of this school wide walkout are seniors in your classes. It is also my understanding that the idea for this school wide disruption stems from lessons about civil disobedience you have been teaching in your classes. The question now before us is how we are going to solve this situation and get these students back to class.” Addressing me personally, Mr. Duncan said,” Mr. Wycoff, as the leader of your teaching team, what do you have to say?”
I realized that this would be my first test as a teacher and I responded quickly. “Mr. Duncan, I said, I think you have to admit that the seniors who organized this walkout did so in a great way. They were able to spread the word throughout the entire student body without anybody, teachers or administrators, knowing what was coming. And you have to admit that the timing of the protest was perfect-the entire student body walked out at exactly the same time. I think all of us have to give credit to the students on how they have gone about their protest. They didn’t stage a food fight or riot during lunch or been violent in any way. I think they should be commended for putting into action what they have learned in the classroom. Their only concern is not having the football team be able to attend and have fun at the dance this Friday night. I really think that a compromise would make the students happy”. I turned to the football coach and said,” Coach, the dance is scheduled from 7:00 PM until 11:00PM. Let the football players attend the dance for the first two hours and then leave. That way they can enjoy the homecoming dance and still get a good night’s sleep and be rested for the game on Saturday.”The coach and his staff agreed, Mr. Duncan and the other administrators agree, and most importantly, the students agreed. The students went back to class and the educational process continued.
When my teammates and I returned to our classroom, our students greeted us with cheers and thanked us for sticking up for them. The kids had a great time at the dance on Friday night and the following afternoon the football team beat their arch rivals from Sandia High School 42-7. I know that the seniors and other students of Monzano Senior High have never forgotten Homecoming in 1968.
**This story is an excerpt from our book, Classroom Classics. The book is available at: https://www.createspace.com/4273928
Once again, it’s time to go back to the basics – Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. While we do so, we must keep in mind that these are needs, not wants. If left unaddressed or unfulfilled, natural frustrations and anxieties will occur. As we continue to search for the solutions to all of the issues facing education and society today, we need to look back to find our path to a better future. To have an impact, we must look at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs through a new lens, through the rose-colored glasses of a better future – the future we are so desperately trying to create.
Everyone needs to achieve his or her individual potential. Teachers must know each student’s strengths, talents, passions and challenges. They must give each student the chance to be responsible for creating their best future and for finding their place in society. Teachers must have this as their ultimate goal. Guiding others on the road to self-actualization goes well beyond basic curriculum and test scores. As students and teachers work together to move to this level, they find purpose, develop morality, think creatively and critically through a strong sense of purpose, and take responsibility for their lives.
Self esteem is not just feeling good about yourself. It’s also knowing yourself and taking pride in your hard work and accomplishments. It’s about knowing that you are responsible for yourself and for being respectful of others. It is about fulfilling your need to be unique and valuing uniqueness in others. . It is knowing how others value you. Teachers must focus more on personalizing teaching, learning and evaluation.
Safety and Security
Our students need to feel emotionally, physically and socially safe at school. With the spate of school shootings in America, it may seem impossible to create this safe environment. Adding locks and metal scanners isn’t enough. Such visible and intrusive procedures can make students feel less secure as they can be seen as constant reminders of the threats around them.
Schools must create safe and caring school cultures where all students feel understood, cared for and valued. All students must be fully engaged in learning and the process of becoming positive, contributing members of the school and society. They must be given strategies to be responsible, show self-discipline, take appropriate risks and truly know themselves. This is how we can limit bullying and increase a sense of safety. Bullying doesn’t stop just because policies forbid and punish it.
After family, school is where our children most need to feel a sense of belonging. They come to school to learn, not just core curriculum, but who they are becoming and how they can take control of their future. Our teachers know this and do whatever they can to support them in spite of the political and bureaucratic structures of the educational system that focus almost exclusively on test scores.
Schools need to have flexible structures that allow students to find their place in groups, large and small. They need to understand where they can contribute and feel the inner gratification that comes with this sense of belonging. They need a significant connection to at least one adult in the school. Ideally, this connection will be organic and not necessarily a defined connection. It is, however, necessary to ensure that each student has a documented connection so that no one is left without.
We all know that our students need to come to school fed, clothed, well rested and mentally fit. We also know that this isn’t the norm. Even though this forms the base of Maslow’s pyramid, it is often ignored. Breakfast and lunch programs are wonderful. Snack programs that send students home with food for the weekend are great but are often left to parent groups or other community support mechanisms.
In reviewing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we can begin to look at root causes and provide supports early in our children’s lives. Why do so many young children need anti-anxiety drugs or drugs for hyperactivity and attention deficit? What are the side effects of these medications? Are they short or long-term solutions? Why is bullying almost an epidemic in our schools and lives? What more can we do? How can we ensure that our children are physically and mentally healthy? These are big questions forming the base of our students’ physiological needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has been with us since 1943 when Abraham Maslow published “A Theory of Human Motivation” in Psychological Review. While the hierarchical nature of the pyramid has come in question, as have the needs of different age groups and the evolving social context in which we live, the 5 needs continue to be unquestionably important.
We don’t have an achievement problem. We have an urgency problem.
The U.S. is the fat cat. Why chase mice when the food bowl is full? Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have done all of the hard work and created a nation of wealth because they struggled to make their lives and the futures of their children great. Society can sit around and collect unemployment, disability, social security, Medicaid, food stamps, and now, insurance, from the big federal bank account that people don’t seem to notice is running on credit rather than capital.
Less and less do we expect people, especially children, to struggle. The paradigm has shifted from the kid being accountable for what happens for them, to the school being responsible for what happens to them. The supportive parent turned into the helicopter parent who is now the snowplow parent. God forbid our children suffer blood, sweat, and tears…any kind of mental or physical discomfort is just unacceptable. The pain and problem solving that goes with dealing with bullies, personality conflicts, and arguments needs to be suppressed so that childhood is butterflies and rainbows. When life doesn’t work out like that, we hand you a monthly cash card to go buy groceries, a check to pay for housing and utilities, and an insurance card to go see the doctor.
When the pilgrims landed, they had two choices: learn or die. Innovation is born when the human spirit is tested. Wisdom is gained when life gets in a few lucky punches. When your belly is empty, you have an urgency to find a solution. When the potential to starve is staring at you from a pantry almost empty, you start looking for ways to restock the shelves.
There is a second layer to the problem that is compounded by the lack of urgency: equity. As a nation, the United States public education system is designed for equity. The Constitution of the United States guarantees the right to the “pursuit of happiness.” Nowhere is happiness guaranteed. But the free public education system is the foundation for the pursuit of happiness. Everyone has access. Everyone gets out of it what they put into it. We educate all students. Regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, wealth, poverty, disability, or geographic location, all children are served by a public school. This is incredibly expensive, but we believe in the right to all for a free and appropriate public education.
Because we are focused on educating all kids, our brightest don’t get the best possible education. Remember, the law only guarantees “free and appropriate”. As a nation, we couldn’t guarantee the best. To guarantee the “BEST” possible education, we would have to begin to exclude slow and reluctant learners.
Where would we draw that line? Cut out special education first? That would free up the most money. But it still wouldn’t be enough. We could cut all non-English speakers. That would probably free up the second most expensive group. Next would be the high poverty students. These three groups of students bring down our achievement scores, so we would immediately see a rise compared to the international benchmarks. In fact, we would probably begin competing again with China. But those other countries don’t try to educate their learning disabled, their non-native language learners, or their extremely poor.
Finally, we could make education more efficient and eliminate the rural areas and just funnel all of our money to urban centers. With that, we could educate more kids at a higher level with a lot less effort. Other countries already ignore their rural areas. They figure those kids will learn how to farm from their parents, so kids get whatever basic level of education the local community can provide them.
We could then optimize the whole system by giving an aptitude test early in life. If a kid scores high, they get to go on and receive a quality education and represent the United States on international tests. If they don’t, they go home and fend for themselves. At that point, they would learn or starve.
But thinking like that goes against our sense of right and wrong. It defies what makes us Americans. Every person deserves a chance. Every person can become something great. Educating every child is the essence of the American spirit. With that, we sacrifice the chance to compete against countries that don’t play by the same rules. I’m not saying we should stop trying. On the contrary, I believe those comparisons should cause us to tighten our jaw, clench our fist, and straighten our backs. We should strive to compete at international levels even with the handicaps to our public education system because we ARE better. Because we are more humane. Because we are Americans.
We have to begin to draw the line between complacency and urgency. At school, we will make sure you are well-fed, safe, loved, taught, and challenged. At home, you might be hungry, but if you wake up with resolve, come to school, eat breakfast, go to first hour with determination, and work hard, your chances in life improve tremendously.
Research projects are an important tool for both instructing students and assessing whether students have developed critical knowledge and skills for college and career success in a 21st century world. Students also have the opportunity to explore their interests, which increases their motivation to learn. They learn how to develop questions, find, sort and evaluate information, read widely and deeply, analyze, think creatively, write in many different formats, problem solve, and communicate results. Students also learn how to work independently and collaboratively. Many of the “soft” skills, such as curiosity, perseverance, “grit”, and dealing with failure and frustration are developed while working on a research project. Like the musician or athlete, students who conduct research projects have the opportunity to practice and improve important skills that they don’t normally get to use regularly in traditional classrooms.
Many of the projects completed in classrooms today do not have the same level of rigor and skill development as strong research projects. The typical “igloo” or “mission” project, in which students construct an igloo as the culmination of a unit on Eskimos, or create a diorama of a Spanish Mission as a culminating project for a unit on California history, does not have the same level of research, thinking, analysis, and communication as does a meaningful research project. Alignment with units of study goals are minimal.
The igloo and mission project examples above are examples of “weak” projects, because of their limited usefulness in developing critical understanding and skills. By contrast, the seven project examples below all allow for varying degrees of understanding and powerful skill development, and should be used more frequently throughout the K-12 curriculum:
1. Reading/Writing Projects
Students read, comprehend and interpret specific books, novels, plays, poems, etc., often around themes. Sometimes books are assigned, while at other times students select their own books. Through reading/writing projects, students demonstrate comprehension, understanding, and ability to interpret text. Reading/writing projects often include class discussions around dilemmas inherent in the reading and/or writing general reactions, interpretive essays, poems, stories and plays based on the material read.
Examples: A fourth grade teacher develops a monthly project around a different literature genre. Each month the teacher selects a different type of literature, such as biography, fiction, or mystery. Students choose a book and an author that approved by the teacher. They then discuss the key features of the studied genre (e.g. what makes for a good biography?), write a summary that demonstrates their understanding of the key ideas in the book they read, and write their general reaction to the book. They complete a drawing depicting a critical idea in the book, and also write a new ending to the book. The book and the developed material are shared among the entire class at the end of each month.
Other examples of reading-writing projects are when students select and read biographies of famous people, find, read and report on books about heroes, read and discuss short stories describing a particular period in history, or read and put on the plays of a single author.
Another format for this type of project is through the selection and analysis of genres of artwork or music.
2. Information-Data Organizing Projects
The goal of information-data organizing projects is for teachers to have students collect, sort and summarize information and data around a topic, question, theme or unit from multiple sources, such as textbooks, fiction and non-fiction texts. Students might synthesize articles and other readings around a topic of interest, analyze surveys and interviews designed to explore key questions, or find ways to put information into a variety of formats, including graphs and charts. Sometimes information is represented in other formats, such as through artwork, crafts and music. Information-data-organizing project approaches are useful when students are studying a particular topic or question, since this type of project helps students learn how to use multiple resources instead of solely using of a textbook.
Examples: Typical information-data organizing projects include classifying information from textbooks and other resources into charts and graphs, conducting a survey and summarizing the data, or developing decision-making trees from multiple resources. For example, students study how technology is used around the world. They find and read articles, collect data, and develop charts and graphs to illustrate and share how technology is used in different countries.
3. Major Investigation Projects
Major investigation projects enable students to create their own questions around a topic, collect, organize, and evaluate information, draw conclusions and share results through presentations and explanations. Students may demonstrate the results of their investigations through different types of products and experiences, including the writing of a paper, the development of artwork, oral presentations, audio and videotape productions, photographic essays, simulations, or plays.
Sometimes students select their own topics for research projects based on their interests, while at other times research projects are focused around specific academic topics being studied in class. In some senior project formats, students are free to select any topic of interest for an investigation project.
Scientific experiments are a sub-category of investigative research projects, in which students create questions around a scientific concern or issue, develop hypotheses, conduct or design experiments, test a hypothesis, and formulate results.
While major investigation projects are often considered long-term activities, some investigation projects can be conducted over relatively short periods of time when adequate amounts of time are devoted to them each day.
Examples: Typical investigative research projects ask students to pick a topic related to the class subject, such as a topic of interest around American history. Students then are able to do research around their topic, find, read and summarize information and data, draw conclusions, write papers, present and share results.
Conducting scientific research experiments are also common science classroom activities.
Other research projects may be built around student interests. Students select a topic of interest, develop a set of questions that help them to explore a topic and narrow the topic down to something manageable, find, read and summarize information and data, contact outside resources to help learn more about the topic, draw conclusions, and make a presentation.
Some investigative projects are conducted over several days before holidays or at the end of the school year.
4. Design Projects
Students invent products and objects, design technology, or design artwork or models For example, students might be asked to use scientific principles to design an object that will descend from a specific height at the slowest speed, to design artwork using artistic principles, or to design a house using the latest technological software.
Example: Sixth grade students research and design a dream house, including floor plans, a description of the interior of the houses, materials to be used to build the house. Students also create a model of their homes and a cost analysis for the interior of at least one room in the house. Students also are required to make a presentation summarizing the results of their work[i].
5. Problem Solving/Decision Making Projects
Students solve problems and make decisions by being given or creating specific situations and complex problems. Problem situations around topics such as pollution, world events, health care, poverty, and economic issues are interesting and exciting areas of study and provide students with opportunities to learn about current and future complex issues and problems and to use creative problem solving processes. Complex mathematical problems are another source of problem solving projects. Decision- making projects through simulations of both historical and present-day decisions are worthwhile projects.
Students are asked to select a global problem, such as lack of food, water issues, energy problems, or medical issues. They then are asked to problem solve and come up with some models or examples of a potential solution to the problem.
Young children are asked to develop a set of classroom rules to live by.
6. “Argumentation” projects
After considerable research and discussion about an issue or dilemma, students write a persuasive essay or position paper giving their point of view, reasons, and evidence to support this point of view. Some argumentation projects are built around debates or simulations.
Students research information on both sides of an issue with societal impact (the issue might be current or historical). Each student then develops a coherent argument on one side or the other, and then gives a demonstration, using any format (oral, written media presentation) to forecast the positive and negative consequences for society of their position.
After studying the development of the Constitution, students simulate a Constitutional Convention. They take on the roles of different representatives to the Convention, argue for their State’s position, and develop their own version of the Constitution.
7. Real World, Authentic Projects
These provide students with the opportunity of conducting projects with direct links and potential payoffs either to themselves or to the outside world. Projects which lead to personal improvement, community involvement and service, multicultural explorations in real world settings, an understanding of careers and career options, cooperative work experience, internships, and a focus on health issues produce direct payoffs for students in a changing world.
In health class, students design a plan for healthful living and physical fitness. They create a plan for a living style that will provide them with health and physical well-being. They need to include a model healthful weekly menu tailored to their needs and tastes and discuss why it is healthful. They also develop a realistic weekly exercise plan to follow.
Students are asked to find an organization or agency that provides a service to others and is of interest to them. They volunteer their time and keep a log of hours spent and a journal reflecting on their experiences. Where possible, they are asked to provide leadership in some capacity to the organization. They share their experience with other classmates.
Meaningful, rigorous research projects provide students with opportunities to master 21st century content and process learning outcomes using a powerful instructional approach. Seven types of potentially strong research projects are described in this commentary[ii].
The richness and variety of the seven types of research projects enable students to enjoy and read a wide variety of materials, learn concepts in depth; improve reading and writing skills; conduct research and perform experiments; solve problems and make decisions; make connections to the outside world; and motivate, interest and challenge students. They can be conducted individually or collaboratively - collaborative research projects help students learn to work together effectively. Research projects can integrate technology and help students master technology skills in meaningful settings. Interdisciplinary research projects help students see connections between subjects and enable teachers to work collaboratively. Self-developed projects, emerging from the interests of students, build self-confidence and mastery.
The variety of types of research projects also give teachers many different ways to implement strong projects through which students learn valuable skills: how to ask essential questions, find, sort, analyze and evaluate a variety of resources, develop thinking skills, draw conclusions, and communicate results.
Some types of projects require considerable amounts of time; others less so. Projects can be integrated into each subject area, into specific grade levels, can be woven into the fabric of a school at certain times of the year, or even as an overlay to the entire curriculum through the school library or as a graduation project.
A coordinated set of diverse research projects, implemented as part of a K-12 curriculum, can motivate students and encourage significant success and mastery. The time for building an instructional program with a variety of types of projects is now.
[i] This example is adapted from an actual sixth grade class design project outlined more fully in ENC Focus, Volume 9, November 2, 2002. Washington, D.C.: Eisenhower National Clearinghouse, pp. 16-18.
[ii] Note that these seven project examples are not completely discrete, but may overlap. For example, a problem solving, decision-making project might also be authentic and driven by real life actual events. The purpose of describing these seven types is not to suggest their total independence from each other, but to examine a variety of different ways of thinking about research projects.
Elliott Seif is a long time educator, teacher, college professor, curriculum director, author and Understanding by Design trainer. Additional and related teaching and learning resources and ideas designed to help prepare students to live in a 21st century world can be found in his other blogs at ASCD Edge and on his website: www.era3learning.org
What seeds do you sow to grow culture of innovation?
I’ve been away from my blog for a while . . . immersed in other projects; but, I’m back with a message today for school and district administrators.
As we quickly approach the holiday break, marking the mid-point of our academic year, I want to give you food for thought as you turn that proverbial corner toward the second half of the school year. I’ve had this idea for some time, but it really came to the forefront as I finished teaching an online graduate-level course in action research last week. For one of their last assignments, I asked my students to share in a discussion board post their thoughts about action research and whether they would continue to conduct their own action research studies, outside of their coursework.
The students unequivocally stated that they believed there was a huge value and benefit to designing and conducting their own action research studies. However, with so many other duties and responsibilities, most felt they wouldn’t have the time to engage in such professional endeavors. I understand--trust me, I truly get it--but I think they’re missing the bigger picture in all of this.
I “get it” because, to a degree, I think they’re right. While I believe that conducting action research in isolation can still be hugely beneficial, doing so leads to a feeling of, well, isolation. Let’s face it--none of us really wants to do anything if we feel isolated in doing it. So many of those “other duties and responsibilities” could be enveloped in an action research approach and mindset. Additionally, we need a supportive environment; a culture that promotes, values, and rewards professional activities that result in us becoming better educators.
Please don’t misunderstand--I know that doing this requires time, resources, and commitment. But, by implementing my ideas, you can collectively capitalize on so many aspects of what you’re undoubtedly trying to do in your schools. What I’m really talking about is the development of action research communities, or ARCs. I envision these action research communities functioning as professional learning communities, focused on and based in an action research approach to professional development, growth, and empowerment.
I envision ARCs functioning just like other PLCs, with all the essential components (e.g., a shared vision, collaboration, collective inquiry, an action orientation, a commitment to continuous improvement, and an orientation focused on results). The only real difference is that the focus, mindset, and culture is created around collaborative action research in your schools.
The benefit of your school- or district-based ARCs may not stop at the simple implementation of action research studies. For example,
The power that lies in the implementation of ARCs is potentially immense . . . perhaps, even limitless. Admittedly, their implementation requires some degree of planning and coordination. However, I firmly believe in them, and in the fact that their potential benefits far outweigh their initial start-up costs.
So, as you begin to plan for 2014 (and perhaps the 2014-2015 school year), be sure to mark that “Note to Self: ARCs!” in your calendar!!
America has an urgent need to cultivate a strong workforce of innovators in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects, but too few students receive the academic support and many lack opportunity to study STEM in school. Why should we care? In the next five years it’s expected that STEM job openings will grow twice as fast as other jobs in the United States, however Department of Education figures show that only 16% of American high school seniors are interested in a STEM career. The figures for minority students are particularly low.
But a solution may be right in our students’ hands. A study commissioned by the Verizon Foundation found that more than one out of three middle school students report they are using smartphones and tablets to help with their homework. Not only that, students reported that using mobile devices at school makes them want to learn more about STEM subjects than students who don’t. As a teacher, this is music to my ears. Another study by Harris Interactive reinforced these findings. Incredibly, nine out of ten students reported that mobile devices make learning more fun.
Early intervention appears to be the key. While I believe that there is no age that is too early to introduce STEM based lessons, dynamic programs using technology aimed at middle and high school students are a way to maintain students’ interest in STEM as they progress to graduation. Last year I was the co-advisor for a team of middle school students who participated in a national contest to design a smartphone app. The students who participated in this challenge learned valuable skills, not only related to STEM, but to all aspects of learning. We had rich discussions on the topic of community challenges and concerns, and how technology and science could help alleviate them. The team decided to design the Chow Checker app, which would identify ingredients in food products to help people with food allergies. At the end of the process the students left with a greater awareness of the issues that children with food allergies face on a daily basis. Out of hundreds of teams from around the country, my students were one of the winning teams.
Our team was a diverse group of learners, each with their own level of comfort and understanding of technology. A key feature of this process was that at the start not every student who participated considered themselves a “techie” however, by the end all of them learned that STEM education was not beyond their reach, and that there were elements of STEM that they all could be experts at. I know that they will remember this process, and most of them will continue to hone their app building skills for their future.
As adults, we use mobile devices to manage our work and social lives, and we know that the current generation of kids will integrate these technologies in ways we can only imagine. So why shouldn’t we encourage kids to integrate these devices into their school lives in a fun and challenging way? I encourage students to submit their idea to the second annual Verizon Innovative App Challenge, which is open until December 3rd. They might be inspired to invent the next great innovation.
It is that time of year again that some of us welcome with delight, while others dread: The Holidays! As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach, creating opportunities for students to give back is important. We constantly hear about the popular assistance programs such as "Make a Wish Foundation", "Adopt a Family", and "Toys for Tots", but there are other less familiar programs that require much attention as well. Below is a brief list of "under-used" programs that students may enjoy participating in during the holdiday season:
1. DVD Donation Program
This program allows students to donate DVD's to hospitals and pediatric programs. All the guidelines and rules can be found on the website www.kidflicks.org.
2. School Project Program
This program allows students to review school projects around the United States and determine a particular project that they would like to contribute to. All the guidelines and rules for this assistance program can be found on the website www.donorschoose.org.
3 Click to Give Program
This program permits students to select charities by "clicking" on a specific icon, buiding points based on their selection, and translating the points into money for charity. Additional information regarding available charities and point values can be found on the website www.clickto give.com.
4. Coca-Cola Rewards Program
This is a program that is widely advertised, but hearing about it is different than taking action and getting involved! The rules include purchasing a coca-cola product, obtaining a code (under the lid of the bottle), and exchanging the code for points /donations for a selected charity. Details about eligible products, and registering for the program can be found at www.mycokerewards.com.
5. Book Donation Program
This program requests students to donate new books (sorry, no used books are permitted) to schools, libraries, or literacy organizations. I believe that the donator is responsible for shipping fees, but the awesome thing about this program is that schools can make requests (complete online application) in order to get assistance with building their own literacy materials. For more details about the book donating process visit www.kidsneedtoread.org.
If you are working with students that may need assistance during the holdiay season, the following resources may be helpful:
6. Food pantries are a great resource during the holdiays. Review the comprehensive list (divided by state) of foodbanks or pantries that offer free thanksgiving baskets or christmas items to children/families in need. The list is available on the website www.feedingamerica.org/foodbanks.
7. Sometimes communicating what you need is the best strategy for pursuing help. There are social helping networks that allow you to post your needs. One website that includes a verification process of the requester is the heronetwork.com. Other websites that allows you to post specific needs are www.modestneeds.org and www.aidpages.com.
8. Sometimes knowing where to look for help is the biggest challenge. A list of Christmas charities by state is available on the website www.infobarrel.com.
9. Finally, knowing who to ask, is a game changer when seeking help. There is a website that takes the "re-gifting" idea literally. On the website www.freecycle.org people are permitted to post things (house-hold items, furntiture, supplies, etc.) that they wish to donate. Encourage your students/families to visit the website to find items that they may need, or even post items that are no longer useful to them.
I hope the listed resources are helpful for the students adn families that you work with. What ways do you incorporate the concept of giving in your classroom? I would love to hear about your favorite charities or donation programs for students. Please leave a comment below.
Now that the school year is in full swing, many teachers find themselves a lot less interested in spending time in the kitchen. Perhaps it’s the weather, the stacks of papers, or just general exhaustion from spending nine hours in the classroom that makes our dinners increasingly less inspired. If this sounds like your situation, read on. We’ve got a few tips to help you revive your enthusiasm for cooking, even on school nights.
8 Tips for Teachers Who Have a Passion for NOT Cooking
There’s nothing wrong with leftovers—get over it!
For some reason, many cooks are under the impression that they have to serve fresh-out-of-the-oven meals every night. That’s ridiculous, especially because so many dinners—lasagna, chili, meatloaf, for example—actually taste better the second night. Cut out one night of cooking by doubling a recipe and saving it for another night when you can’t bear to step foot into the kitchen.
Try Sunday afternoon cooking instead
Sunday afternoons are usually lazy days for us since we try to get most of our grading and prep done on Saturday. On a friend’s recommendation, we’ve started a new Sunday afternoon routine: We put on a good record, pour a glass of wine and take to the kitchen. Our recipes vary—most of them are simple—but we cook three main courses (this takes about two hours), place them in Tupperware containers and store them in the fridge. Now all we have to do when we get home from work is reheat them.
Change the way you serve your dishes
How many bowls do you use to serve your dinner? For example, do you heat vegetables or baked beans on the stove and transfer them to a fresh bowl before serving? If so, you’ve just given yourself another dish to clean. You’re not serving Oprah or Gordon Ramsey, so stop worrying about presentation. Throw a hot pad on the table, serve your food straight from the kettle, the Pyrex, or the skillet, and save yourself a lot of unnecessary cleanup time.
Fresh vs. frozen vegetables
Buy frozen vegetables. They are already cleaned and ready for use; they’ll also save you money since they won’t wilt or go bad in the fridge if you don’t eat them right away. If you’re concerned about losing nutrients with frozen vegetables, keep in mind that frozen produce—if frozen and stored properly—offers a similar nutritional profile to fresh since it is usually picked at peak ripeness and frozen immediately after harvesting.
We don’t claim to be food connoisseurs, but we do know what we like and we can’t taste the difference between most frozen and fresh vegetables. There are two exceptions: stick with fresh asparagus and broccoli.
Stop doing everything yourself
Our cooking exhaustion has more to do with doing everything than it does with cooking. If you’re cooking dinner, there’s no reason you should be setting and clearing the table and doing the dishes. Trade off with your kids or your partner/spouse. Whoever cooks gets to walk away scot-free after dinner. Whoever doesn’t cook has to clear the table and do the dishes. While you’re at it, put those kids to work. Have them make the salad, heat the side dish, clean up, prep and, if they’re old enough, cook entire meals.
Make smarter choices at the store
Fresh garlic and herbs are tasty, but they have a limited shelf life; furthermore, they tack on more prep time. Instead, buy fresh crushed garlic and ginger in jars. Herbs are also available in tubes that you can keep in the freezer. Fresh lemon and lime juice can also be bought in bottles and stored in the fridge. Are you still grating cheese? Skip it. Buy pre-grated cheese and store it in the freezer to increase the shelf life.
Cook with a friend
If you are a bachelor or bachelorette—heck, even if you aren’t!— make a cooking date with a friend. As we suggested above, put on a good record, pour some wine, talk and take your time preparing the meal. Not only will you get a fresh cooked meal, you’ll get to catch up.
Eat out once a week and split something
We like to reward ourselves at least once a week by going out to dinner. To save money, though, we stick to Thai and Indian restaurants. The portions are usually enough for two or three people, so we always split an entrée with someone. Like we said, this saves us money, but it also keeps us from overeating.
We’re always looking for new ways to maintain (and reclaim) our enthusiasm for cooking, so please feel free to share your ideas with us!