Today I had the opportunity to talk to the founding principal of a charter high school that will open in the fall. Her school won’t look or sound like any high school you are likely to imagine, and I liked so many things about what she said that I felt compelled to list them for you:

  • She said her school will be a hybrid. Does that mean that students will use technology to help them learn? Sure, but it means a lot more than that. Her school will be open seven days a week, 12 hours a day, so students can have flexibility in their schedules.
  • She said her school will not lower its expectations for any learner. The standards they set are non-negotiable. But she also talked about the social-emotional cognition and development having as much importance as any other goals.
  • Where is this school? No one knows yet. So far, no building has worked out, either due to finances, or zoning, or unexpected issues. She remained unfazed. “If I have to get a trailer, I will, but we are opening a school in September.”
  • Has she hired her staff yet? No. When she does, though, they need to know they need to do a month of professional development. In the summer. What will they do? They will start by learning together, and doing some of the very same activities they will be asking of the students.
  • During the induction of the first class, all students will write poems about themselves. Each year, they will revisit their poems, and revise them.

Why didn’t they have high schools like this in the 80s? I would have loved it.

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I was just watching video interviews of high school students. They were reflecting on their experiences watching video testimonies of survivors from the Holocaust.

One articulate young woman said this:

“I could read a transcript of what they said quite easily, there is a lot of text out there, but it is sort of like in their smiles or the twitch of their eye, or their facial express, their posture, that tells me more about their story than the story itself, and I think that it is important to take advantage of the technology we have in order to capture that in people. … I feel so much closer to them in that sense that, and it’s also something that I’ll forget less easily, honestly. Because like at school there is so much pounded into us every day it’s a miracle I can tie my shoes, but, like, I think I’m going to remember what they said. And what else can you ask of a student than to take a hold of what they are being taught? ”
Another teen said this:
“In a book, like, it’s just a story. You can learn about it, and learn all the details about it, but it never really seems like it actually happened, like this couldn’t have actually happened to people. But when the people are sitting there, looking at you, telling you their story face to face, it’s so much  more interesting and engaging. And you just feel more connected to it. And I just feel like I learned more that way than I ever could have reading, like memoirs or in a textbook or anything like that.”
I typed up what these two young women said, and then I wished I could share their actual video interviews with you. You know? I would explain why their videos are so much better than my transcripts, except I think they both already did that for me.

I want to write about this:

 

http://www.stemforcetechnology.com/

 

but first I have to process it more. Do YOU have anything to say about it?

 

I get frustrated when I hear about schools describe a “new anti-bullying curriculum” that they *purchased.*

Recently I heard a presentation about the future of education by Dr. Harry Brighouse, Professor of Philosophy and Education Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He gave a powerful talk I couldn’t begin to do justice, but this post is not about him or his presentation. He was talking about two young people — one who needed to learn that he was no more important than anyone else, and another who needed to learn that he was just as important as anyone else.

If you think that seems like an odd or unimportant lesson, you must not be reading the same news I am lately.You must have missed the tragic cases of bullying happening all over our country.

I am no more important than anyone else. I am just as important as anyone else. Bullying starts with me, and it ends with me. I will not bully, and I will not be bullied. These are foundational concepts schools need to embrace. That’s exactly why I get frustrated when I hear about a school with a new anti-bullying curriculum that they purchased. These foundational concepts don’t require piling on worksheets. Kindness, and preventing bullying, are things every teacher should discuss, embrace, model, insist upon, instill, and value. When you buy a curriculum for that, it makes it “other” and some kind of special occasion deal. Also, bullying “kits” often create an artifice around the concept, and thereby fail completely in “real life.”

It’s not the effort to stop bullying that frustrates me, it’s the wrong-headed idea that the solution has to come from someplace outside.  Bullying is a from-within kind of problem, and that is where the solution is as well.

I went to elementary school in the 1970s.

From my perspective, I had a more innovative education that my seven-year-old, and than too many other kids today.

Yes, these kids have iPads. But if all they do is math drills, they’d be better stepping back in time to my childhood, when my teachers let us invent our own games.

Yes, today’s schools have the Internet. If they never connect with anyone outside their own walls, my former teachers could give them a lesson on the power of pen pals.

Twenty-first century teachers often have projection tools to showcase the presentations they make. In fifth grade, Mrs. Moeschler gave the task of presenting to kids, whether it was through shadow stories on the wall, poetry performance, making speeches… and she gave us choices. I struggled with something, and she assigned me a peer helper. I worked above grade level in reading, and she let me design my own classroom lending library in an expansive walk-in closet during a unit she felt would not meet my needs.

I see amazing innovation going on in education around the country. I am blown away by some of the examples. I joyfully follow the innovative work of dedicated educators through journals, Twitter, conferences, and face-to-face connections. These change agents fight an uphill battle. It’s hard to understand why, on the most essential level, without pointing at a million excuses — and I refuse to get political about it today. I just want to go on the record and say we need to fix it. Now.

I believe in innovation. Not just edtech or technology; I lobbied for years to take the word “technology” out of my last title. I believe in the power of innovation to help remedy the giant disaster that I see in too many schools. I want to be part of the change. I want to make today’s schools more innovative, more successful, for my kids and their generation than even the quality schools I attended in the 70s and 80s. Who is in?

Last week, I attended a conference hosted by USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice. The focus was 21st Century Skills and Knowledge: The New High School Curriculum and the Future of Assessment. Presentations from educational leaders in higher ed and K-12, as well as from the College Board, Educational Testing Services, International Baccalaureate, and University of Cambridge International Examinations, discussed the need for rethinking the way we assess learners, including both cognitive and noncognitive approaches. While promoting Common Core, even the large testing agencies expressed the importance of collaborative learning, complex problem solving, critical thinking, and multiple measures of assessment in developing 21st century learners.

Let me be blunt: I think many of our K-12 schools are failing at this. As a parent and an educator, I do not see enough attention to collaborative learning, complex problem solving, critical thinking, and multiple measures of assessment in developing 21st century learners.

Some of my favorite take-aways and reminders from the conference:

* It is wrong to focus on students growing up to become taxpayers. We need to focus on helping them become responsible people with wit and humanity.

* An important life skill is knowing how to concentrate on an unwelcome activity for more than a half an hour.

* The whole point of assessment should be on improving education.

* When you single out to educational elements to assess (such as math and literacy) you run the grave risk of excluding other essential elements.

* “Do not confuse motion with action.”

* Twenty-six percent of American k-12 kids go on to get a degree.

* There are 3 million teachers in the United States. Professional development is crucial. However, no one wants to fund teacher education research.

* Rod Chu said, “Educators seems to be like those who deny global warming is occurring. Where is our union of concerned educators crying for action by our own educators to rescue our future?” He also said, “If indeed it takes a village we need to get out of our ivory towers…We need to get beyond eduspeak and express cognitive and noncognitive standards in a way our students and their families can understand.”

* Someone said that trying to change education is like trying to turn the Queen Mary. You need to start five miles ahead of time.

* It is wrong to see technology’s advantage as being in cost-savings. Even if the tools are not expensive, effective use of technology does not come with a tiny price tag.


I recently attended a compelling conference called Technology, Knowledge and Society, hosted at UCLA.

At one session, BYU professor Brent Adams talked about how much his practice changed after a study about graduates in the work force revealed these perceived weaknesses:

  • they had no understanding of quality
  • they had weak communication skills
  • they had been taught to work primarily as individuals, and not as groups

Now, his students work together for a year to make a movie. They rely heavily on a software that they learn about largely through online tutorials, they vote one student to be the producer, and they collaboratively generate about 2.5 million files. They leverage social media tools and wikis to communicate and collaborate, used available online tools for software training. Every Wednesday, the students meat online in raltime with three or for people from Dreamworks for a half an hour by video conference. “As a professor, I don’t know half the stuff they are doing, and that’s okay,” he said. Adams doesn’t grade anymore either. Students give themselves grades. He will intervene if he really disagrees.

So much of what he said resonated for me, and fits with my notion of authentic, student-driven, 21st century education. They weren’t new ideas to me, they just exemplified how successful students can be when these ideas are put into practice; Adams’ students have won eleven student Emmy awards, and four student Academy Awards, among other higher honors.

The thing that Adams said that struck me as most novel, put in a way I hadn’t thought about before, had to do with cheating. “There are two ways to cheat in my class,” he said. One is to take credit for someone else’s work. The other? To have knowledge that would help someone in the class, and not offer it. As I thought about this, someone else pushed back and asked why that is cheating. Adams answered, “It cheats society.”

I’ve been contemplating this notion ever since.

What more can you ask for from a conference session than that?