Thinking About More Relevant Schools and Classrooms…(Part One)

How can we make sure that their work in school pays off for our students?

(Disclaimer – The concerns I have are not just about the school system where I work or the one where my students attend, they are systemic issues that everyone of us who is impacted by the education of our youth should consider.  Oh yeah, we are all impacted by the education of our youth!)

As I continue to read stories about what is happening in the “real world,” you know the place we are supposed to be preparing our students for, my concerns about the level of preparation that our students will have as they exit our doors.  While I have a good level of confidence that our students will be able to do the basics well (i.e. reading, writing, and arithmetic), I am fairly confident that the learning environments that they inhabit within our school walls have not changed and will leave them lacking the skills they will need to prosper in a world where things are changing.

Andreas Schleicher, The Education Director for The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), describes the dilemma as follows in his article The Case for 21st Century Learning:

It is about how knowledge is generated and applied, about shifts in ways of doing business, of managing the workplace or linking producers and consumers, and becoming quite a different student from the kind that dominated the 20th century. What we learn, the way we learn it, and how we are taught is changing. This has implications for schools and higher level education, as well as for lifelong learning.

While educational policy makers scream for “accountability,” our students continue to lose out on the relevant experiences that have been ignored or brushed aside as we prepare for the next round of standardized testing.  If you don’t believe me just read the account of Bill Ferriter, a science teacher from North Carolina, and how his classroom will change for the worse next year because of our nation’s test-driven reform policy. 

It is time for local communities to come together and focus on a vision for students that will allow teachers to veer from a test-driven agenda and ensure a relevance-driven agenda.  If you agree with Schleicher and his vision (below) of the successful student:

They are capable not only of constantly adapting, but also constantly learning and growing in a fast-changing world. In a flat world, our knowledge becomes a commodity available to everyone else. As columnist and author Thomas Friedman puts it, because technology has enabled us to act on our imaginations in ways that we could never before, the most important competition is no longer between countries or companies but between ourselves and our imagination.

As someone who has worked in public education for 20-years, I know the biggest challenge for me is due to my past experiences in school and a lack of imagination to think beyond these experiences. How can we, the adults in the school, overcome our own hurdles to set the stage for a more meaningful experience for our students?

A concluding thought from Schleicher:

Value is less and less created vertically through command and control-as in the classic “teacher instructs student” relationship-but horizontally, by whom you connect and work with, whether online or in person. 

Touching Video Shown Before Last Night’s Bruins Game

Image via 

Words cannot really express the levels of sadness, anger and confusion that have resulted following the acts of terror that were perpetrated on Boston on Monday. However, one thing that has been clear is the amazing resilience of all who have been impacted by this unfathomable act. The actions, words, and tributes that have been shared in the few days following the bombings have been touching and extremely helpful in the healing process.

Below is the video shown before the Bruins game last night. Feel free to share links to anything that you found touching in the comment section below.

Checking Out Some Art Work In Our Middle School

As I have mentioned before, one of the favorite aspects of my job is getting into classrooms and seeing some of the neat work that students are doing. One thing I wanted to share today comes from Ms. Phillips’ Art Students. The two pictures below are from a sixth grader who was working in photoshop with a drawing she had originally done on paper (shown immediately below).
My Photo Stream-999

Then on the enhancement (shown below), the student took a background from a a real image and put it as the background on her drawing.

My Photo Stream-998

The second neat thing I took away from Ms. Phillips’ students was their use of Quick Response (QR) codes on their artwork. If you are not yet familiar with QR codes, you can see one on the leg of the football player on the right side of the picture below and another on the right-bottom corner of the image at the bottom of this post. Scanning these QR Codes brings viewers of these pieces to the blog of the artist where you can read their reflections on their work.

My Photo Stream-999
My Photo Stream-996

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Another Example of How Building A Network Benefits Students

One of the exciting things about our high school (and school system) establishing a digital presence has been the doors that have been opened for staff and students to connect with others and build their own learning networks.  The video above is the most recent example, featuring Hannah Lienhard a sophomore at BHS. Hannah and (a few other BHS students) had an opportunity to beta test a new app (Hakitzu) from Kuato Studios that is due to be released in the app store in the next week and then provide feedback to the developers on the experience.  
There is another video that features a few more BHS students and some students from New Milford High School in New Jersey who also had an opportunity to try out the game which teaches students how to code by having them take on an opponent in a one-on-one battle where each player controls a robot.  The players then move the robot around an arena and deploy different weapons by writing code. 
Excitement around the release of this game has been building as evidenced by a recent feature on CNN.  These types of opportunities are available to more schools and students if they are willing to extend themselves and build a learning network for themselves. We truly believe that students that learn how to do this will have an advantage over those who do not. 

Here are a few other examples of the ways that our staff and students are connecting with others, building their learning networks, and establishing a digital identity. 

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Edweek Highlights Burlington’s EdTech Efforts

The video above appeared on Education Week’s Digital Directions Website back at the beginning of February.  We are certainly fortunate to be gaining this type of recognition nationally for the phenomenal efforts that staff members have made to integrate technological resources into their classrooms.

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What Are Standardized Tests Preparing Our Kids For?

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.
  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the weekend, an interesting article titled A warning to college profs from a high school teacher ran in The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet Column.  The article, which has generated well over 1,000 comments already, was written by award-winning high school teacher Kenneth Bernstein from Washington, D.C.  Despite the article’s title, Bernstein is really sending a warning to all of us about the current reality concerning our students and the climate of testing that has overtaken our educational system.  

His concluding paragraph sums up his thoughts:

“Now you are seeing the results in the students arriving at your institutions. They may be very bright. But we have not been able to prepare them for the kind of intellectual work that you have every right to expect of them. It is for this that I apologize, even as I know in my heart that there was little more I could have done. Which is one reason I am no longer in the classroom.”

While Bernstein’s conclusion is very general, he also cites some concrete reasons for the state of the current crop of students heading out of our public high schools being ill-prepared for what is ahead of them.

…most of the tests being used consist primarily or solely of multiple-choice items, which are cheaper to develop, administer, and score than are tests that include constructed responses such as essays. Even when a state has tests that include writing, the level of writing required for such tests often does not demand that higher-level thinking be demonstrated, nor does it require proper grammar, usage, syntax, and structure.

According to Bernstein, these problems also carry over into Advanced Placement courses due to the nature of the AP Exams. As a teacher who spent time scoring the writing portion on the exams, he saw limitations in the scoring mechanism.

“If a student hits the points on the rubric, he or she gets the points for that rubric. There is no consideration of grammar or rhetoric, nor is credit given or a score reduced based on the format of the answer. A student who takes time to construct a clear topic sentence and a proper conclusion gets no credit for those words.”

Unfortunately, with PARCC testing due to commence in 2015 for our students, we are looking ahead to even more time spent on standardized testing and not less.

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The End of Standardized Testing? Hey, A Guy Can Dream…

No one I know takes standardize tests for a living
 (Photo credit: Ken Whytock)
As many of us in education dream about a public education system that is not predicated on standardized test scores, there is actually movement in some places to put an end (or at least a pause) to the ridiculous rat race of “high-stakes testing” we have been involved in.  Sam Chaltain recently posted Has Testing Reached A Tipping Point  on his blog and it is a must read for those interested in this topic.  

In the short video below, Chaltain describes schools in other nations where a student’s teachers “the ones who know a student best” design the most meaningful tests a student will take.  He advocates for school communities to answer the following questions:

What are our measures of success for our students? How do we know we are being successful?
While many are skeptical that anything dramatic will take place to change our nation’s plans to test students more often than any other country in the world, Chaltain notes some blips on the radar screen that he hopes will lead to more action for this important cause.

“Consider three separate data points as evidence: Maryland, where the superintendent of the state’s largest district of schools has called for a three-year moratorium on standardized tests; Washington, where one school’s decision to boycott its state tests has spread to other schools and communities; and Texas, where a proposed Senate bill would significantly reduce the number of state standardized tests students must pass to graduate.”

It would be interesting to see how a moratorium on testing would impact our students. I will continue to pray that we have an opportunity to see the day it happens!

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One Example Of What A MOOC Can Do – #ETMOOC Lip Dub


 There has been a lot of talk about MOOCs lately and I have been doing a lot of thinking about how they could fit into our offerings for students in Burlington. But before I get too much further I want to make sure that everyone knows what the acronym MOOC stands for. A MOOC is a Massive Open Online Course and Wikipedia describes it as follows: A massive open online course (MOOC) is a type of online course aimed at large-scale participation and open access via the web.

A number of top colleges have been offering some of their online offerings so that anyone interested can follow along and participate.  Check out the offerings from MIT, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford just to get a small sample of what is available.  It is a tremendously exciting time to be a learner in a day and age where you can take advantage of the opportunity take courses from some of our country’s most prestigious institutions for free.

So as we consider ways to take advantage of the opportunity MOOCs offer our students, I think we have to keep in mind some of the commonalities of meaningful learning experiences.  These are things that I have been reminded of as I have participated in my first MOOC, the Educational Technology and Media Open Online Course (ETMOOC).

The top thing for me is that a meaningful learning experience must offer participants meaningful opportunities to receive feedback and interact with other learners. The #ETMOOC experience has done this in many ways with options for participants to interact with both facilitators and learners on Twitter, Google+, and Facebook.  The other thing that I believe is needed in learning endeavors is an opportunity for fun. While I am not saying that every learning experience has to be fun, I am saying that we need to find more ways for learning and fun to go hand-in-hand.

While I know that I am simplifying a very complicated conversation, I also know that we can learn something valuable from what is happening with MOOCs.  Just the video above is pretty impressive in my mind and the fact that in just over a week a group representing people from countries all over the world were able to come together to create something that is representative of their cause.

Stay tuned for more of thoughts on my MOOC experience…

Are You Sure Your Child Isn’t Using Social Media?

What Apps Is Your Child Using?
Just because your child does not have a Facebook or Twitter account does not mean they are not using social media resources.  I have been hearing rumblings from various communities (including Burlington) about elementary and middle school-aged children making poor choices with social media resources.  I am certain that in many cases that the parents of these kids are unaware that their kids are over-sharing personal information, posting and viewing inappropriate pictures, and having inappropriate conversations with friends AND STRANGERS.
The bottom line here is that parents need to check on every app at that their children are adding to their iPod, iPad, iPhone, or other web-enabled device. We have moved so quickly from the days when our biggest web-based concern regarding our children was a desktop computer in a common area of our homes. As we are well aware, many of the gadgets that they carry in their pockets can do so much more than those desktops could ever do. With new social media apps and websites coming onto the scene at a breathtaking pace, it is not surprising that parents can’t keep up. 
A Little Advice For Parents

So as I navigate this landscape with my own kids, I want to let you know that just keeping your kids off of Facebook and Twitter is a far cry from keeping them off of social media.  In an effort to promote awareness, I have a few questions for parents…
  1. Do you know what apps are on your child’s iPad, iPod, Smartphone, etc.?
  2. Do you know which apps are connected to social media resources?
  3. Do you monitor the social media accounts that you have allowed your child to create?
  4. Have you heard of snapchat
If you answered no to at least one of the above questions then you are probably in the majority of parents out there.  If you answered yes to most of the above questions then please share your knowledge with the parents you know to help them stay on top of what is happening.  The fact of the matter is that these sites typically require a user to be at least 13 years of age to register and many kids lie about their age in order to sign up which raises an additional issue.  
In regards to Snapchat, you get bonus points if you know that one.  Snapachat has become known by many as a tool for sexting as a recent Mashable post describes.  The way it works is that an individual may send another individual a picture and the sender decides how long the person receiving the picture can view it (from 1-10 seconds) and then the picture disappears “forever.”  Of course since lesson number-one in the whole social media game is that anything you say online can follow you “forever,” we know this is not true.
From a parent’s perspective, it is tough to connect the current experience that our children are having with social media resources to our own experiences growing up.  All we really had was a telephone to connect with our friends and have social conversations. In addition, most of us had some time limits in place when it came to these conversations. In my opinion, it would make sense for us all to at least have some idea of how much time are kids are spending online and what they are up to.
Some Resources For Parents
Common Sense Media has some great resources for parents to help them set appropriate ground rules for their kids. It also provides parents with great app reviews, like the one below for Snapchat. You can search with the box in the upper right hand corner for a review of most apps and find out some useful information before deciding whether or not it is appropriate for your child.  
We will continue to provide workshops for parents to learn about these issues, but in the meantime I encourage parents to check out a few of the following:
Tweens Secret Lives Online – The Wall Street Journal
If you feel you are a parent who has a good handle on this issue, then please share some of the practices that you think are working well! If you are parent who feels lost and needs immediate assistance, please contact me and I would be happy to offer some advice/assistance (

Ramblings From My Reading (Edition 1)

One of my favorite things to do is read about education. My main source of information is the numerous blogs that I follow through my Google Reader account. Last year I was pretty good about sharing some of the things that I found most interesting each week and now, since we are a few weeks into 2013, I am going to try to get back to sharing some of the most interesting items that I come across each week.

The first item this week, is a clip from Sugata Mitra that comes from The 16th International Conference on Thinking in Wellington, New Zealand.  In the clip, Mitra makes a case for the long-overdue change in the focus of our schools to prepare students for success in the world that they will need to navigate when they end their formal education.

Mitra advocates for a curricular focus on the following three areas:

  1. reading comprehension
  2. information search and retrieval skills
  3. teach them how to believe – (What’s the machine that allows students?) Some people call this “crap-detection”
The clip ends with Mitra making the following statement:

“The biggest job (we have) is to give the child an armor against doctrine just like we did in another generation by teaching them to fight with a sword and ride a horse.”

Another thing that has me continuing to question the relevance of our focus in traditional classrooms is a post from Ryan Bretag, titled Grade Focused Students. Ryan, an educator in Illinois,   wrote an intriguing post after reading a story from The Globe and Mail titled An A+ Student Regrets His Grades.

The post began with the following quote from The Globe and Mail article:

“The system teaches us that if you get ‘As’ across the board, you’ll be successful. And if you fail a course, you’ll be labelled incompetent or hopeless. These pressures force students to regard education as a mere schooling tenure where the goal is to input a sufficient amount of work to output the highest possible grades. We sacrifice learning for schooling.”

Ryan wondered if this pressure was real or imagined on the part of students. But whichever is the case, he is spot on with his final thoughts:

“schools are filled with grade focused students with grade grubbing, fixed mindsets when we should have schools filled with learning focused learners with growth mindsets. “

My own concerns centers around the same feelings and whether or not a focus on attaining high marks assures anything down the road for our students.  I left the following comment on the blog in reference to my own son’s first semester in high school:

“I have been struggling with this same thought for quite sometime as an administrator, but the level of discomfort has become even greater as my own son has reached high school. Being a competitive person, he has his sights set on what it will take to get into competitive colleges and sadly, for him, that means getting A’s. He has already figured out what it will take to achieve this mark with each of his teachers. In some classes, he can pull this off with minimal effort while in a couple of others he has to spend a good deal of time. However, there is no instance where I see him being engaged in a course because of a love of the content and the authentic learning tasks that he is involved in. He is simply “playing the game of school” and I am not sure what this will accomplish in the end.