10 April 2016

The System is BREAKING, for Many it is ALREADY Broken: A #MLTSfilm Review

My district is hosting a screening of the education documentary Most Likely to Succeed on Thursday, April 14 - its something I've been anticipating since I first saw this film last December at Mehlville HS (Get your FREE tickets here!)

The basic premise of the film is that US industrial education model that was developed at the end of the 19th century to develop a moderately literate, instruction-following, factory-ready workforce is obsolete and killing us. The filmmakers then show us a way out, specifically highlighting the work done by teacher-innovators and their students at High Tech High in San Diego, CA.

One of the most poignant moments of the film for me is when we see one of the school's parents admit that although she's nervous about what exactly her daughter is learning at the project-based learning school, she acknowledges that her friends' kids are often coming back from prestigious universities with prestigious degrees and having a hard time finding work. 

It's a growing cultural theme - the promise of college = great job is waning, if it's not already dead.

But is this really new, or is it new for the more privileged in our society, making it finally apparent to many more in power? 

The filmmakers give a lot of stats midway through the film about how much knowledge is lost in only a few months from taking a random test, that its nearly impossible to learn US history meaningfully in an AP US History course, and that good grades and good test scores don't exactly correlate into creative, independent, resourceful workers for firms looking for innovation.

Now to my point - urban and rural communities that are ALREADY struggling to keep up with affluent suburbs already know these things. They already know that the test system is rigged and meaningless for them. They already see their best leaving. 

Poor urban and rural communities that MOST need the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurism that this film advocates for our students need most to run with this revolution of what "school" looks like, but face more challenges in grabbing the ring. We see many of the parents point out in the film: "We don't know that this will really work! I'm nervous!" but they take the risk anyway, because their communities and families can risk the failures required of innovation. 

If you have any commitment to a community with a failing or struggling school, I implore you to support leaders who will take risks of innovation, rather than promising that we can do more of the same and eventually catch up. 

Thursday night is the 3rd time I will have seen Most Likely to Succeed, and I am more convinced with each viewing that we owe these experiences to all children. We need teachers who refuse to teach toward any test (AP exams included). We need administrators who will value We need parents who demand their children do more at school than study for tests of knowledge acquisition. We need university partnerships willing to train our current and future teachers in the messy process of nurturing creative processes and innovative, iterative learning environments. We need politicians who will make room for this innovation. We need cooperation between all of these.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that rather than only reminding us again that education is broken it shows us a way out and gives us a call to action we can use to galvanize communities around the change.

I'll leave your with a sit-down interview from Sundance Film Festival with the filmmakers, director Greg Whiteley and executive producer Ted Dintersmith, and a TED Talk from Ted Dintersmith about preparing kids for life over standardized tests.

08 April 2016

Should We Have Math 7th Hour?

I have 3 Algebra Strategies classes this semester - 2 in the morning and 1 in our last class of the school day.

These classes' assignments are all differentiated according to students' skill levels and all the exercises are individually generated using Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Math. I love doing these classes because I get a ton of time to work individually with students and its a fantastic opportunity for students to catch or get ahead in their math skills if they take advantage of it.

Because everything is differentiated and individualized, I've seen students' growth have a correlation to their capacity to monitor their own on-task behavior and persevere through assignments.

I'm sure I don't have to tell any educator this, but the last hour of the day is difficult for students' attention in any course. That physical need to blow off steam and relax after a long day of sitting in chairs is not a recipe for success in a program that requires that self-monitored attention.

Take a look at these box plots from my 3 classes measuring the spread of the students' "student growth percentile," a metric Renaissance Learning includes in their reports of student performance on their benchmark "STAR" tests that measures a student's age AND prior performance against a peer group.

According to training material from Renaissance Learning, "ideal, typical growth" for a student will be anywhere between 35 and 75 percentile SGP. My first two classes' median SGP are at the top of that range! Then inexplicably, a similar student population using the exact same program in my 7th hour has a median SGP of 38.

Could there be anything else at play here besides the 7th hour effect?

31 March 2016

This Hotel Lobby Wants Something From You

I love the idea of this table.

This is the table right next to the breakfast area at the suites my family stayed at over spring break. What does this table tell you?

With the choice of this long, narrow table, someone wanted to say, "You should sit here with people and TALK to them." This is out of the ordinary for most hotel lobbies, right? Tables are normal, yes, but typically they are square and fit 2-4 people. You go down to partake of the continental breakfast and guests sit spread out, usually keeping to themselves. I'll be honest - I didn't observe any difference in breakfast behavior patterns during my stay at the Home2 Suites, but I still had a different expectation when I walked into the lobby. If nothing else, it was an invitation or permission to interact in ways I would not normally feel a freedom to.

Like the buddy bench at some playgrounds, someone sitting at this table signals to others that they are open to "playing together."

What does this have to do with classrooms and learning??

Most teachers are more than comfortable with being mindful of ISOLATING students when it's assessment time, and any disciple of Wong's The First Days of School will ensure that students are able to move around the room without bottlenecking in spots, but we must also be mindful of how we will use seating to bring students together.

Not everyone is going to choose to work in a group (and that choice is SUPER important for introverts), but for those that do, is there a space on your room to make this not suck? I have many memories of smushing the slant-topped L-shaped desks together in high school, and it's a reality of room sharing and available space in a couple of my own classrooms right now, but NOTHING about that scenario screams "facilitating collaboration," right?

Whenever administrators or colleagues make note of the kids talking to each other at tables instead of silently staring at me during a lecture, I have to always push back and remind myself even that those tables are a choice I made to allow students to interact. In a perfect world, we would have flexible seating that easily combines, recombines, and separates to whatever setup I want, but if I must choose, I'll choose to connect, rather than isolate.