The New PHS “FAB Lab” (STEM) Fabulous for Learning!

stemImagine a space in a school building where students spend time working with research specialists from throughout the region in a state of the art research laboratory.  A student may work along side a research professional from Lilly Labs researching pharmaceutical health solutions, collaborate with a chemist from General Mills to create tasty new corn products, communicate with a bio-medical research team in Israel about a current local experiment involving the study of cancer cells at PHS, or study the latest in robotics and their applications at local industries such as North American Lighting or Simonton Windows.

The goal of the inclusion of this lab in the new Paris High School is to create “real life” learning experiences where students are linked to the rest of the world through research projects.  The STEM (Science Technology Engineering & Mathematics) room will be larger than the size of four regular classrooms and will be zoned to have biological, chemistry, and physics centers where regular classes can go to conduct research and participate in various projects related to course curriculum.  The room can also serve as a center for advance projects done by upperclassmen under the mentorship of classroom teachers and outside experts.  

The students will be able to present findings in media rich environment in the room’s “think tank” area which will be equipped with monitors, speakers, and computer that will connect them with the world as both an audience and an academic resource.  Over all our goal will be to have students conduct high-level research, communicate with local, community, and worldwide audiences via web-based videoconferencing, and partner with a number of universities and corporations to learn practical applications of current science and technical studies.  The room will allow students from vocational and academic courses to co-mingle as they prepare for further academic study or entry into the workforce after leaving high school.  The funding for this venture is available because local philanthropists care about the education of the youth of this community and we could not create a space like this without their help.  If you would like to know how you can become involved in this venture, please contact us at PHS (217) 466-1175.

So What has Happened Since I Became a Connected Educator?

  • The first PHSprincipalBlog (changed to Director 4/1/2009) post was on 9/18/2007.       (404 posts overall)
  • I have been on Twitter for 6 years, 10 months, 2 weeks, 2 days, 5 hours, 27 minutes, 23 seconds (Nov. 29, 2007) according to http://howlonghaveyoubeentweeting.com

My activity on my blog as well as on Twitter have diminished as of late. I still find an incredible amount of value/entertainment by engaging in the online discussions, I just find it harder to make time to write and send out 140 character tidbits.  My participation in these discussions has ebbed and flowed over the past four years and I am sure I will get more bursts of blogging energy.  As I contemplate these little facts, I am really surprised that I have been at it so long.  Time is passing at what seems like an ever increasing rate.  I would swear that every year I live gets shorter! One question that has surfaced in my mind of late is how have these “practices” changed me?  Changed our school?  Has there been a real value created for the teachers and students at PCHS?

Changes in my personal practice
  1. I have discovered a wide range of educational bloggers, created an RSS feed for my favorites, and read the ideas and thoughts of my favorites everyday.  I think carving out a part of my day to read about what others are doing in their schools has been one of the most productive changes I have made.
  2. I have made presentations to administrators across the state about using social media to connect to one another and to inform their practice.  (an example)
  3. I use Youtube to inform my school community and Board of Education. (example)
  4. Attended ISTE 11 and met many educators who share similar passions about making public education stronger by using modern technology to engage and connect students. (Live From the Blogger Cafe)
  5. Committed myself to lead my staff by being a transparent learner.  I have been become a SMART certified trainer, a Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, a regular user of Evernote and Diigo to catalogue Internet resources, as well as a Twitter and Facebook in the classroom proponent.
  6. Have been a regular user of an iPad and iPhone to make my daily work more efficient.

“So what?” You may ask.  Well, so what is what I say as well.  Because none of that means a thing to anybody but me.  If all I have done is taught my self how to use these tools then I have failed to lead.  I have failed to make much of a difference in the lives of students and the learning experiences they have a on a daily basis.

So what has changed at PCHS?  

  1. The first blog a PCHS was not mine, nor was the second, (both by our former Librarian/Curriculum Specialist-Sarah Hill), but my act of accepting the challenge to blog (again by Ms. Hill) eventually led to a steady group of PCHS teacher bloggers.
  2. Not only have teachers started blogging a PCHS, we also have several groups of students that are blogging (here, and here, for example). By the way, they love to see that people from across the country and world visit their blogs!
  3. A small legion (is there such a thing?) of PCHS teachers have joined Twitter and occasionally they actually tweet something.  I know they lurk more than actively participate, but several are drinking from the fire hose of educational content that flows on Twitter. Our AP Literature class  has had #hashtag chats about the books they are reading and the teacher has used a Twitter back-channel to promote in-class discussion.
  4. Did I mention that some of our teachers are blogging?  Check out this top Art Blog by our own @DestinGirl73
  5. Our freshman English classes have done online-Shakespeare projects where students have created “Facebook-like” pages for the characters and have interacted with students from different sections virtually using different Web 2.0 tools.
  6. I think one of the best by-products of our experimentation with transparent learning has been our willingness to take risks.  This past fall we decided to do an all school thematic-project based learning unit where we turned off the bells, disregarded normal class grouping patterns and let the students and teacher work together to solve engaging problems…check out PumpkinPalooza2011!  We just did a presentation about this project to the Illinois High Schools Connections Conference!
  7. We have begun to see where subject areas and individual classes are beginning to “cross-pollinate”.  Chemistry classes and clothing classes are meeting together. Geometry classes and Consumer Science classes are finding common ground and are meeting together.  Art and English. Welding and Art. English and Science.  We may find that we can build high school co-credit classes where students can earn more that just a credit in one area, they may earn credit for (for example Geometry and Drafting) two classes at the same time.  The possibilities are being explored.  That is the most exciting thing.
  8. Students are meeting with human resources both virtually and in “real life” on a more regular basis.  We have had students visit local businesses and have had visitors to classrooms via the Internet as well conventionally.
We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel more strongly than ever before that we are willing to meet the challenges to make our learning environments relevant and engaging.  We have the unique opportunity to design and build a new school complex that will be both flexible and transparent and able to accommodate learning for today’s world and the challenges of tomorrow.
I AM SO GLAD I STARTED TO BLOG AND TWEET!

The REAL Challenge Begins Now!

IgotuWhat happens when 100 adults and 500 teenagers “lower the waterline” and let others really know them?  What is the affect of bullies telling their victims they are sorry in front of a large crowd of their peers?  How do students react when they find out that many of their school peers have experienced some horrible emotional situations?  What is it like for students when their teachers, school administrators, school board members, and other community members share true stories about their lives and shed a tear or two?  What is the affect of six hours of laughing, dancing, listening, crying, hugging, and caring for people in ways you have never done before?  CULTURE CHANGE!  The building of empathy and understanding. The realization that we are all so much more alike than different.  The awareness of what we say, do with and to others has a major effect that can be both life affirming or devastating.  BUT, it will only happen if we care enough to carry through with it….and it all begins with YOU!

I have said before, many times, that our students don’t care what we know until they know we care.  We have tried very hard to build school community and trust here the past several years in an effort to improve school performance.  I think we may have really turned a corner this past week.  We shut down the bell system, slowed down the prescribed learning and perhaps learned the most important lesson of all; We all matter!  I hope what we have seen the past several days is a new normal.  That we can all continue to have each others’ back and be real with one another.  I know that initially this past week’s activities have made an impact.  You can see it and feel it in the hallways and classrooms.  Our new challenge is to keep this new “attitude” alive!  I know it is up to me and I am the change!  I hope you will join me and commit the same pledge.

Seven Years of Blogging….

happyanivHard to believe I started blogging seven years ago this week.  I have not been a prolific writer but that has not stopped my writing from meandering all over the place (just like this post will likely do). I have written about school events, personal technology discoveries, thoughts about the direction of education in general, my dogs and my addiction to golf.  In the early days I tried to blog at least once a week, sometimes it was more, many times it was less.  I started mainly to motivate my staff to use the proliferating collection of Web 2.0 tools that were revolutionizing the use of the Internet for educational purposes.  I was convinced that the participatory web was going to change the student experience in schools everywhere.  It did change the learning environment at Paris High School, but not in the way I had first envisioned it would.  I believed, and still do believe, that public education must become a place where students explore their interests with caring adults available to guide their journey. The model of the teacher being the expert and the ultimate authority on a subject is now obsolete.  If the teacher as the center of learning is a legitimate learning model, then the Internet can replace the teacher in that model because it can dispense information much more efficiently and at a pace that each student can follow independently.  Today, a teacher needs to be the caring motivator that coaches learning with a meaningful presence.  That cannot be replaced by a networked computer.  One of the biggest obstacles to real meaningful change brought about by the connectivity of modern technology is the national movement to measure student learning and attach that measure to some empirical value that each teacher adds to a student’s learning experience.  The value added model (VAM) is forcing teachers to teach to strict curriculum guidelines that takes away the value that the participatory web could add to the learning experience.

I have stopped writing here as often as I used to for several reasons. Chief among them is that I have two children, a senior and a junior, that attend the school where I serve as lead administrator and their activities keep me busy! Another reason writing has slowed down here is that I have been involved in a building project for the past three years.  We have campaigned for a referendum, designed (then redesigned) a building, and for the past year have been involved in overseeing the construction of said building (it will be done early next year!). By the way, we are going to have an amazing building that is designed for student centered learning!  I have also slowed my writing here because my use of social media has, for lack of a better word, matured.  For a period of time I was writing and using Twitter for personal recognition.  Not that I was seeking fame, but I was very aware when I had a post here that was being read by a lot of people.  I got caught up in promoting my blog on Twitter and pursuing a following.  I wrote regularly (kind of) for the Connected Principal’s Blog and promoted my web presence.  My blog was cited in a college text and my tweets were being followed by thousands of people, and even though my professional use of social media has really slowed, my reputation some how made me one of ten secondary principals that were nominated for the 2014 Bammy Awards (which I refused to campaign for). Somewhere along the line I realized that my reasons for participating in the virtual world of educational learning networks had become very selfish.  I changed my Twitter handle and quit promoting myself on social media (for the most part).  The personality that I had become pretty much disappeared for the cited reasons.  I still blog, tweet and communicate with my colleagues online because I believe that it is important for a school leader to be plugged into the latest in educational thoughts and practice. The participatory web makes that available all the time. I find that it is better for me to spend my away from administrative tasks in classrooms and in the hallways with the students.  AND you know what?  I have had a lot more job satisfaction in the past year because of my renewed focus!

Anyway, for those of you still reading (hi Mom!) I still value what I have gained from blogging and find that it is still a very important way to reflect and share what I have learned.  Here is to another seven years.  Happy Blogaversary PHS Director’s BLOG!

Using commoncurriculum.com

(This post is only about two weeks late….you accept late work right?)

The early September post for #compelledtribe was to be about my use of technology or the use of technology by my staff.  I have found over the past several years that I can get my staff to try things when it comes to using technology to enhance learning, but every now and again it is good to let someone else on staff show how they are using technology because they can show the practical use of it as well as use a different approach than I do.  For our early September staff inservice, I asked a staff member to show how she was using an online application called commoncurriculum.com to post her weekly lesson plans for students and parents to view.  I have asked the PHS staff to post lesson plans online for the past five years.  As a teacher I hated writing lesson plans in a plan book.  The only people who looked at the plan book were me and the principal…..(maybe).  I ask teachers to post lesson plans so parents and students have access to the plans in case they have questions or are going to miss class.  I ask my staff to post them in such a way that a parent could read the lesson plan and be able to ask their student questions about the lesson based on the plan.  Commoncurriculum.com allows staff to post lesson plans in a neat and uniform way.  It allows a teacher to cut and paste between classes and has a great collection of standards from every state that a teacher can add to lessons from a drop down menu.  As the building principal, I am not concerned about parents finding which Common Core standard is being taught this week in math, but other administrators might find this useful.  I like the fact that all of the staff lesson plans have the same format and clean look.  Commoncurriculum.com is free to individual users.  There is a cost if you want the teachers to be able to collaborate using the site.  Here is a sample from one of our teacher’s lesson plan sites: http://commoncurriculum.herokuapp.com/website/regt2

 

Looking in the Mirror

mirrorAs an educator and father, I think it is important to remind myself of the most important lessons to impart.  In times of uneasiness and fear about the direction of the world they live in, children are very vulnerable and need examples of adult guidance and comfort as they try to make sense of all that goes on around them.  As this school year starts I find myself looking inward and thinking about how my actions and reactions might influence those around me.  The following are thoughts I have had while “looking in the mirror”.

Our children have seen the best of us.  How we react on instinct to help our neighbors. That in time of need we are willing to give our last bit of energy, our last hour, willing to give our last breath to help one another.  The human spirit is capable of such amazing strength, courage, and selflessness.  Heroes are real and they live among us and affect us every day.  Our children watch, they remember, and they imitate us.

They have also seen the worst of us.  They see how we turn our back on our neighbor because helping is inconvenient.  They see how we horde what we own, envy what we do not have and attack others out of spite and physical differences.  The human animal is capable of such indifference, uncaring, and outright cruelty.  Our children watch, they remember, and they imitate us.

Stop.  Look around you.  What message are you sending?  Are we doing what it takes to be that role model that can transcend the basic human needs and therefore able to personify what is best about the human spirit?

As I look in the mirror these days, I am sure that I need to resolve to be better.  Whether I like it or not, as an educator I am in a position of influence and I must make sure I model what is best for my children, my family, and my school community.  I know that it is easy to be the critic.  To find fault and shine a light on what will not work is the easiest job in the world, for it takes no true talent.  What takes talent and intelligence is to find ways to get things done, to bring people together, find common ground, procure resources, and build what did not exist before.  To me, this is the most important lesson we have to give.  These are the lessons I want my children and the students of my community to take to heart.  Let us resolve to build, not tear down; to find solutions, not find fault; to identify common ground and work toward a common goal.  We owe this to our children, to ourselves, and the people who have made it possible to live in a society where we are free to discuss such things.

Our children watch, they remember and they imitate us.

Photo courtesy of ulalume’s Flickr Photostream

Learn, Reflect, Communicate….Lead #LeadershipDay2014

leadershipday2014_01-300x240The year was 1995.  The school had just installed its first Internet connected computer lab.  I wanted kids to publish web pages and demonstrate what they had learned about the Vietnamese War.  We (the class and I) worked at learning how to use a WYSIWYG HTML editor to make web pages. I assigned groups different aspects of the era and we published pages about what we had learned.  The kids were astounded when they started getting email from veterans and students from across the world commenting on their work. Several of those students actually went to work in an industry where web publishing was part of how they make a living.  They probably don’t remember much about the Vietnam war, but some of them started building a skill that was important to them.  Because of this experience,  I knew I had a new tool to get kids excited about what we were learning, and better yet, (I think?) my use of technology caught the eye of the superintendent and he soon took an interest in me and encouraged me to be an administrator.  The great thing about this web page project was I did not have to be the expert, I just had to show a desire to learn. The kids really did the rest.  A leader must learn and demonstrate the importance of a continuous commitment to it for the school community in order to be effective.  I have since become a SmartBoard certified instructor, a Google Apps certified trainer and have written many grants for technology acquisition for our school.  A commitment to learning is very important.

Not all of my endeavors as an educator have been great successes.  I know that many times I have had the best intentions, but because I failed to understand the point(s) of view of those who disagreed with me, I alienated colleagues and staff which in turn impeded progress and several times caused an initiative to fail.  Empathy is so important.  If you cannot put yourself in the shoes of others, many times you will fail to gain the insight you need to motivate and move people toward an important goal.  A good leader reflects and makes note of success and failure, analyzes their causes, and plans for the future based on the lessons learned.

A teacher’s time is so limited.  There are so many things to do outside of teaching in the classroom to be effective that teachers have very little time to commit to a new initiative.  Communication is so important when initiating any new program.  If the staff does not understand the why and how of any new program it is bound to fail.  I know, I might hold a record for the number of things that failed to take off because the staff did not understand why we were doing it or how they were supposed to do it.  Finding a clear, effective, and concise way to communicate an initiative is a key component to it success.

Leading others is an amazing experience that presents numerous challenges and great opportunities for personal satisfaction.  Leading is not demanding or making things happen.  Leading is causing change by making it the product of others.  Working to capitalize on the strengths of staff and letting them help plan the direction of the path to follow can make the trip worthwhile and the destination productive.

#Gearingup Here We Go 2014-15!

orange PHSThe final weeks of preparation for the new school year are quickly slipping by and I am gearing up for the beginning of the last year of education in this grand old building we call Paris High School.  She has seen a lot of things in her time and has served her purpose well.  I am not sure about the rest of you (folks here in Paris), but this last year here will be somewhat bittersweet.  We have sent out into the world many successful young people from this place.  Through over a hundred years of service this building has seen many changes in the way high school students are educated, but the goals really remain the same: Preparing well educated individuals, ready for the next step, their potential fostered and refined with the hope they will contribute the betterment of their community, state and country.  The students that have left this institution meeting those goals did so because a staff was dedicated to those students as individuals and willing to make the effort to see that each individual was challenged and pushed to meet the requirements in front of them.  This year I am going to take a simple approach with goals.  Goals can be complex and lengthy and I know from experience that the focus is hard to keep when the mission is too complex. Goal one:  Work to build on the strengths of staff members and facilitate growth by encouraging them to share their strengths with others.  We have a very talented staff and we need to quit getting bogged down and demoralized by talking about what we do not do well.  We must build on our strengths, of which there are many. Goal two:  Find the positive in every situation.  Every crisis and every challenge creates an opportunity.  I need to set a tone for the building that shows we can handle each and every challenge and turn out better off for the effort.  The building climate needs to be a top priority for me and the students will be the benefactors. I can’t wait for the students to get here in a week and a half.  They always show up with what seems to be a boundless amount of energy and we need to capitalize on it and give them reasons to want to continue to come back everyday!  Here is to a great 2014-15!