Problem Solving- There is no Formula for Some Situations!

8289305455_c0d1b1db22_o (1)Some problems do not have an immediate answer.  Some problems may not ever have an understood formula, but circumstances will dictate a reasoned solution, and a life may be depending on it.  My son’s medical condition defied conventional thinking, at least from my perspective.  The syndrome never quite fit any typical pathology.  It took some unconventional thinking and a team of experienced doctors to figure out how to attack the problem that was causing our son’s health crisis.  The immunologist that headed his bone marrow transplant team, who has done hundreds of bone marrow transplants, said that he had never done one on a patient with this type of immune deficiency.  What is the lesson in all this? Obviously I have had plenty of time to frame this situation in terms of how does public education contribute to our ability to creatively problem solve.  I know that students spend time solving problems, but do they really develop deep problem solving experience when we concentrate on getting them ready for the PARCC exam or whatever the next accountability measure is?  If we are teaching them and requiring them to problem solve in formulaic ways, will they be prepared to solve the “real” problems that come their way in a non-school environment? Schools need to be implementing programs and curriculum that have students using integrated skills, working in teams, to problem solve and create new content.  Our current practice of assessment and focus on teacher accountability has forced the focus of the education system away from engaging students in way in which they practice these crucial problem solving skills.


PARRC Results?

Today is November 2nd 2015. Students in the state of Illinois took the PARCC exams during March (3 week window) and May (again a 3 week window) earlier this year. As of today, I have not seen any results from these exams other than a broad statewide generalization about how students performed on the tests. The tests were administered both online and as a paper pencil test. I have seen sources (like this one) which estimate the state of Illinois spent up to $57 million administering and grading the tests.  I have several questions: Why do we not have results?  How do we justify this kind of expense on a test where the results will have no bearing on the teaching and planning for these students’ learning activities this year?  According to some, these tests are about accountability.  Making sure that teachers are doing their jobs.  Making sure that schools are doing what they need to do for students.  Where is the accountability for the decision to spend this kind of money on a program that has had no impact on student learning?  I am not against testing.  I think it is important to benchmark a school’s performance and make comparisons.  We need to know what our students do not do well as well as what they do well, BUT the feedback HAS to be timely.  If we know there are deficiencies we make a plan to address them.  We cannot do that with results we do not have.  A test given between five and seven months ago will have little to no value now as a tool to help our students.  I hope someone is paying attention to this feedback……

Pass the Test

18335276614_4c252ab267_qI am not going to use this space to bash the PARCC Test.  To do so is counterproductive. I want to embrace a system of assessment that gives our students and teachers the feedback they need to develop a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world in which they live.  I want leaders and colleagues who can do those same things.  We need leadership in our country that has a deep understanding of concepts and the ability to think critically about the world where they have chosen to lead.  I have a simple proposal:  In order to take the oath of office, an elected official must at least meet the expectations as set by state in which they serve on the PARCC (at the highest level it is given) or equivalent if their state is not part of the PARCC consortium.  I think that is fair.  Our leaders need to demonstrate the same level of academic proficiency that we expect of our high school students.  Do you disagree?  Why?

Photo Courtesy of Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones’ Flickr Photostream


Dying on the Vine.

dyingonthevineI have not truly blogged here in some time.  I have reported on events here and tackled issues that our students face daily, but I have refrained from writing about the conditions that are affecting public education for a long time because I want our building to remain positive.  I want the staff to do everything they can to make learning positive for kids.  My job is to remove barriers and support the staff in every way possible to make that happen. I have to remain positive and help the school community move forward in every way it can…..but, I cannot help but feel it is also my responsibility to raise the awareness in our community and region about the plight of public education in an era of shrinking revenues and increasing mandates.  It is not my intention to make the job of a high school administrator to sound impossible nor distasteful.  I love what I do when I am in the building with staff and students! Yet, there are conditions that exist, if left unaddressed, may make the educational experiences of our students completely bereft of meaningful opportunities for growth that are offered in programs such as the fine arts, vocational education, and agricultural education. Because the federal government bribed states to adopt the common core standards, new computer based achievement testing, student information systems, and teacher evaluation systems with AARA monies, local schools are saddled with mandate to adopt these “reforms” with less funding than they were getting before the changes were became law.  Illinois never did get in on the funding bonanza, yet we promised to make changes both to get money and to get relief from the No Child Left Behind law that said every student would be proficient in math and reading by…..2014. Illinois has failed to fully fund its education obligations for several years now and small districts are paying the price.  In order to save money, so they can pay staff and bills, many districts have cut their programs to the bare bones.  Where there were once thriving vocational programs serving students and preparing them for real work, there are empty rooms that sit idly by while students prep for the next test.  Our lawmakers seem to be saying lets let the money dry up in order to force reform and small districts to consolidate, all the while rural communities do what they can to save their schools, and their identities, by cutting their school programs to the bone.  Great way to serve kids.  I challenge local legislators to come sit in our schools for more than it takes to do a short walkthrough to wave at everybody.  Sit in our empty vocational rooms, ask the kids what classes they wish they could take, feel the pain that is being inflicted on small rural schools.  Better yet, do the politically courageous thing and legislate solutions that do more than just add unfunded mandates.  Find more revenue, look at the research and what it says about learning and the affect of high stakes testing, teacher evaluation tied to test scores, and narrowed curriculum devoid of enriching electives. You owe it to our kids.  Forget about the next election and accepting money from organizations like Students First and find real solutions.  We are dying on the vine.

Photo courtesy of Andreanna Moya Photography on Flickr

Take the Risk….I Dare You!

This week we celebrate Thanksgiving.  A story about a group of people seeking a new life, willing to sacrifice everything and dedicated to working hard to make their dream of a new civilization come true.  They were willing to make a voyage of discovery to find a new life and it paid off because of the willingness to take risk.


A ship in the harbor is safe – but that’s not what ships are for.

– John A. Shedd (yes he is going nautical again!)

We cannot afford to stay anchored in the what we have always done.  Everyday we must force ourselves to take some risks, tackle the unknown, and enjoy the fruits of discovery.  Consider the following:

  1. RiskOf course it is always easiest to stay with what is known. Staying within one’s comfort zone, not attempting to try new things, is easy (until the hull rots and the ship sinks) for there is no challenge. But if we choose to set sail, risk the unknown, we learn a lot about ourself during the journey and could possibly find a whole new world at the end! Whether it is trying a new strategy in class, attempting a new schedule for classes, taking on a new responsiblity, or cutting ties and moving on, we will certainly gain (if only experience) for making the attempt.
  2. DestinationSometimes it is not the destination that matters at all. It is the richness of the journey that is most important. O.K. so getting there is only half the fun. I think that as I gather more experience as an educator, the more I am moved to believe that there has got to be a better way to prepare high schoolers for the real world. Maybe the destination should be, if we’re willing to take the risk, a remodeled high school where students collaborate with each other, with teachers(as facilitators) and professionals from the real world of work to prepare for their life’s vocation.
  3. DoldrumsDefined as period with no wind to catch the sails, leaving a ship “stranded” in place on the ocean. If we are not making progress or we see hard work having no effect, we are like a ship stuck in the doldrums. Although not technically anchored in the harbor, sometimes we feel no progress is being made despite all of our effort. We must maintain our effort to make the journey happen even though it seems like we have lost all momentum. We must not let those who would take the wind away from us stop us from making progress!
  4. Discovery–The reward for leaving the comfort zone. The satisfaction of conquering the unknown. The feeling of accomplishment after reaching a goal. So many times I have found that it is the risk takers who are the ones who enjoy their tasks and make the most progress. Even though I doubted I could ever run 13 miles at one time, I found that not only could I do it, but I could enjoy it and feel better about myself for having attempted it. The same is true in our profession. I know several teachers who were afraid of using technology until they tried and now they are pioneering new things in their classrooms for the benefit of their students.

What about you? Are you willing to take some risks….step out of your comfort zone? Start by clicking on the comment link below a start a discussion on change!

Photo Courtesy of UGAardener’s Photostream of Flickr

Edublog Award Alternative

It is that time of year again where part of the edublogging/twittering world gets all excited about awarding those blogs they like with the “edublog award”. Then there is the other part of the edublogging/twittering world that gets all upset about the awards. I fall into neither camp. I am not offended nor am I motivated to nominate or vote in the proceedings. I have a rather simple proposal. If you feel you need to nominate blogs for an award, then also nominate educators that have yet to connect to this powerful community for us to contact an persuade to join twitter or start a blog. What do you think? My thoughts on this started today after hearing Diane Ravitch speak in Chicago and being amazed at the number of educators who had never heard her views nor knew about the facts she talks about. Those of us on Twitter know of her quite well and many of us advocate in our sphere of influence in the same ways, BUT, we are still the minority. So along with nominating the most loquacious writers, I think we should nominate other educators to join our community. We will be stronger in larger numbers and we can use something that sometimes divides us (edublog awards) into something that unites us and makes us strong as well as smarter. What do you think? Answer with a comment.

Now Wait Just a Flippin’ Minute!

(Full disclosure:  This blog post was inspired by reading Flipping for the Flipped Classroom Seems To Be the Trend but Not for Me by Pernille Ripp and Changing Gears 2012: rejecting the “flip” by Ira David Socol.)

So this whole idea of flipping the classroom seems to be all the rage in some circles.  A school in Detroit is trying to “flip” most of its classes. The flipped classroom in short is where the students are assigned to watch a video demonstration or lecture at home and then come to school to work on the concepts that were shown to them via video at home.  Teachers are then freed from presenting content and can help guide students as they work on what would have been homework in the classroom.  I am not saying that using this model has no value.  Any type of teaching/learning model where the teacher, the students, and their parents have buy in and belief in the value of the practice there is certainly merit.  BUT, is this model really a change from what has been the norm in classrooms for decades?  If the “flip” model is simply taking the presentation part of the lesson and pushing it outside the school day and then having students do what would have been homework during the now freed up class time, it is simply a very small deviation (if at all) from the status quo. A status quo that is not working well for many of our kids today.  The one thing that this flipped classroom model demonstrates very well is that schools are not citadels where knowledge is stored and teachers have the magical keys to release the scarce information to the dutiful student.  If the flipped model is truly the best way for students to learn, then the Kahn Academy just as well take over the industry and we can be done with all this frivolous talk about school reform.

I like what I read on John Bergman’s website, especially in his post titled What I believe About Learning and Teaching. His explanation of the “flipped” classroom is much more eloquent than what I can write…read his.  I believe we need to “flip” educational practices on their proverbial heads.   We can start by doing things very differently….

  • Getting rid of the rigid time guidelines we use in schools
  • Changing credit associated to seat time to credit associated with demonstration of mastery
  • Stop requiring very different students to take and pass all the same requirements
  • Giving teachers time to take part in a professional learning community where practices can be honed and collaboration with a global learning community can be used.
  • Getting rid of one subject only course requirements and utilizing more project based work that integrates multiple disciplines.
  • Bring in resources and experts from the community and beyond to interact with students to supplement daily activities.  There are no excuses to not tap into the capabilities that modern networking affords.
  • Have students consider local problems and research and propose solutions using expertise from around the world.  Having students do real work and create real working solutions that contribute to their communities and beyond.

Imagine if we took the resources we are spending today to prove that the current system is working (i.e.  NCLB, testing, accountability, ad nauseum) and used them to train teachers and build experiences in which our student could really learn to manipulate their environments for the good of all……just the thought of it has me “Flippin’ Out!”

Photo courtesy of the San Diego Shooter’s Photostream on Flickr

The “Other” Climate Crisis

Sir Ken Robinson challenges my thinking.  He sheds light on what I do for a living from a different angle, THANK GOODNESS!  I know that many people who read blogs and follow education conversations on Twitter have seen his video “Bring on the Learning Revolution.”  If you have seen it, you are dismissed.  Go do your part to change or fight to make education better.  If you have not seen it yet, take 2o minutes to listen to a very entertaining and insightful speaker…..

Too Much Technology?

What is it that makes a public school valuable?  Is it the information it provides?  Is it the opportunities that available there? Going forward in these times of inter-connectivity, where the physical school building and the learning experiences are not synonymous, what do public schools provide that is exclusive?  What do individual schools have available that is not available anywhere else including other public schools? The answer: Relationships.  The face to face, regular social relationships that almost all of us crave are available there (or at least they should be).  I certainly remember that favorite teacher, the good times in classes, and the interactions I had that made my “schooling” a valuable experience.  After all, if Salmon Kahn can teach all the kids in the school Algebra better than the teachers employed there, why does the school keep those teachers employed?  Technology in the form of computers, smartphones, netbooks, web 2.0 tools…etc, are great things, as long as there is an allowance made for nurturing relationships where students feel valued and their learning is important enough for a personal touch by a caring teacher. Using online tools to grade student work, to set up outside of class meeting for students, and to schedule when things are due, can make a lot of what we do in school convenient, but when the use of those modes of communication crowd out meaningful, face to face contact, schools loose that one advantage they have: real, live, meaningful social relationships. Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to lining up to drink from the fire hose of information available via Twitter or other social media tools, I have been a frequent costumer for a long time.  Although I am not the most savvy user, I would like to think I am pretty proficient at finding and using the information that is useful for me to further my own professional development.  The beauty of the Internet and its connectivity is its ability to connect people and resources in ways that were not available a decade ago.  I believe the connectivity and sharing of ideas and resources has revolutionized many parts of our culture. Schools need to take advantage of and change their structure to accommodate the possibilities available via these technologies, but they cannot forget to leverage the one thing they have over the budding industry of online schools…real, live, meaningful interactions.  Need some proof of the human need for this live interaction?  Follow the tweets of the folks attending the annual ISTE Summer Conference in San Diego this June.  Inevitably they will talk about how amazing it is to connect with their personal learning network, live and in person.  It will be the most incredible PD available…..why?  Because they will get what they crave:  Real, live, face-to-face interaction with people they usually only interact with online.  Do we depend to much on technology?  No.  But we must not forget to emphasize the one thing that truly differentiates and gives value to our brick and mortar schools: real, meaningful, face-to-face relationships!

Photo courtesy of the humansocietyoftheunitedstates photostream on Flickr