The Act of Letting Go

I was that teacher.  I knew the material.  I had to tell my students how it was.  Daily.  For forty-three straight minutes. Outlining and vocabulary were very important skills, DAILY!  Review on Thursday. Test on Friday.  No retakes!  The first several years of my career I taught exactly as my favorite history teacher had done.  I was one of the ten percent of students that actually liked to listen to lectures about history. I liked to read my history textbook. So years later I taught history like I liked to learn it. My favorite time period to teach about was the Vietnam War.  My first year of teaching, it took me eight weeks to cover the time period between the passage of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution to the Fall of Saigon. I loved learning about this era because when I was in school it was taboo to teach about a part of history that most people wanted to try to forget.  My mentor teacher that first year pleaded with me to move on to other parts of the curriculum.  I marshaled on. The rookie teacher had no idea that he had bored his students to tears.  Several years later I decided to try something different.  I was mesmerized by this new thing called the Internet.  Students had limited experience with it.  We had a brand new computer lab and WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) software for Internet publishing had just become available.  I made in important decision. I was going to have the students make web pages documenting what they found out about the Vietnam War and put them on the Internet for the world to see.  I told the principal what I was going to have the students do.  She was very supportive.  Modeling how to make web pages was the only direct instruction I did for the unit.  Groups of students did research in the library and on the Internet about specific events that occurred during the war and wrote their findings in question and answer form–it was their idea.  It was a change of pace for my classes.  They worked hard trying to make their pages informative and appealing. They were writing for an unknown audience.  Students began to show me things I never thought would happen.  One student in particular began showing other students how to put fancy flourishes on their webpages by editing the HTML.  I had no idea how he knew this stuff.  He was the type of student that if he did anything he was causing a problem.  He became a valuable instructor during those two weeks.  Another student found a way to connect the pages to a search engine and soon had people from all over the country sending emails to the classes with suggestions or thanking them for putting their research on the Internet.  They received messages from veterans with information to add to their research.  Primary sources! The student who was the trouble maker but knew HTML, he went on to be a very successful computer technician.  The student who connected our pages to a search engine (AltaVista by the way) went on to be a writer for a webzine. (They were going to do those things despite my class, but they got to do what they wanted to do while learning about Vietnam.) I was called into the superintendent’s office.  While I sat there wondering how I was going to be disciplined for breaking a yet to be written user policy, Mr. Superintendent was clicking through the student created webpages.  He looked at me and said, this is really cool!  How did you get the kids to do this?  I just said, “It was an act of letting go.  I showed the kids how to make a webpage and they did the rest.”

Photo borrowed from the Tempered Radical’s (Bill Ferriter) Flickr photostream

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.

 

Where Have I Been?

jakesrpicI am not sure how to start this entry.  I have not written a serious blogpost in almost two years.  I look back and I see drafts, full of thought, yet not published for one reason or another.  Two years ago I was a self proclaimed social media guru.  I presented to groups of educators about, pushed staff to adopt, and cajoled the community to follow the many ways social media could enhance learning and connectedness.  Yes, connectedness, not even a word really, yet this network of social media had me plugged into the best things being done in schools. Things all changed for me in October of 2014 with this simple question:  “Dad, am I going to die?” My just turned 18 year old son was having an intense headache.  My response was “of course not.”  Little did I realize how harrowing the experience we would have on our journey to make that “of course not” come true.  By the end of that day my son had been tied to a hospital bed for fear he could hurt a hospital staff member or himself.  What would become the most unreal of realities unfolded in the next year and a half.  The best doctors we could find were totally puzzled by what was happening to our child.  Instantaneous answers for his problem did not exist and connecting to experts did not produce an answer to what was wrong.  Google could not give me an explanation to what was happening. My son went from being a straight A, top of the class student, to not even being able to recognize me as his father.  My beliefs about our system of education and the purpose for what we do were about to be turned upside down forever.  In my next several posts I hope to share how this experience has shaped the lives of my family and has emboldened me to fight for what is right in education for the years I have left in my career.

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……

Announcing a Manufacturing Dual Credit Program With Lakeland Community College

cobra_rWe are very excited to announce that Paris High School will be offering a college co-credit series of manufacturing courses through Lakeland Community College in the Fall of 2015. The new Paris High School campus will house a new CAM Master Cobra CNC router as well as a nine station Aidex Armitrol lab that includes centers for learning about mechanical drives, electrical AC/DC systems, electric relay control, electrical fabrication, controls technology, fluid power, pneumatics, metrology, and robotics.  We have had two staff members from our vocational department receive extensive training to use the equipment and guide our students through the learning standards set for the courses. As a result of finishing these courses, our students will earn industry certification and  will be able to:

  • Illustrate outlines as discernible shapes of solids.
  • Draw sharp, clear, dark uniform lines; letter 1/8” tall vertical upper case.
  •  Read and document accurate measurements.
  • Use proper techniques to make sketches and technical drawings.
  • Demonstrate the use of a Computer‑Aided Drafting system to create simple to moderately complex technical drawings.
  • Understand how to use absolute, relative and polar coordinate entry methods in a CAD drawing.
  • Describe the purpose of Draw commands and how to use them.
  • Describe the purpose of Modify commands and how to use them.
  • Demonstrate how  to dimension a drawing and the purpose of the most common dimensioning commands.
  • Demonstrate how  to reuse drawing objects and to transfer them from one drawing to another using the Block, Wblock and Insert commands.  Identify career opportunities and work applications in the manufacturing field.
  • Perform programming and application techniques required to complete complex machining assignments.
  • Work will be performed on a computer numerically controlled milling machine and lathe.
  • Calculate spindle speeds and cutting speeds for a CNC machine.
  • Write and execute a program for a CNC mill.
  • Calculate programming coordinates using mathematical methods.
  • Setup tool and fixture offsets on a CNC machining center.
  • Write and execute a program for a CNC lathe.
  • Write on-line and off-line robot programs and operate robot using the programs.
  • Develop applications of Robots to include interfacing of additional actuators to the system.
  • Demonstrate CAD for practical applications to include Schematic Drawings, Sectional and Isometric Drawings, and facilities layout.
  • Discuss basic purpose and function of Computer-Aided Manufacturing.
  • Predict and calculate effects of induction and capacitance.
  • Read, interpret, design and operate basic control and sequencing control logic circuits.
  • Plan and install basic wiring systems.
  • Describe, construct, and operate different hydraulic and pneumatic circuits.
  • Describe principals of hydraulic/pneumatic flow and pressure controls and components used to provide control.
  • Program, set up, and operate online and offline CNC mill programs.
  • Setup and operate manual machine tools.
  • List and demonstrate how to use basic machining hand tools.
  • Describe, select, and apply proper drive systems for an application.
  • Discuss and calculate speed and torque changes throughout a power drive system.
  • Solve problems discovered using SPC.
  • Determine part quality using geometric dimensioning and tollerancing.
  • Use measuring equipment to determine the dimensions of parts.

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.

#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!

(From out of the past) A Note in the Bottle

Recently a note in a bottle washed in upon my shore as if by magic (thanks magic!) Inside was the following quote:

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

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

After considering this quote for a while I found that it had many meanings for me as an educator and the instructional leader at PHS. The following are a few of the things that came to mind:

  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 Alejandro Groenewold’s Flickr photostream

Alejandro Groen

Yes! We Are Going To Be Able To Do That!

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Wall construction in STEM Lab

Imagine 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 Cargill 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.

Architect's rendering at night

Architect’s rendering at night

The Road Forward

photo (10)Sometimes I get an idea in my head that will not go away.  Not all of these ideas are good ones but they make me feel like Richard Dreyfuss’ character in the Close Encounters of the Third Kind, (most of you will have to Google it), where he had to keep trying to shape things into Devil’s Tower. The following idea is one that continues to take shape in my mind and I am not sure where it is going (and like the linked clip, folks are probably looking at me kind of funny).  Using some funds from our vending machines, I bought a college pennant for every member of our staff.  The pennant represents either where the staff member went to school themselves or where their children attended college.  People are usually proud of their alma mater and are proud to talk about it.  I bought pennants with the idea that they would be talking points for teachers and students alike as the discuss education, both in the future tense and in the past tense.  A few weeks after the pennants showed up I got the idea about each faculty member telling their story in a short video.  This idea crystallized during a meeting I attended about community mentoring in schools.  We were discussing how hard it was to get people to come in during the school day and I mentioned the video idea to the group.  How adults could share their stories via video with the local students and they could connect using social media.  The idea morphed as I talked about it.  It came to me as I was speaking, that since the goal was to get students to contemplate their future, why not have students also make videos about their plans for the future and the action steps they need to do to get there.  The adult videos will be grouped into a genre called the “Road Followed” and the students’ work will be grouped together in a collection called “The Road Forward”.  Not sure if I know where this is going yet?  Or if I even am sure I want to pursue it?  But, in order to get others to think about the possibilities, I made a sample video about my “Road Followed”  The challenge was to try to make it informative yet short.  It may seem self serving, (and maybe it is) but I want to know if my idea has any merit….so, here is the video.  Any thoughts, ideas, or criticisms would be appreciated in the comments section!  If the video does not work, follow this link: http://youtu.be/zxyDf7U2wkg