One of my favorite days is seeing the science projects students create. This past year was no different. But much to my dismay was seeing the disparity in what students created. One noteworthy project was an amazing set of homemade, professional carpentry, crafted pulleys and levers set up. You could move a 200lbs rock with it. Right next to this project was three red solo cups.
I asked each of the students to tell me the science they learned about in their respective projects. In the case with the lever and pulley experiment the student could tell me nothing about how levers and pulleys worked. In the second case, the student could tell me the total plan for the science project he wanted to do with the red Solo cups. They had planned to plant different seeds and look at different fertilizer types. The second student had anticipated how the project would turn out but because of the lack of support could not complete it. This was a project that was assigned for students to do at home and obviously one student had a lot of support and the other did not. Therefore the learning was not equitable for the second student and the first one didn’t learn much (except his father was a remarkable carpenter). Further, both students were not able to fully access the curriculum. One because of too much parent support and another because too little support.
I am fortunate enough to be an elementary principal in a great school with an amazing staff. Each person truly is here to give their best to each student and has the very best intention in assigning work that meets the standards. Given time pressures and testing, these teachers assigned this as a homework project. These and other examples have given us time to pause and re-think and reflect on our homework practices.
Homework is an equity issue. The solution is to change this practice. Our school now has students read and work on personal projects, nothing else. If the standards are vital, this work will be done in school as all students need and deserve the opportunity to access the standards and materials.
In the pulley vs. red solo cup none of the students gained much knowledge of the scientific method. And I have one real angry dad that didn’t get a good grade on his project. I know we can do better as a school and system. We can provide all students with deep learning opportunities.
You have just been to an amazing workshop or presentation. You are so excited to share with friends and colleagues. But how can this time be created? I hear principals and teachers all the time talk about the power of connecting and building a PLN. I am wondering if the “powers that be” could organize professional learning to provide time for just that: connection, reflection and conversation.
In order to promote connection I challenge my staff to earn professional learning badges in this area. I ask that they specifically build a PLN and join chats. For example, teachers in my building can earn a Twitter badge, the ultimate in PLN’s. In order to do this they must make five new connections, gain five new followers and get someone famous to follow them. We define famous as, when you get excited when they follow you! So not a Kardashian, but a Kasey Bell or George Couros.
My hope in writing this is you see value in connection and reflection for teachers and provide incentives such as time and badges to help this happen . And as I have shared many times, if we don’t model this for adult learners it will never happen in the classroom. I think we are misusing time if teachers and thereby students don’t have this kind of time. What if we gave kids time to network and reflect ?
Some of the best learning that can take place in a day, although deliberate, can be unplanned. We cannot expect people to “reflect and connect” if we don’t give them the time to do so. So put aside “the Agenda” and give TIME.
I had the opportunity to attend and present at another great Colorado Summit featuring “Google for Education’ in Boulder, Colorado. Leading off this action packed event was Google Chief Education Evangelist, Jaime Casap. The takeaway from this session was the great reminder that “education disrupts poverty” or at least it can in theory. This was just the beginning of the exciting thought provoking weekend that was about to begin. I say in theory as we have not seen this shift occur in education, yet.
The next thought provoking “AHA” was to think about the technology students are looking at today. As a young student looks at an iPhone 7 this will be the oldest technology they remember. To the generation of students in front of us this is the most antiquated technology they will remember! Molly Schroeder refers to this as students are “always living in beta.” This will be like my memory of my Mac Classic. While the Mac Classic had an amazing purpose, it isn’t the machine I need today. And maybe the way classrooms are structured isn’t what are students need either. But if schools continue like the Mac Classic, we will have schools that students do not need. If this happens we will never abate poverty.
Another shift in my thinking that occurred as a result of the weekend was in how we question students about future plans. The question I need to ask kids is, “What problems do you want to solve in the future?” This will replace, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” This question in my mind often sounds like, “Who do you want to work for?” With our students’ mindset and current ways to collaborate globally, they don’t want to work for anyone, nor should we expect them to be part of current corporate culture. Students of today have many opportunities to connect globally and to solve problems, create and imagine a different world. This was my take-away and why I spend my weekend at a GAFE summit.
The best of the GAFE Summit is getting to come back to school and share and putting my learning into action. I know with hard work and thinkers, such as the EdTeamTeam brings together, our schools can become iPhone 20. I know with the backing of this group we won’t become a MAC Classic of schools.
When you tell people about a new idea or thought that they've never had before I've noticed that there are two kinds of people. The first type of person ignores the innovation and give you the “blank stare”. Then there's a second group: they have lots of questions, thoughts and comments. Their enthusiasm bubbles over. This led me to wonder why there could be these two Polar Opposites . It made me question whether innovation was actually polarizing for people. Are people wired completely differently?
After much hard work and a little luck I was accepted into the Google Innovator Academy. The Google Academy supports me in trying to empower principals to be Technology Leaders. However, my Google innovator project seems to create these “opposites” I want to create a tool that is easily accessible for all principals to use and can be the right tool for them. I have a year to figure out how to make this happen. I know there will be curves along the way and twists and turns. But with grit, I'm hoping this project can come to life.
Change is difficult for many, I acknowledge this. I hope to create a tool to make a principal’s job easier, not to polarize. My challenge is not in creating the tool; It is in guiding reluctant leaders towards a comfort and acceptance of new technology. I understand that you cannot push a rope. I hope to, instead, gently lead others to an easier and more effective manner for collaboration, sharing ideas, and communication. Instead of being polarizing, I want to demonstrate how an inclusive culture for all educational leaders is worthwhile and valuable. Our students can’t wait for school to be 21st century places of learning or for this type of leadership to take hope hold.