Monday, November 17, 2014

A sensory garden especially for children with disabilities

I love this idea. The Daily Beast reports on Stephen Knolls School in Maryland, which has a sensory garden for children with disabilities. There are systematic opportunities to use the five senses in exploring the plants and flowers of the garden. Garden arrangements of different colors, textures, sounds, smells, and even tastes are included.

But beyond that, they also provide "vestibular, proprioceptive, and kinesthetic input." What? That means input related to our body's "movements, position, and balance. Swinging high in the air, squeezing into a nook, or rolling down a hill might provide these sorts of sensory input."


What an amazing place for anyone--and it's especially wonderful that it's meant specifically and especially for kids who cannot access experiences many of us take for granted.

I also am giddy about the idea that there is an organization called the Therapeutic Landscapes Network. Must! Learn! More!

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk's next theme is "Access." What an apropos article to come across.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Link to EdWeek post-election analysis

I'm watching to After The Storm: What the Election Results Mean for K-12 Policy, put on by EdWeek and featuring Gallup Education and some interesting panelists. They live-streamed it yesterday and it's posted today. I recommend it. Here's the link.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Recap of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: Dignity

H.e.a.r Chicago Talk was this past Wednesday. Our three speakers spoke on the theme of Dignity.

From left to right, Sendhil Revuluri, Mark Larson, Jill Howe, and me

Mark Larson, assistant professor of education at National Louis University, showed clips from his nationwide interview project. Speakers talked about prioritizing the creativity that's integral to learning, and saying No to bad ideas versus choosing to work with existing systems no matter how flawed.

Mark chose a couple audience questions for further reflection: Which interview question would you most like answered in an interview broadcast to the world; and Is it possible for people who have a lot to lose to fight for change?

Sendhil Revuluri, associate director of the Suburban Cook County Mathematics Initiative (SCCMI), which promotes mathematics improvement in high-needs districts, talked about honoring students' existing understandings and misunderstandings in order to teach them most effectively, and how reasonable assessment benefits that process. 

The audience question Sendhil chose for further reflection was, What would a class without assessment look like?

Jill Howe, co-producer of Story Sessions, did a live-lit performance about teaching--and leaving teaching--as a Chicago Public Schools teacher, and the continuing effects of that experience five years down the road.  

The audience question Jill chose for further reflection was, How do you express the desire to teach now that you are no longer a teacher?

That question asked of Jill really struck a chord within me. My teaching career was brief and, by this point, is fairly ancient. And yet--and yet--the desire and drive to teach, the lingering, complicated emotions I have about the experience, the impact this work had on me, continues to shape my life.

I mentioned there was a theme to the evening--Dignity. The theme idea is new, based on feedback from prior attendees, and it worked great. It helped bring out speakers and gave audience a focus. The themes for the next two events are Access (February) and Green Space (May).

I made a couple other changes to the evening, too, based on participant feedback:
  • Past attendees noted that they like the focus on inquiry, but still want to hear answers. So, I added a component where the speakers have time to choose a few questions: some that they can answer, and one that they can't answer fully but that they find particularly thought-provoking, to hold onto for further reflection. This method seemed to retain a variety of question types while providing a more satisfying learning experience. 
  • I've have partnered up with the excellent Educelerate Meet-Up group, which brought out a fantastic crew of thoughtful and energetic people. My hope is to continue to build partnerships with a variety of educator groups with the aim of creating a unique and fruitful mix of participants.
All in all a fun evening with thoughtful and knowledgeable people. I'm looking forward to the next one. 

Can you guess which sticky-note set belongs to the mathematician and which belongs to the writer/performer? :D

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Three Speakers Tonight at H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: Dignity

The theme this round is DIGNITY. We'll hear three speakers talk about different aspects of dignity in teaching and learning. Audience also gets to join in the conversation.

Following many years as a high-school teacher and a museum educator, Mark Larson is now an assistant professor of education at National Louis University. He has written two books, Making Conversation: Collaborating with Colleagues for Change; and, with Betty Jane Wagner, Situations: A Casebook of Virtual Realities for the English Teacher. He is currently conducting interviews with educators around the country, collected here.

Sedhil Revuluri is the associate director of the Suburban Cook County Mathematics Initiative(SCCMI), which promotes mathematics improvement in high-needs districts. Prior to his work there, he worked at a founding teacher at a South Bronx school, collaborated with the National Science Foundation to create algebra curriculum with embedded socio-emotional supports, and worked with Chicago Public Schools to promote collaboration and leadership among high school math teachers. 

Jill Howe, a former high-school English teacher, is the  co-producer of Story Sessions, a monthly live lit event with stories, music, and artwork at City Winery. Last year, daring herself to write more, she read a new story at least once a month. This fall, Jill is also coaching the new storytelling component of Fear Experiment at the Park West. 

I'm totally looking forward to cozying up to Black Rock Bar's fireplaces with a drink and some grub and joining in a thought-provoking exchange of ideas!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Wednesday, November 5: H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk

It's that time again...time for H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. Teachers need a place to share ideas about teaching and learning. The goal of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is to provide that place, in close proximity to food and beer. This round's theme: Dignity.

If you've got a story to tell related to teaching, learning, and dignity, let me know! And, whether you got a story to tell or just want to listen, I hope to see you there. Info and contact here.

A couple things to think about from _Catalyst Chicago_

Catalyst Chicago had some food for thought recently--as it often does. 

Waukegan teachers and district are at an impasse in regards to pay and benefits, and have been for almost a month. (Update: They have reached an agreement and the hope is that school will start on Monday.)

Teachers need better pay and resources and to be treated like adults; legislators' policies and local/state funding priorities persist in not acknowledging this. It's maddening that we have not adjusted as a culture to a healthier education ecosystem.

However, kids have been out of school almost a month. The strike has been a big strain on libraries and other already strapped community resources, and on working parents. And think about the consequences for students, not only for learning, but in many cases for nutrition and safety.

Catalyst quoted an area principal that pretty much sums up not only the current consequences of the strike but the whole tragic frustrating mess of a dysfunctional education-policy/funding system. “It doesn’t matter whose side you’re on, it’s really obvious who’s getting hurt.” 

The other story that caught my eye goes in the Who Could Have Expected Anything Different file. Catalyst reports that enrollment in teacher-prep programs has declined. Poor working conditions, policies based on mistrust and micromanagement, unearned blame, low pay, little support, never-ending conflict...well, of course many young people don't wish to enter the profession. 

And also this: one person opted out of teaching because, while still in his teacher-prep program, he felt (quoting Catalyst here) “in the middle of an ideological war that surfaced in everything from state-level education policy on down to his course textbook, which had a distinct anti-standardized-testing bent.”

This really hit me, because...ugh. Because war, even ideological war, claims many unintended innocents.

Let's hope we emerge from this time of ideological conflict with a better, stronger, set of solutions for K-12 education.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Illinois Raise Your Hand and Park the PARCC

Well, since my last blog post, we've had two family weddings--one of them being mine. It wasn't a big to-do or anything, so I thought I could just sort of carry on with everything else in life, but guess what? One actually gets pretty immersed in such things. Everything is settled down, now. Please pardon the absence.

Now then: I recently(ish) had the pleasure of speaking with Wendy Katten of Illinois Raise Your Hand. This organization, headed by Wendy and run by a host of amazing and dedicated parents, does an incredible job of bringing substantial, high-quality, well-researched, real information to parents and the public about issues in education.

That was a lot of gushing, there. But they deserve it. The group is amazing.

IL Raise Your Hand is currently working to delay the new state test, PARCC. There are many reasons to delay this test, including your most basic cart-before-the-horse problem: Illinois and other states have not completed the implementation of the standards the PARCC is correlated to, so, even if the test itself were ready (it's not) it could not possibly capture a valid and reliable picture of students' progress.

If you've been following my blog you know that I think the violent rejection of the Common Core State Standards is largely a misdirected result of immense frustration and grief related to longstanding unresolved inequities in education. I don't hate all things Common Core. But I do hate illogical, meaningless, unnecessary high-stakes testing that could not possibly result in useful information. All this testing can make a person very nervous--and I'm not even the one being tested. I support the movement to park the PARCC. Here is Raise Your Hand's position paper and a petition to sign.

Pass it on.

Monday, August 18, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk August 6 Recap

The theme for the H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk Summer 2014 is Art+Data=Communication. Each speaker prompted us to ponder an element in this equation.

Art: Rena Grosser had been pondering the question, "What is a classroom?" To begin to answer, she and fellow artist Ariela Robinson created a traveling installation of school desks in outdoor settings. The experience was galvanizing for them: Rena's ending question was "Where should we take this (installation idea) next?"

Data: Dr. John Gasko asked if noncognitive factors matter for academic success, a question he and his colleagues at UChicago Impact have been pondering for a while. The data, definitions, and processes he provided to answer the question were fascinating, each slide offering more chewy food for thought. John's ending question was, "How can we change the non-cognitive factors in the classroom?"

Communication: J.D. Van Slyke was recording the event for a new podcast, RefreshED, that he is launching with colleague Amanda Kilibarda Gutierrez. He spoke about his wish to capture and share the stories of the brilliantly energetic, creative, and caring educators and social service providers he'd met throughout Chicago.

Thank you, August speakers, for uwittingly creating my new favorite way to capture the concept of idea conveyance!

The audience questions are always my favorite part. I just love hearing the diversity of mindsets and experiences captured in the questions. Among my favorite questions this time around were:
  • How are you recording the lessons that surfaced in your mobile classrooms? How will you share? (for Rena)
  • How do you transfer non-cognitive factors (grit, perseverance) learned on the street to those same factors applied in the classroom? (for John)
  • What do you mean by "radically re-imagine" and how can a podcast promote this? (for J.D.)
Everyone has a chance to discuss any question of interest after the presentations in a more casual setting than a formal Q&A--though I think at some events that happens more than others. I'd like to figure out a way to ensure people do get the chance to discuss the ideas they want to.

And on that note, I'd like to get some feedback on the event. Now is the time for it to grow in depth, strength, and reach. If you've been to one of the H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk events, please take this survey.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk, Summer 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is tomorrow, Wednesday, August 6. Speakers include an artists who co-created a traveling edu-installation to see what would happen, an expert on the true meaning (and possible use) of data in schools, and a co-creator of a local Chicago-based podcast all about education.

What an interesting group! We're convening at Black Rock on Damen just north of Addison. Presentations start promptly at 7pm. There will be eats n drinks.!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A rural school redesigns itself, with students and teachers closely in mind

This article about the Lindsay Unified School District  is notable, first because the district understands that test results do not measure profoundly important changes, especially in the first few years after initiatives are put into place--and their leaders are not cowed into thinking otherwise; and secondly because it shows design principles at work.
"Design thinking" is among those buzzwords that are exciting and compelling in relationship to school transformation--at first--and then they get tiresome. Unless the processes and measures they "buzz" about actually work, authentically, respectfully, and from the ground up, to transform a school. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Midwest Ecology Learnin'

I am taking a summer ecology class at the beautiful and treasured Morton Arboretum. Every Tuesday for four weeks we meet and learn about tallgrass prairies, plant and animal communities, and the wily and wicked-tricky nature of plant identification. Here's what I've learned so far:

  • The roots of lawn grass go down like 4 inches at most. The roots of prairie grass goes down...guess. They go down five to ten FEET. That way, they reach water from below the ground--they do not rely on rain water to stay alive. They also help prevent erosion. Compare this with lawn grass, which requires regular watering and does little to anchor the soil.
  • It's a challenge even for veteran ecologists to identify a plant using a field guide. In a true prairie, with the natural diversity of grasses, sedges, and forbs*, there are a great many options for what any given plant might be, and young plants looks different from older ones, plants in bloom look different from those who have gone to seed, etc. 
  • It's even harder to identify plants when things are not in bloom. 
  • *A "forb" is a flowering plant.
  • There are other great words like "sessile" and "peduncle" and "rhizomous."
  • Some field guides are categorized alphabetically, which isn't helpful at all for identification, really; but then again, what IS a good way to organize a large inventory of plants? The most user-friendly guides are categorized by color of bloom--but if the plant isn't in bloom, that doesn't help you much. The most thorough ones guide you through a sort of choose-your-own adventure branching scheme: How many petals? Do the flowers form a clump or are they individual? What shape are the leaves (there are all sorts of fun words describing leaf shape)? How do they branch? And so on. From there, you are sent to the appropriate section in the book. But it seems to not work at least as much as it works, and if the plant isn't in bloom the steps sort of break down.
  • There are more different shapes and qualities of leaves than you ever imagined.
  • My conclusion is, sort of like with people, you just have to get to know the plants, and then you recognize them intuitively and more or less instantaneously in all their different forms. If you try to recognize them by-the-book, you are as likely to be wrong, and not even close, as right.
  • Just when you think you've got something straight, you learn that they have changed the latin name of the plant (for example if botanists have reassigned the genus).
  • Healthy prairies are incredibly diverse--their appearance is hugely different from the mobs of weeds and  invasive plants mobbing empty lots, alley cracks, and even most of the tended park areas in Chicago.
  • They are also buggy.
  • Unintended consequence: all I see now walking through Chicago green spaces is garlic mustard and bishopsweed ruining everything.
Prairie Dock
Purple clover
Wild indigo

The fall ecology class focuses on trees. I am really excited about this! I hope it works schedule-wise.

Morton Arboretum has year-round educational programming for kids--and for teachers, from half-day workshops to participation in masters degree programs. 

Note--their lauded and unique certification programs (not just for teachers--available to anyone) are being phased out next year. Let's hope the classes remain, even if the certifications don't--but it's still quite a loss. 

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Walter Dean Myers

I'm very sorry to hear that Walter Dean Myers has passed away. He is one of the strongest young-adult writers I know of in terms of his writing, and his connection to his young readers is real, important, and enduring. He has had a deep positive impact on generations of young people, especially young men, especially young men feeling trapped by economic or social circumstances. Rest in peace, Walter Dean Myers, and thank you. What a life well lived.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

I Have a Dream that people everywhere will be able to read "I Have A Dream"

The "I Have a Dream" speech is under copyright. Even on, they have an image of the pages of a book with the speech, but it is displayed such that it is exceedingly difficult to read. I totally understand they have a RIGHT to enforce copyright...but whether the copyright holders like it or not King's most famous speech has become a part of our nation's shared legacy, and I just wrote them to beg that they not enforce that right.
We have free access up until 1923 to the words of people who had a voice...but those who had a voice were a select group. As the 20th century wore on, more women, immigrants, and minorities were able to speak--but we don't hear them nearly as easily. I feel if our copyright laws didn't stop public sharing of our history at 1923, we would be a far, far more progressive and knowledgeable country. 
The prompt on the site was "I have a dream that..." Here's what I wrote:
I have a dream that you will make the text of "I Have a Dream" freely available online, so kids and adults around the nation and the world have an opportunity to learn from this speech. It has incredible, terrific power to teach--about human nature; about the power of focus and determination as well as hope and trust; about the most conflicted, vexing theme of our nation's history and present. And--as an educator of English and literature I must add--it is also an incredible text for studying rhetoric, persuasive techniques, poetic language, word choice, and features of the spoken word versus the written.

I respect that you have the right to enforce copyright. But I beg that you gift the world the privilege of free access to this incredibly important document. We currently have free access to the words of many tellers of the American story, such as Patrick Henry, Lincoln (and indeed all of our presidents), and Mark Twain. But the affect of copyright laws has been that the tellers of our history are restricted to privileged white men. Undeniably, those men have a vital story to tell--but it's not the only story, and the copyright laws have unwittingly perpetuated their antiquated prerogative.
We can't ask all post-1928 world-changing texts to be made freely available (though I think that would be very helpful for reviving and nurturing a civic mind and a sense of compassion and understanding in our country)--but MLK's speech--that is really an exceptional, special piece. Please, reconsider your enforcement of copyright.

(Update: The 1928 was an error. It's 1923.)

Thursday, May 22, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: Spinning Right Round and Finding One's Path

Tuesday was a gorgeous summery day, and the Map Room a nice spot for the evening, with its big breezy windows. We started with pizza and chatting; the music turned off and mic came on a little after 7:00.

Unfortunately, some element of the sound system was picking up a television signal, and presenters and audience found themselves having to compete with television programming--and not just any programming, but Alvin and the Chipmunks, culminating in a soul-destroying rendition of Dead or Alive's "You Spin Me Round." But let's just repurpose that disorienting (if theoretically hilarious) element of the evening into part of the theme that emerged: I'd call the theme for this installment of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk "Identifying that which disconnects us, and recapturing our path."

Adam Heenan asked how high school teachers can help students develop an active voice in their own  education. He detailed some factors leading to students' rudderlessness (standards, testing) and described his solution: helping them apply the methods used in advocacy-organizing to their school experience.

Questions from the audience for Adam included, among many:
  • What are the implications of students who stand up to the "machine?"
  • Could there be a high school Local School Council [an LSC is usually made up of parents, community members, and school leadership]?
  • What if the students don't want to engage in this way of thinking, but are more comfortable being told what to do?

Lisa Clay asked why we persist in doing things that we know are bad for us. She explored the notion that, if self-defeating behavior is composed of a trigger, a routine, and a reward, focusing on changing the routine will yield the best results, since we humans are designed to develop and repeat habits. Lisa approached the question as it applies to nutrition (why do I eat sugar when it makes me feel awful?), but ended with an invitation to consider the concept's application to education contexts. 

Questions from the audience for Lisa included, among many:
  • Sometimes bad habits just happen, without a specific trigger. What then?
  • How do you get yourself to want to change the routine, or have the wherewithall to do so?
  • How do we get buy-in from friends and family when we want to change a habit?

Throughout the evening, I asked audience to submit their own edu-questions they'd been chewing on, which I posted to the wall on butcher paper so people could brainstorm ideas after the formal presentations. This activity didn't get much attention, which is all right, because everyone was talking with each other instead, sharing ideas, which is the point, after all. Attendees represented a fertile mix of teaching and communications disciplines--classroom teachers, informal educators, people in advertising, body/movement therapists, and so on.

However, I'm interested in the butcher-paper questions: 
1) Who won: Karen Lewis or Rahm Emanuel?

When I read this question aloud, the classroom teachers in the room kind of snorted and laughed--they didn't see this as a real question. But the submitter, a "layperson" in terms of edutalk, told me he found the whole situation confounding and inaccessible, and he would have been interested in responses. I think this is really telling. Talk about these issues can become very insular, knotted up in impenetrable thickets of history and context. When a critical mass of people--well, voters--can't access information or reasoning, that gap ultimately contributes to a disconnect between education policy and good practice.

2) What does respect for teachers look like?
This question got a bit of interaction, but merits more.  Maybe someone will explore this in a future H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Climate Adaptation for Urban Nature...and Conceptual Adaptation for Urban Residents

I've been to several excellent nature-and-education-y gatherings this spring. (I generally tweet such experiences in a significantly more timely manner than my blogging about them, so Twitter is a good way to get the gist of a lot of thought-provoking happenings).

It's been months now but my first break-out session at the April 3 Chicago Wilderness 2014 Congress, "Climate Adaptation for Urban Nature," has continued to blow my mind. The session was conducted by scientists from the Field Museum, Morton Arboretum, and Northwestern University, who outlined Chicago's plan for climate-caused changes that they see!

The first aspect of the session that surprised me was the realization that a concrete, specific plan is even in place. While on the public wavelengths we are stuck in this ever-circling eddy arguing climate-change legitimacy, among those who can actually do something about it, at more local levels, stuff is actually getting done. For example, the session leaders told us, there are pilots already in place testing replacing trees at the edge of our ecological zone as they age out and die with trees that will be hardier to the new climate.

It was a tremendous relief to me to know that just because we only hear useless demogoguery doesn't mean necessary planning isn't happening. It's just a shame intelligent policy and implementation has to be conducted by stealth.

But this realization also was tremendously disconcerting. Replace our beloved Chicago trees with, like, pecan trees?? But what about the tree-ful signs of spring and summer and fall and winter? What about our familiar leaf shapes and smells? What will our parks look like? That's crazy! Crazy I tell you!

It sounds so obvious now. Of course, climate change brings ecological change, and far better to prepare for and facilitate the change, since there is no repelling it. But even for someone who thinks about climate change a lot (I do my best worrying in the early morning), it was, for a reason I don't understand, shocking to think about this element.

I was left with logistical questions. What about the critters that rely on these trees? You can't just go and and and replace the contents of an entire niche. What about all the other elements of that ecosystem--the plants that require the shade of those trees, the birds that eat the insects that live on our current trees, and so on? I'm pretty sure these scientists have thought about all that and only touched on this plan in the one-hour session, but their outline left me doing a Looney Tunes level double-take.

And I am still chewing on a question that straddles logistics and, I don't know, maybe philosophy. Given that everything is going to change and there is no stopping it, what is the point of conservation and restoration? What are we conserving? Plants and animals and systems that are going to disappear from our area anyway? Why are we restoring to a time that will never return?

Given the well of emptiness and loss this question leaves in me, I'm going to go with this question  neither logistical nor philosophical, but spiritual, at least for me.

I'd been mulling over this sad question since the Congress, but one of the speakers at the Center for Humans and Nature's May 4 Ethics and Nature symposium actually answered it, in part, in her talk. Conservation plant scientist Pati Vitt pointed out that a healthy and whole ecosystem is better able to adjust to climate change than a degraded one (think about how much less damaging the droughts and winds of the Dustbowl would have been if we had cultivated the land more thoughtfully).

Okay--that sounds right, and useful. But that doesn't sound like the whole answer to me. Maybe it's also that the notion of climate change makes all of us, even those of us who accept its reality, want to continue with our comfortable and comforting ways. I hope that's not it. I hope--I think--I don't know the answer yet. I do know that it seems increasingly important to keep conserving, keep restoring, and still keep planning.

Given the subject of this post, I thought this photo I took at last week's Nature Play workshop put on by Chicago Wilderness was a propos. Hah.

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Common Core crucible

Can we talk for a second about that kindergarten show that was canceled so kids could cover the academic imperatives outlined in the Common Core? Here's the letter to parents:*

There's a lot of angry scoffing going on in my Twitterverse about this. It's held up as Exhibit A of the  Common Core's hatefulness.

This letter does not show us that the Common Core is bad or inappropriate. It shows us that the school principal's judgment is awful. Yes, a main principle of the Common Core is to prepare high-school graduates for college and career. Yes, there must be a continuum of learning from K to 12. But obviously best practices for teaching kindergarten include providing a developmentally appropriate curriculum. Having kindergarteners do a show for their parents is developmentally appropriate. Having them "study" for academic readiness is not developmentally appropriate.

The Common Core does not ask that educators make kindergarteners study. The Common Core asks that educators provide environments for kindergarteners to play, draw, ask questions, listen, experience art, and relate to others.

The Common Core is a core. A starting point. It leaves ample room for teacher expertise--its point is to leave ample room for teacher expertise. The roll-out was handled badly.

The assessment component has been handled naively. They should have recognized that standards that ask for deep, authentic, critical thinking cannot easily be captured in a standardized test.

Implementation and training has been handled bad, bad, badly. This should be local, in my opinion--but god knows schools, districts, states needed the time, space, and money to come up with something intelligent and helpful, and none of those things were forthcoming. MONEY is needed. TIME is needed. TRUST is needed. SPACE is needed. Legislators and educational-services providers need to understand this and step back. Like everything else in our country's operations, we have forgotten all about Process and gotten distracted by the shiny parts of Product. Then we don't understand why complicated things break down.

The Common Core is not evil or stupid. It seeks to emphasize critical and deep thinking.  It prioritizes children. It prioritizes teachers' expertise. Except for some insanely difficult exemplars at the lower grade levels (where'd they come up with those?), it is reasonable. It's not perfect. But it's a framework, not a prescription.

Here's an idea: Screw the tests. Have kids take the PISA and let all the rest of the standardized tests go; instead spend the next two years developing an intelligent, respectful, and fully funded roll-out of the Common Core. Don't have politicians do it. Don't let educational publishers get involved. Find master teachers and curriculum directors and pay them to take the time to do this. Make the Common Core implementable.

Then, after that, like five years from now, or ten years, THEN come up with tests, if we must. But I bet by then we'll find they're unnecessary, a dangerous and useless appendage left over from NCLB, like an infected appendix.

Educators know what's good for kids. AND the Common Core is not evil, but rather a lightning rod for the helplessness that both educators and parents feel right now, for different reasons. AND the people who run that kindergarten made some weird and terrible decisions. All these things are true. Can we stop yelling now?

*Courtesy of Washington Post; at least, I hope so.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

1) A Finnish guy, an American hero; and 2) H.e.a.r Chi Talk

Many thanks to those of you have rsvp'd for H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. I'm getting very excited about this one. I just heard Pasi Sahlberg speak yesterday, thanks to Raise Your Hand Illinois, and, while listening to how Finland employed mature vision, humble intelligence, and faith in its people to strengthen their society is rather deflating because, well, frankly, this sort of behavior is not in the cultural DNA of the U.S, a place with a history of addressing complexities through stridency and slogans--it is also inspiring, or galvanizing, because it helps give shape to problems and solutions.*

Sahlberg mentioned that all of Finland's great edu-ideas--the ones on the right-hand side of slide 14 here, came from the U.S. Say wha? Really?? Which?! Where?! When?! I gathered by the end of the presentation that what (I think) he meant was there are innovative and engaging and pedagogically appropriate and child-developmentally-appropriate and teacher-respectful practices happening at individual schools, and that Finland's really done its research over the past forty years--but there is no mechanism to catalog, disseminate, propagate, and scale these individual and locally occurring ideas.

So. Here's where I get back to H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. Sharing and amplifying these localized ideas is the exact point of this idea exchange. That's why I started it. That and the need for a counter to the yelling and anger and conflict that's been happening in Chicago and nationally in edu-fields. H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is meant to be a place where great ideas can be shared and those who reach and teach can feel inspired and re-charged.

There is so much to learn from Finland's experiences. Let's start by sharing and learning from our own great ideas.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: May 20

Finally! May 20 is the next H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk. I promised one in January and, what with moving house and job adjustments and holiday shenanigans and relentless polar vortices, it didn't happen. But  it's blooming now, along with the much anticipated plant shoots and tree buds.

Next event:

Tuesday, May 20

7:00pm sharp (doors 6:00)

The Map Room
1949 N. Hoyne

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H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk: coming May 20
Be heard. Be inspired. Have a beer.
H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is a social hour and idea exchange, featuring brief grassroots presentations on topics related to teaching and learning of all kinds.

A question-based structure
Collaborate on complex problems
Presenters start with a tough question about teaching or learning that they've been chewing on. Over six minutes, they present an inspiring way they've responded or seen someone else respond. They end with a new chewy question for their listeners, who in turn ask their own questions about the idea.

A diversity of attendees
Connect with resourceful folks in a variety of fields.
Past presenters include classroom teachers, veterans, peace activists, and artists. Past beginning/ending questions include:
  • How do we interrupt youth violence...and to what extent can do stress management tools prepare kids to be global citizens? (Yoli Maya Yeh, June 2013)
  • How do we get more veterans to value books as much as guns...and how can we measure positive impact?(Don Whitfield, September 2013)
  • How do we teach students to be free thinkers...and how free can they really become within a school year?(Dennis Anthony Kass, September 2013)

An innovative Chicago
Be a part of it!
The goal of H.e.a.r. Chicago Talk is to foster discussion and connections among resourceful folks in a variety of disciplines. Anyone is welcome to attend, and anyone is welcome to submit a presentation idea for consideration (in advance--this is not an open mic).

Mark your calendar...and pass it on!

In lieu of public funds, we put one foot in front of the other

I wish we didn't have to rely on corporations and foundations backed by billionaires to fund our basic civic resources, like libraries and schools (a three-year school improvement grant that provided vital services and support for the most challenged Chicago schools is ending this year...and all these programs put into place are expected to just continue on somehow without support, staff, or funding). But--it's nice to learn here that our library gets its exciting and innovative Maker Lab for one more year.

But really. This ever-accelerating move toward oligarchy. This withdrawal of public funds for public services. What are we doing, y'all?

In happier news, May 10–18 is Urban Biodiversity week. I had a heck of a time fnding the website through a Google Search, so I've put it here. You're welcome. Have fun. Watch for ticks. :)

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

MOOCs are not classrooms--but they're pretty amazing

Many of you have probably seen this talk by Daphne Koller, or one like it. She talks about the origin and goals of Coursera, a system that provides MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) from top universities for free to anyone in the world with an Internet connection.

There are plenty of user complaints about online courses, most of them revolving around peer grading (graders don't always grade responsibly or competently) and the lecture-heavy blahbeddy blah of the courses themselves (the platform and reach may be revolutionary, but the pedagogical method is anything but). And the idea that you can "teach" in this format is a fairly maddening claim to most educators (depositing a one-size-fits-all packet of information into a zillion  people's faces with zero interactivity is not "teaching").


Come on! It's amazing! Knowledge is power. MOOCs may not be "classrooms" but they are libraries of knowledge and they have the power to reach hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people.*  They cannot replace schools, or teachers. But they can open a brand-new door for remarkable but underresourced people who can activate that knowledge into growth and action (in a class of 100,000, if even 1% are driven further, that is a pretty impressive mass).

When women gain access to knowledge, they are healthier, their children are healthier, and their societies' economies are healthier. When young men gain access to knowledge, they broaden their understanding of how they might find their place in the world, of what it means to be strong. When any person gains access to knowledge, (s)he develops a mental and psychological framework that would have been impossible without that experience. How can we deny the power of this resource?

MOOCs also provide an unprecedented opportunity to hone and improve the delivery of knowledge. To paraphrase Koller, when two people get a test question wrong, it's meaningless, but when 2000 people do, conclusions can be drawn. Imagine if we could harness just some of the data the millions of American children produce in school, and use it to improve our school system.

Yes. I am aware that this is exactly the kind of thinking that has led to misguided policies related to data-driven instruction, student assessments, and teacher evaluations. But that is because of the patronizing, almost imperialist stance the policy-makers in our land--the legislators and their loud fringe constituents and their very persuasive corporate backers--have adopted toward teachers and teaching. It's their conclusions that are tone-deaf and unhelpful--not the possibilities. You can't solve everything with data and you can't squeeze data from everything. But there must be SOMEthing meaningful we can draw about learning from the digital and analytical powers available. We just need to ask the right questions, use the right tools, and be humble about the incompleteness of what that data can really tell us in a rich and unpredictable human transaction such as teaching. (For the record, we're 0 for 3 there).

Something like 96% of MOOC enrollees never finish the course. Of course that wouldn't be acceptable in an education system--but that's okay, because a MOOC isn't a classroom. If 4% of registrants gain something significant from a MOOC, that's a lot of souls.  A MOOC's strength is  numbers, reach. The strength of excellent teaching is the opposite: personalization, and depth. MOOCS are not classrooms. But they're pretty amazing.

*(Frankly, given our warmongering natures, the ability for one person to communicate convincingly to masses of those numbers is a little staggeringly terrifying, but let's stick to the positive use of that capability for this post, shall we?)

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

This week's round-up

All right then! It's been a long time since I long that even after my last project finished up and the holidays calmed down and technically I've had the time and inclination to do so, I just...couldn't do ir. This big electronic piece of white paper is a little angry and intimidating when you haven't visited with it in a while.

So, I'm not going to try write anything profoundly insightful today. I'm going to write about what, in brief, I've been thinking about.

I've been thinking about the Friends of the Chicago River Student Congress I volunteered at last Saturday. Our poor just doesn't get the glory that our lake does. I'm so glad Friends exists and Chicago governance in general seems a bit more focused on giving our hard-working, surprisingly calm and pretty river its due. Now to just make it as clean as it is pretty. I was especially impressed with the Cook County Forest Preserve District's brand-spankin' new Urban Ambassadors initiative, which was made possible by a special grant the CCFPD received. Cook County Forest Preserve District in general has been really hiring some fantastic people and making some exciting, productive efforts to get folks of all ages and backgrounds out into nature. I'm looking forward to the next Calumet Stewardship Initiative's Green Drinks, at which CCFPD head Arnold Randall will be speaking.

I've been thinking about Instructional Design. There's an awful lot of learning--of all kinds, not just K12 learning--being facilitated by software, and benefiting from the power and perspective that digital and online tools can offer. Real-time models, maps of all sorts, research sources, interactive's pretty amazing. The possibilities are pretty exciting.

Now, if only teachers could be given the space, time, trust, and resources to learn those tools, and incorporate them fully into their practice--you know, like folks who work in corporations get to do without question or delay or weird overbearing evaluations or random people and entities inserting themselves into every step.

On a related note, here's a great post about how everyone thinks they know what teachers do, because everyone went to school--and how that is hurting our education policy and outcomes mightily.

And with that--I think I'll sign off. Two posts a week, folks, two posts a week. Talk soon!