Learning

Who has influenced you lately?

For some reason I have had the good fortune of being influenced by some brilliant, talented and dedicated individuals these past few months. While I’ve only scratched the surface of their work, I find their work to be inspirational.  Our students, at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School have been fortunate to hear Jeff Shinabarger, Kitti Murray, and Terence Lester tell their stories. Jeff is the founder of Plywood People, which is here in Atlanta, and Kitti and Terence have worked closely with Jeff to build their organizations. My wife and I were fortunate to meet met Len and Georgia Morris this summer while we were visiting Martha’s Vineyard. All are passionate and impactful “engaged citizen leaders”.

Jeff Shinabarger

 

 

Jeff Shinabarger spoke at the Class of 2016 Graduation Ceremony and each member of the graduating class received a copy of his book, More or Less, Choosing a Lifestyle of Excessive Generosity. I love their slogan, “Better is Possible”. After reading Jeff’s book I am conducting an experiment to determine “what is enough in your [my] life.” My three takeaways from the book were:

  • We can lead richer and fulfilling lives if we determine what is essential for our living.
  • “The good life is not found in luxury; rather it is found in a life that enhances the life of another human.””
  • I must continue to develop an understanding of individuals who are different than me. I must walk in their shoes. This understanding can totally change my mindset.

Kitti Murray

Kitti Murray is a social entrepreneur and the founder of Refuge Coffee. She spoke to our students earlier in the year and Kitti and her team participated on this year’s fuse16 conference. After working with Kitti’s team to develop solutions to how they can better integrate members of the Clarkston and greater Atlanta communities I am obsessed with learning more about the Clarkston community. The weekend after fuse I traveled out there to explore the neighborhood. Within two square blocks there are probably 12 different markets. I can only imagine that each market caters to different ethnic groups. I felt like I was overseas again, except I wasn’t sure which country I was visiting. I’m also reading Dave Eggers book What is the What. I’m also having conversations with colleagues on how our students can learn from Clarkston residents.

Terence Lester

Terence is the founder of Love Beyond Walls. Terence shared his story with our students and his team also participated in fuse16. I’ve been fascinated by how Terence walks in the shoes of others to better understand their world. He lived on top of a bus for 30 days to raise money to buy a bus that has been transformed into a mobile makeover salon, lived for a week on the streets, and he is preparing to call attention to poverty in this country through MAP16. Terence, and volunteers will be walking 648 miles from Atlanta to Washington D.C. I hope to participate in MAP16 and a group of MVPS students is preparing to promote and recruit participants for the event.

Len and Georgia

Len and Georgia Morris haven’t spoken to MVPS students…yet. The two are the founders of Media Voices for Children. Meeting Len and Georgia was an added bonus to our trip to Martha’s Vineyard. For over 20 years the two have been on a mission to protect human rights for children. They have documented poverty and human rights abuses in countries around the world (including the U.S.). Len was the 2012 recipient of the Iqbal Masih Award from the U.S. Department of Labor.

“This award recognizes the life’s work of Len Morris in raising public awareness about the plight of working children around the globe,” Ms. Polaski said. “His films and advocacy highlight child labor, hunger in Africa and homeless child laborers.”

Below are the trailers for each of their three films.

I look forward to learning more from Len and Georgia and finding ways to connect them with our students.

Amazing Summer of Learning

This summer I have had three amazing learning experiences that were each very different, yet they connect to our mission at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Here is my first pass at a brief overview of the takeaways.

Traverse Conference at the Watershed School in Boulder, CO

MVPS Team at Traverse16

The MVPS Team (minus Bo Adams) at Traverse 16

Storify from Traverse

Using the local environment for learning – Right from the start we were working with John Weiss from Human Design to consult on their Social Action Machine Project. Starting out on a non-educational project was the perfect way to get the creative juices flowing. This was also a reminder that we need to search for projects for our students that are outside the realm of our walls.

Baking human into everything you do. John Weiss

Project-based learningNicole Martin and I joined the Integrating Disciplines Through Real-World Learning session. We were immediately put on a bus and traveled to visit the site of a 6th grade project that involved ecology, economics, government, sociology and many other disciplines. After the group listed their community problems Nicole and I latched on to transportation and traffic in our area. More to come later on our ideas for a schoolwide project on this problem.

Disciplines legitimize each other.

Entrepreneurship – We learned about Startup Weekend, a program for teenagers that is held in cities around the country. Our task was to study the organic food market and pitch a start up. The highlight was our visit to a Whole Foods. We observed and interviewed shoppers in the store. We got a taste of immersing ourselves in the research and empathy process.

Consultivations – Our students are so much more capable than what we typically give them credit for and Meghan Cureton presented how our Innovation Diploma students consulted with an organization on the design of a pocket park. Here’s an article from a local newspaper explaining what the students accomplished.

fuse 16 at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School

Refuge Coffee fuse16

fuse16 work with Refuge Coffee

The goals for participants were:

  • Make an impact in an issue alongside several Atlanta nonprofits
  • Learn design thinking as a practitioner, rather than in a “classroom” setting
  • Model the possibilities and opportunities for doing school differently

Storify

The best part of the entire experience was learning the DEEPDT process while working with Refuge Coffee. Refuge is an amazing social business that strives to create community for Clarkston residents. In doing so the company also allows for newly immigrated refugees to earn a living wage and develop skills, including English language. Clarkston has the reputation for being the most diverse square mile in the world. The learning was fantastic and the relationships that we built with the Refuge team were moving.

Pioneer Lab with Education Reimagined in Washington D.C.

PioneerLab Text

Pioneer Lab in Washington D.C.

Imagine a network of educators and organizations that is focused on transforming education by creating a new paradigm. This is what Education Reimagined is trying to do by organizing educators from around the country to participate in their Pioneer Labs. I was invited to attend the second session of training to prepare for a September gathering. The learning was two fold:

Education Reimagined has created a vision, a new paradigm, for the for the future of education that is Learner Centered and the five elements are listed below.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 9.36.50 PM

The second piece of learning was around the change process. It’s fascinating to understand how extremely difficult it is for people to move from one paradigm to another. The most telling example was how medical professionals believed, for 2000 years, that bloodletting was the only way to cure diseases. It took new scientific knowledge and extensive research for medical professionals to shift this paradigm.

Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental
process that you are hardly aware of its
existence, until you try to communicate with
someone with a different paradigm.
—DONELLA MEADOWS, THE GLOBAL CITIZEN
What does this new paradigm mean?
The learner-centered paradigm changes our very view of learners themselves.
Learners are seen and known as wondrous, curious individuals with vast capabilities and limitless potential. This paradigm recognizes that learning is a lifelong
pursuit and that our natural excitement and eagerness to discover and learn
should be fostered throughout our lives, particularly in our earliest years. Thus,
in this paradigm, learners are active participants in their learning as they gradu-
ally become owners of it, and learning itself is seen as an engaging and exciting
process. Each child’s interests, passions, dreams, skills, and needs shape his or
her learning experience and drive the commitments and actions of the adults and
communities supporting him or her. (“A Transformational Vision for Education in
the US.” Education Reimagined, 2015. Page 5.)
Learner-centered education isn’t the newest way to “do” education. Nor is it a new
“to do” list or set of activities to add onto your work. Because it is a paradigm shift, it
actually offers a new worldview and demands a mindset shift. It becomes a new way
to…well, be. And, that changes everything.
I look forward to participating in this important work.
WOW! These were all inspiring experiences and they have helped me grow as an educator.

Searching for Flexible Learning Spaces to Study

In my last post New Learning Spaces = New Flow of Learning, I shared the plans for a new Upper School building at Mount Vernon Presbyterian School.  I have been fascinated by what this new campus will mean for learning at our school and am fixated on finding comparable spaces. Earlier in the year, I had the opportunities to visit the James B. Hunt, Jr. Library and North Carolina State University and the G. Wayne Clough Learning Commons at Georgia Tech. Both places provide learners with flexible and open spaces.

While these amazing facilities help me to study how learners use the space, I keep asking myself, “Is the type of use in these libraries different than how are teachers and students will use our new building?” (What I’m about to write actually makes me chuckle.) In general, it appears that students determine how the space will be used. They can work individually or in groups. They can play video games when they want. They can get assistance from librarians or writing tutors on demand or they can use the technology when needed. These spaces don’t seem to be teacher driven or collaboratively driven by teachers and students.

So, if we took over Georgia Tech’s Learning Commons for a week, how would we organize the space? Where would the teachers and students go and how would the space be used? What would the flow of learning by like? These are the questions that I am wrestling with now.

We are planning to convert current classroom space to make it more flexible next year and we are searching for schools who are already experiencing teaching and learning in these flexible spaces. If you’re one of these schools, let’s talk.

People Get Emotional When you Talk about Changing Grading Practices

Over the years I have followed newspaper articles from communities where grading and reporting changes have taken place and quite often the conversations lead to heated arguments, animosity, teachers getting suspended and/or fired, principals getting losing their jobs and court cases.

Possibly the most controversial change that really gets tempers flaring is when schools decide to not assign zeros to missing student work. While the two sides don’t usually get physical, the battle can be nasty.

"Untitled" by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

“Untitled” by RyanMcGuire is licensed under CC0 Public Domain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Under these circumstances it’s very difficult to change overall practices. Instead of the focus being on changing assessment practices to improve learning, individuals take a myopic approach and the two sides get bogged down in the single issue. The fear of having to face upset parents, students and teachers typically leads to continuing the status quo. The status quo, even though flawed, is just easier to continue.

Fortunately, the Graded community was appreciative to discuss assessment practices that improves learning. Our teachers, parents and students saw the value of being able to give feedback to students on academic performance and separate feedback on learning habits. There wasn’t a battle around the typical divisive issues (i.e. zeros, extra credit, participation, group grades, homework grades). The only issue that created a stir throughout the year was reassessments (more on this in another post).

These are the responses from the high school faculty at our opening faculty meeting for the 2014 – 15 school year.

From the start of the year we were continuously learning in these four areas (and others).

What did I learn?

  • That it is never too soon to prepare for rolling out these changes. Ask teachers to respond to these prompts as early as possible.
  • Having a community that supports the concepts and initiative makes the rollout easier.
  • Even when you have the support of the community, there will be disagreements and critics.

What’s it like to change grading and reporting practices that have been around for over 100 years?

1923 Gradebook Page 1

At Graded, In 2012 we started working on plans to redesign our assessment practices to better meet the needs of our students. The most difficult work happened during the 2014 – 15 school year and everyone in our community was on a steep learning journey.I am so proud of our faculty for taking the risks by stepping out of their comfort zones by trying something new. For me, it was probably the most challenging year of my career. I have been wanting to document this journey since last August and with so many educators embarking on these types of changes, now is the time to share. My story of our work is probably much like that of others who have decided to break the cycle of the use of grading practices that don’t promote learning and a growth mindset. Jeff Lippman shared the story of our middle school in this November post, Gathering Feedback For Growth: Grading and Reporting Changes.

Teachers have been assigning grades to students, based on averages, since at least 1870 (Guskey) and most of us have only experienced a system where final grades determined by averaging all marks. We attended school where teachers used this system and then, as educators, we adopted these practices when we started teaching. And, most of us have been in systems where the grades included scores that reflect learning habits. This means that the final grade is not truly indicative of the student’s knowledge and skills.

This is an example of how we used to handle students turning in work late. This practice factors learning habits into the grade.

This is an example of how we used to handle students turning in work late. This practice factors learning habits into the grade.

So, after two years of prep work we decided on the following.

Purpose

All grading and reporting, as part of the school’s overarching assessment philosophy, strives to be comprehensive, equitable, and transparent in the spirit of continuous improvement. The purpose of grading is to communicate achievement of academic standards and habits of learning to all stakeholders.

The impetus for change:

  • In the 2012-13 school year we adopted new Achievement Descriptors. It is impossible to fully implement those descriptors without separating academic achievement from learning habits.

  • The schoolwide focus on assessment over the last three years has led us to question the current Grading and Reporting paradigm.  In order to align our work with our philosophy, changes are necessary.

  • Feedback from teachers, parents and students in addition to Challenge Success data in both the MS and HS suggest that the focus of our students is often on the “grade” rather than on the “learning”.

  • Our current system of grading does not encourage a growth mindset amongst our students as it punishes risk taking and failure.

  • Our current system of grading does not clearly help students gather information about their strengths, weaknesses and areas of potential growth.

Academic achievement grades will not include:

  1. Grade penalties for late work.  Teachers do not reduce grades or give zeroes as a consequence.  Instead, there will be a non-academic consequence which will be reported in the learning habits assessment and supported by the procedure described below.

  2. Group scores: While teachers are encouraged to design tasks that involve collaboration, those projects should be assessed individually for each student.

  3. Grade penalties for academic dishonesty: This will be treated as a disciplinary matter. Teachers will not reduce grades or give zeroes as a consequence. Graded’s policy is designed to ensure that academic work is completed with integrity.  When students do not demonstrate academic integrity, the Policy on Academic Dishonesty will be applied.

  4. Extra credit or bonus points: There will be no “enrichment assignments” that are meant only as a means to “raise the grade”.

  5. Overall participation grades: Unless participation is a part of the academic standard that is being measured, students should not be given a “catch all” participation grade.  Examples of appropriate participation grades: Oral participation in a socratic seminar in relation to a reading (speaking and listening standards). Oral Participation in a science debate.

  6. Homework grades where the purpose is practice or reinforcement, should not be included in the academic achievement grade.  Teachers should keep a record of these formative assessments and provide feedback on progress in Veracross.

  7. Zeroes when evidence is missing or as consequence;  teachers will use IE for Insufficient Evidence and students will be subject to the late work policy as described below.

As a faculty, we struggled with really difficult decisions and the we were learning throughout the experience. While there were times when the work was difficult and challenging, I always believed that it was the best for our students. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be sharing more of the story, including a post entitled “Revolt and Regroup” and information on how grades will be determined by teachers this coming year without using an average.

Jumping Right into Design Thinking – Part 1

Jumping in Pool

I have always been someone who likes using defined processes groups. Probably the most useful workshop that I ever attended was David Langford’s Quality Learning seminar. I have used his tools for problem solving as an individually and with groups for years. For several years now I have been wanting to learn more about design thinking because the concept seems sensible and interesting. Instead of solving problems this focuses on finding solutions by learning about the  stakeholders. So, instead of taking the time to attend a workshop I decided to jump right in and learn by doing. Thankfully, IDEO has a free online toolkit to guide me through the process and my colleagues are game for trying something new.

For several years we have struggled with our annual week long trips in the high school. For one week in September the entire high school travels to four different locations in Brazil. The groups are organized by grade level and there have been two objectives.

To gain a deeper appreciation and knowledge of Brazil – The trips provide students with real life experiences within Brazil. Trips may focus on…

  • exploring various cultural aspects of the respective community.
  • environmental issues in the community.
  • sustainable development and the economic environment in the community.
  • fun activities that are representative of the community.

To develop relationships within our community – The trips are an excellent opportunity for students and teachers to start the year off by learning about each other in a non-classroom setting. In doing so, students and teachers can build an appreciation for others and a respect for differences. Relationship building may occur in the following ways: 

  • team building activities
  • discussion groups focused on objective #1
  • group projects
  • informal dialogue throughout the trip

We have also been working, with mixed success, to link the trips to course curricula. Each year we get mixed reviews from students and teachers and we feel like we just haven’t gotten them right yet. The factor that tipped the scale is that for two years in a row we had a large number of seniors decide to not travel with their classmates. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give the design thinking process a chance.

After reviewing the trips from this year and that past we have defined our challenge, set a timeline and gathered the information that we have on hand.

“Redesign the experiences to make them indispensable and unforgettable so that the mission and core values come to to life.”

We’re now in the research phase where we define exactly what we need to learn from our students and teachers and look for inspiration from various sources. With that information we’ll work in teams to develop prototypes of trips for review. There is still much work to do but we all seem to feel that there are plenty of possibilities for making the trips “indispensable and unforgettable”

I’d love to hear ideas and suggestions from design thinking experts that are out there. We’re definitely going to need support throughout the process.

This photo, “8579 S jumps into pool” By WoofBC under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, modified slightly from original

1:1 in the Classroom: Learning to become mindful

From The Church of Facebook by Jesse Rice.

While our middle school has been 1:1 for 3 1/2 years last year was our first in the high school. The roll-out went smoothly and students and teachers settled into the new environment with very few issues. I will admit that I would occasionally hear teachers complain about students being distracted and off task while on the computer.  Often I hear 1:1 advocates respond to this issue with, “If the learning activities in a 1:1 environment don’t change, the students will lose interest and become distracted.  Students can’t just use the laptops for note taking in lectures.” This was certainly not the case with many of our classrooms. I took the grumbling seriously since it was coming from educators who I respected. I’d seen other classrooms where the laptops were only being used for taking notes during lectures and these settings were ripe for off task behavior, but this was not the case.

At this same time I noticed a change in my habits and behaviors online. I was having trouble focusing and I was spending way too much time sorting through e-mail. One example is that I’d open and e-mail, click on a link, return to my e-mail waiting for the link to load and keep moving on. Before long I had 20 tabs open and I hadn’t really focused on any of the resources. As I work on this post I frequently find myself yearning to check my e-mail. Sure, I’ve read Nicholas Carr’s, The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains (which Rheingold  so I was aware of how technology was changing the way my brain works, but I my mind was slowly changing. This is the exact issue that our students face when it comes to the internet and distractions.

Pamela Livingston’s in her post 1:1 in the Classroom – Digital Distraction gives teachers practical tips for dealing with this issue in the classroom.  I’d like to also suggest the ideas that Howard Rheingold offers in NetSmart: How to thrive online. While Rheingold is an avid user of the net and a staunch supporter of technology, he promotes the skills and habits of “mindfulness” which is one area of his concept of  “Infotention”.  In the book, Rheingold quotes Maggie Jackson, author of Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of Dark Age.  Jackson states, “If focus skills can be groomed, as research has begun to hint, the important next question is whether, and how, attention should be integrated into education. Will attention become a 21st-century ‘discipline’, a skill taught by parents, educators, even employers?” I believe that we do have to teach these skills in our classrooms. Rheingold offers the following strategies for becoming mindful, and paying attention.

  1. Meditation
  2. Plan blocks of uninterrupted time to focus on a task.
  3. Creating short-term goals and focus on meeting those within defined periods.
  4. Practice working on a single task for 15 – 20 minutes at a time.
  5. Create a diary of your online behaviors to be used to reflect on habits.

These ideas can certainly be incorporated in the classroom and Rheingold also has examples of what he does in his classes. For those of you who would like to learn more about these I ideas I encourage you to read Net Smart. I believe that we owe it to ourselves and our students to become more cognizant of how the internet is changing our lives and habits.