Students

Just ask the students…

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For the past several months we have been working on hacking our curriculum for 2017. Our Upper School faculty has been collaborating on new courses for next year. The discussions have been driven by three questions from our Manifesto.

  • How might we make school more reflective of real life?
  • How might we empower all learners to be seekers and explorers?
  • How might we inspire one another — and the larger world — through the work we undertake together?

We initially posted displays in the Hive for teachers and students to comment on during a 2 week period. There were several informal meetups organized during our lunch/enrichment period. We provided examples of courses and schedules from other schools, documents from our current academic program, prototypes from our faculty members and external constraints that we have to consider. The process led to lively discussions between faculty members but we knew that there was something missing. So, we decided to include students in the process.

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After the two week Pop-up Lab faculty members formally proposed new courses for the 2017-18 school year. During the course review process we brought in students to find out what they …

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This gave our Upper School Leadership team additional information to consider during the approval process. As you can imagine, we learned a ton from our students that informed our decision making process. The end result is that we’ll be rolling out new interdisciplinary courses that are inquiry based and incorporate real world connections. All were vetted by the students prior to approval. Let’s see how the students respond in January.

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I would love to hear how other schools include students in academic program discussions. Please share what you are doing.

Post Semester One: What the students told us

My quest to tell my story of our transformation of grading and reporting practices at Graded School in Sao Paulo, Brazil has been delayed during the past two months. As a refresher, here are my past posts.

At the end of the first semester of the 2014 – 15 school year I wrote several articles for the Graded community that appeared in the Gazette. This one is one that I’ve adapted for this series of posts on our journey to improve grading and reporting practices.

The members of our Math department surveyed students and below are a few of the comments, related to re-assessments.

These comments show students are understanding how the process of re-assessments impacts their learning. Notice that the focus is not on grades but on learning. These types of comments are representative of a growth mindset, where the focus is on the progress instead of the product. We hope over time this mentality will spread and become part of the Graded culture.

  • “My biggest success was to be able to find my area of weakness in the summatives and be able to improve on them.”
  • “I was able to learn from my mistakes and re-assess myself to know if I really understood the content.”
  • “I am able to learn the material. With the retake, maybe I thought I understood the content but actually didn’t.”
  • “The re-taking system has helped me. Not only has it decreased the pressure of tests but I felt that I always understood the content more in the re-take.”
  • “To review the knowledge more than once helps me truly learn the material rather than learn it for one test.”

Change can be difficult, and deep and lasting change does not happen in the short term. Here are some challenges:

  • “Trying to fit in time for studying for retakes, while also doing the work for other classes.”
  • “If you do bad on a summative, there is no way to bring [your grade] up unless you do well on the retake. You can’t bring up your grade with homework.”
  • “Since I don’t have to do homework, I don’t learn the content as much, and therefore I don’t do as well in the summatives.”
  • “My biggest struggle is being able to show all of my knowledge on tests, because when I get nervous I tend to forget some information.”
  • “That homework doesn’t count. This is a struggle because I do homework almost all the time and it would help boost my grades up.”
  • “If I want to increase my grade, there is a much lower chance if I didn’t do as well in the re-take. I don’t have homework grades that count on my grade.”

The results below show students’ views on homework, satisfaction with grades and understanding of content, and effort and preparation.

  • What do you see?

  • What do you think about that?

  • What does it make you wonder?

Homework Satisfaction Grades Effort and Preparation

Throughout the entire semester we wondered if there would be dramatic changes in students’ grades. In the next post we’ll look at 1st semester grades.

Do parents really want schools with innovative learning environments?

Defining what it means to create a culture of innovation and especially a culture that cultivates innovators has been on my mind for some time now. I wrote, Jumping on the Innovation BandwagonInspired by Passionate Students and The Minerva Project as a Disruptive Innovation Case Study which all included views of innovation. I know that innovation is a hot buzzword these days and I’m hearing it more and more from parents. Questions like, “How can we make the school more innovative?”, “What innovative ideas do you have for our children?”, and “What will innovation look like in our school the future?”. I’ve also noticed that when pressed to describe what they mean by innovation the answers are shallow. There seems to be little understanding of what innovation in education looks like. Lately, I’ve been wondering if parents do really want their children studying in an innovative environment. Why? Because for this to happen the current system will have to change.

I’m a big fan of Tony Wagner’s work on this subject and he lists the 5 contradictions between current school culture and a culture that cultivate innovators.

Wagner points out that innovative cultures of learning have the following characteristics.

1. A high level of team work  where accountability is built into every single project. Most school systems promotes individual performance where students may work collaboratively at very low levels. The level of cooperation is typically superficial. This requires less time spent on content and more time on developing collaboration skills. It will also lead to highly sophisticated projects that require high functioning teams.

2. Interdisciplinary study of complex problems and solutions. Much of our curriculum today is designed by subject matter and there is little room for diverting from this course. Standardized state mandated tests are created by subject matter, AP and IB exams are also for subject matter courses.  Wagner states, “innovation happens at the margins of academic disciplines…” Will parents support schools who create trans-disciplinary courses that will look very different than what they had in school?

3. Active and engaging classroom cultures where there is no one expert that the students rely on for gaining knowledge. Traditionally the teacher has been the only expert in the classroom and the students are lulled into passivity. Students can be the consumers instead of creators. Often when teachers do take on a role as a facilitator or coach students and parents question why the student has to make sense of the learning on their own. There is an expectation that the teacher will spoon feed the students.

4. Promoting failure that leads to learning. A focus on grades and earning high grade point averages to get into colleges can easily lead to risk aversion. This is a fixed mindset where the grade is the end of the learning process and the results better be good. Innovators understand that there will be trial and error in the learning process and that without failures, the learning will not be as deep and the challenges not as great.

5. Intrinsic motivation that leads to passion and purpose. Again, many of our students are driven to success that is measured by grades and grade point averages. As educators, we constantly talk about how many of our students spend way too much time checking their grades online. Innovative learning cultures are filled with learners who are passionate about learning because they can see the current and future applications. They see how the learning can help them make a difference. This means finding ways to take the emphasis off grades and to put it on the deeper feedback that teachers can provide students with.

Are parents really willing to have their children’s schools make these types of changes? First of all I believe that very few understand what innovation in education really looks like. My hope is that by educating students and parents we can help them to better understand what changes will need to occur and what the benefits will be for students.

There are already educators, students and parents who are latching on to these ideas and taking steps to create innovative learning cultures. My hope is that, in time, we will see a new type of fish bowl with teachers and students engaged in practices that cultivate innovators.

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“Fishbowl Jump” by Kay Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

 

Inspired by Passionate Students

Presenting with Two Young Visionaries

Me with Two Young Visionaries

For the past two weeks I have had the pleasure of working with Gabi Campos and Nik Hildebrandt, two Graded students who are passionate about what the future of education can look like. So passionate that they took the initiative yesterday to present at the 2014 School Leadership Summit.

Gabi and Nik are currently 11th graders who have developed bold ideas on education that are based on their experiences and research.  Several weeks ago they presented these ideas to their IB English teacher with a proposal to present at the AASSA Conference that Graded hosted. While it was too late to present at AASSA they were determined to share their message with a wider audience. The School Leadership Summit now provides them with a global audience.

Gabi and Nik shared a story about “Caroline” a high school student who is very good at “doing school”. Their ideas for the perfect school include:

  • Promoting Creativity and Real-life Projects
  • Abolishing Grades
  • Providing Opportunities for Failure
  • Focus on the Future
  • Developing Life Skills

They have even bought into Tony Wagner’s model of learning environments that cultivate innovators that include Play, Passion and Purpose. Gabi and Nik were so excited after the presentation that the first words out of the mouths were, “What’s next?” I encourage you to spend 45 minutes listening to their presentation. The recording is available here.

Whether you agree with their ideas or not you have to admire their enthusiasm and desire to make a difference. I know that I have truly enjoyed partnering with them and I look forward to supporting their work in the coming months. There may be a new club on campus for student innovators that needs an advisor.

 

An Ecstatic Parent – Who Happens to be a 21st Century Educator!

As an educator who believes strongly in putting today’s tools into the hands of teachers and students I was ecstatic when I learned that my son will be entering middle school next year and he, along with all of the other students will be taking his laptop to school everyday. I don’t know which one of us will be more excited when he starts school in August. I was excited when he went to kindergarten but this is going to be even better. The beginning of a revolution in my mind.

I recently accepted the High School Principal position at Associacao Escola Graduada de Sao Paulo (or as those of us in the international school circuit know it as, Graded). Graded is an American international school serving Brazilians and expatriates in Sao Paulo. The middle school recently embarked on a 1:1 laptop initiative for their 6th graders and my son will enter 6th grade next year. My oldest daughter will join him a year later. I can’t wait to learn more about teaching and learning in a modern environment through the eyes of my son. So, what are we doing to prepare? (feel free to substitute “I” for “we” since it’s really me that’s doing the preparing. He’s not really thinking that far ahead.)

1. I contacted his current teacher to tell her that there is no need for him to continue working on cursive and that his time would be better spent on keyboarding. She proceeded to send me a list of typing sites from the internet for us to use at home.

2. We’re  trying to decide if I should give him my 1 year old mini laptop or to purchase him a new one. We want to make sure that he has a machine that he’s excited about. OK, maybe one that I’m also excited about.

3. Teach him a few cool tools so he’ll be able to show off a bit to his friends and teachers. He’s already on Facebook and using Google Docs but he may need to start twittering, using Prezi, animation tools and other stuff. To do this I’ll have to spend some time learning about the latest toys.

4. We may need to have him practice bringing his current mini to school every day so that he gets used to taking care of it. Don’t want to have any problems when it comes time for the real thing. We’ll have to check the rules at his current school to find out if students are able to bring a laptop to school.

5. Throw out the thumb drive that he currently uses to take files back and forth to school. No need for that since he needs to get used to saving in the cloud at Graded. They’re just starting to use Gmail and Google Docs with the students.

6. Shifting our focus from preparing for the North Carolina 5th grade end of grade exam to preparing for the future. OK, so we were never very focused on the exam at the end of the year.

What am I missing? Oh, I mean what are we missing?