Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chicago and the Longer School Day

This year, Chicago public schools students will spend more time at school, anywhere from seven to seven and a half hours, up from less than six in previous years (full article here).

The teachers' union believes the school day should be better, not longer, with the specific addition of art and PE. The public schools agreed and added those classes in, but are there really substantive changes? What of the rest of the day, where students are subjected to never-ending test-prep and multiple-choice questions? Is the curriculum more responsive to student interest and abilities, or is it still the same lockstep grind under the Common Core Standards? How does an eight-year-old sit in a classroom for seven hours straight?

Longer school day advocates are basing their push on successful international schools that have both longer school days and school years, and they base their academics on the strict skill-and-drill models from China. Ironically, China is moving away from this model to a more creative model that fosters more innovation.

Square pegs, round holes. If we admitted as a nation what we really believed about schooling, or clarified it to ourselves at least, schools might change dramatically. As it stands, we will continue to blindly grope around, implementing quick fixes from other countries until we actually solidify what it means to educate and what our goals are here in the US. Until we clearly articulate our pedagogical philosophy and stand by it (for example, not only do we say education is important for ALL students but we actually provide resources for every district in equal/fair measure to make that happen instead of continually underfunding education and making the poorest districts with the most need do more with less), these longer days and re-worked standards are just lipstick on a pig.

And that ain't pretty.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Can Kids Be Taught Persistence?

In my view, yes, and Paul Tough agrees with me in his new book How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.  To quote,

"Until recently, most economists and psychologists believed that the most important factor in a child’s success was the IQ. This notion is behind our national obsession with test scores. From preschool-admission tests to the SAT and the ACT—even when we tell ourselves as individuals that these tests don’t matter, as a culture we put great faith in them. All because we believe, on some level, that they measure what matters...But the scientists whose work I followed for How Children Succeed have identified a very different set of skills that they believe are crucial to success. They include qualities like persistence, curiosity, conscientiousness, optimism, and self-control. Economists call these non-cognitive skills. Psychologists call them personality traits. Neuroscientists sometimes use the term executive functions. The rest of us often sum them up with the word character.”

Critics argue that these skills cannot be taught, but the ironic thing is that teaching persistence requires, well, persistence, and an adult's inability to model this quality is half the battle. The other half consists of providing ample opportunities to try, fail, and try again, and to help kids build the skills that they need to manage that failure so that instead of crippling them it moves them forward.

Not only can persistence be taught, it should be of paramount importance in today's classrooms.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Don't Be Afraid To Be Awesome!

Better advice was never given. Don't be afraid to be awesome.

Or brilliant.

Or challenged.

Or questioned.

Or successful.

Or uncertain.

Or bold.

Or revolutionary.

Or visionary.

Or ahead of your time.

Don't be afraid to be all of the things humans can be when they abandon what they know to be TRUE and set out to discover their limitless potential.

Don't be afraid. We are all in this together.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Passion + Purpose + Mastery = Creating Innovators

Passion. Purpose. Mastery.

The three things needed to create innovators, according to this book. And I agree.

Are you passionate about what you are doing? What is your purpose in doing it? Are you an expert in your field or working towards it?

These things come together to make beautiful ideas soar. Everyone can innovate when give time and space to find these three components and bring them all together. It requires time and effort, but the results can be astonishing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic Fever!

The Olympics began with little fuss in our house (and officially begin Friday), as we have killed our TV and thus missed all advertising and hoopla, but we are still interested in following our favorite events (equestrian and now-defunct softball). Most sites require cable TV to view events (boo), but here is one way to keep track of results and athletes online.

The above link also gives access to social media like Twitter feeds and Facebook; this may be the most connected Games ever!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Improving Communication - Six Ways

Have you ever accidentally offended someone, so accidentally that their response came as a complete surprise? This happened to me this week; a note that I attached to a document was apparently so offensive that it ended a business relationship. After going over it with The Husband (this is not our first conversation about tone, I'll be honest), he deemed it innocuous and left me a bit baffled.

When I opened up Twitter this morning and saw an article regarding the difficulty scientists have communicating with the public because of interpretation, it seemed the perfect time to discuss communication. The article above is specific to global warming and public perception, but really, communcation is a universal issue.

So what works?

1. Clarity. Know exactly what you are trying to communicate and be honest about it. Don't try to fancy it up; be direct and don't clutter up your communication with too many words or explanations. Get to the point.

2. Don't interpret reactions. If you don't understand what someone is saying, or are confused by the way they are saying it, ask them what they mean.

3. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Listening is an underrated art, and the people who communicate best are those who listen to actually hear what the person is saying. You know you need to work on this skill if you find yourself planning your response while someone is talking to you.

4. Be patient. Not everyone is articulate, and not everyone can think quickly on the fly. No judgement in this statement - this is just the way people are. Teachers call this using wait time; allow people to formulate their thoughts and don't jump in with more questions, facts, feelings, etc.

5. Don't assume. Don't assume you now what someone thinks, feels or is planning to say. You have no idea and may be (un)pleasantly surprised if oyu try.

6. Possibly the most important tip: be kind. Everyone is fighting some sort of battle daily and that colors their communication. Understand that reactions or responses may have nothing to do with you, and cut people a little slack. Imagine that they are on your side, they just don't know it yet.

I contacted the offended party and apologized, simply and directly. I didn't try to explain or justify; I just said, "I am sorry." Hopefully it will be received well, but I cannot control how it is received (another frustrating part of communication); I can only move on from here and try to do it better next time!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What Makes Some People Successful?

It is not IQ, as some would believe (or "innate ability" or "natural gifts," although both of those things are certainly helpful!).

According the "The success myth," research shows that much of what makes certain people successful where others are not boils down to small things like persistence, having a plan and coping with adversity.

This is good news: you don't have to be a genius or be naturally adept at something to be successful; hard work, perseverance and focusing on what is important is just as valuable and more helpful in the long run.

So get out there and do something fabulous!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

13 Subversive Questions for the Classroom

From this blog comes an excellent array of questions that challenge the status quo and ask peole to examine their true thoughts about what and how we learn, and why. Examples include the following:

If a question has a correct answer, is it worth asking?

If something is "Googleable" why would we spend precious class time teaching it?

I have added my own questions in the comment section, including questions about why we don't trust students to take charge of their education and if we truly want all students to be educated.

What subversive questions would you add?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Noam Chomsky on Education

An excellent morning to think about education and its purpose; to that end, a video from Noam Chomsky:

Two competing philosophies.

From the Enlightenment:  "The highest goal in life is to inquire and create, to search the riches of the past."

From our current system of education, indoctrination: "From childhood, young people have to be placed in a framework, accept existing frameworks, not challenge..."

Chomsky goes on to say that

"There have been many measures taken to try to turn the educational system towards more control, more indoctrination, more vocational training, imposing a debt, which traps students and young people into a life of conformity… That’s the exact opposite of [what] traditionally comes out of The Enlightenment. And there’s a constant struggle between those. In the colleges, in the schools, do you train for passing tests, or do you train for creative inquiry?”

An excellent, brief video worth looking at. We have moved in our history from questioning everything to questioning nothing, from exploring the depth and breadth of knowledge to skimming across the surface. We are reliant on technology and allow it to shape us as its tool instead of the reverse.

"Shape the systems of power and authority." It's time.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Back to Work!

Back from the ISA Softball World Series in Crossville, TN. It rained a lot, and although The Child did very well, her team did not. On the plus side (in addition to The Child doing well), the hotel was nice, and I did not have to cook or take care of animals for four days. These are normally things I love to do, but a break is always nice, especially when you come home and the animals love you even more than when you left. Much love to The Boy, our intrepid teenage housesitter.

This week features nothing remotely resembling a summer vacation; The Child has been packed off to Nana for a week, and I am at home, planning for an open house on July 27th at 11 a.m. (RSVP if you'd like to join us; scavenger hunt for prospective students and meet/greet for parents!), a meeting with a new accountant, viewing a potential property, an accreditation meeting and meeting with various parents and students. Also planning for classes at LEAD for fall AP classes in US History.

This summer has achieved a land-speed record. All good things, and many more to come!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

French, Yoga, Solar Power and Wwoofing in France

Lots of interesting resources floating across the screen this week, including an excellent French site that includes immersive resources as well as plenty of French apps for language learning, 

an awesome yoga video series,

a simple tutorial on building solar panels using tabbed solar cells,

and information on Wwoofing in France.


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Big Picture

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nancy Bain from The Met School in Rhode Island this week.
The Met School is the first Big Picture School, and they are doing incredible things. HoneyFern has been moving inexorably (and happily) towards this model for two years; essentially, students design their own work and an internship based on their interests. Their work comes directly from the needs of the internship and is authentic; there are no artificial projects here. One teacher has an advisory of no more than 15 students, and this teacher is responsible for the same 15 students for all four years, helping them to identify their passion, set up and internship and get the skills they need to complete their work (including any standard academic skills). Big Picture schools like the Met also work on soft skills as a part of internships and focus on interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. There are no scheduled classes, no bells, and no rigid, linear curriculum, and yet somehow all students thrive. Students who have struggled in traditional schools thrive, and students who have excelled thrive.

I don't know if Georgia can handle this. Apparently, several years ago some people tried to open a Big Picture school down here and were met with extreme resistance. Big Picture schools are generally public and open to all applicants (there is usually a waiting list, as the schools are small as part of the model; in this case, a lottery is used). Big Picture schools do not have set classes, and yet 98% of their students apply to and are accepted by colleges and universities across the country, including the Ivies (if ou care about that sort of thing).  I believe they said that 75% of those students actually finish college; the others are more entrepreneurial and branch out into business earlier. I cannot quite see what makes this so threatening, except perhaps the fact that kids are empowered to make decisions regarding their education, and people out of the box are harder to predict. Adults have difficulty with this type of uncertainty, and it seems that down in the south we are married to the idea of linear predictability in our education systems. It isn't about money, or it shouldn't be; this can function as a program within a school, and a team of teachers can work together in one area of the school without any additional funding required (just pay the salary they normally get).

Not sure what it will take to help the south move toward a more progressive model that is more student-centered. Common Core standards don't do it, and more testing is not the answer. Perhaps this is part of HoneyFern's mission: identify and partner with a forward-thinking school to implement this on a small scale to show what can be done.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

AWESOME news! Your Child is For Sale!

Two AWESOME stories from Education Week today (please read the previous sentence dripping with sarcasm).

First, the poll regarding teacher and public exposure to the Common Core Standards, where the choice that indicated that teachers heard the most about the standards was...wait for it... A LOT.

I wouldn't let my dog write an essay that included the words "a lot" to indicate anything. "A lot" is a vague, ridiculous term that is used to measure pretty much nothing. "A lot" of ice cream for me isn't even close to what "a lot" of ice cream is for my child. Ask a person in Calcutta, India what "a lot" of space is, then ask the average American.

Even better? The teachers who selected that they heard "some," "not much," or "nothing at all" then voted on whether or not the "some," "not much," or "nothing at all" that they heard struck them favorably or unfavorably. #Awesome.

And in the second AWESOME NEWS post of the day, ACT, Incorporated announced that they are rolling out a whole new set of tests on career and college readiness for grade 3-10. Just what kids need!! More tests! These tests are "pegged to the Common Core Standards" and give "the whole picture of a student."

I can't even gather my thoughts enough to rail against this properly, I am so incensed. ACT, Inc. says the tests "fill a niche" and are "next generation." This is just another way for companies to make money on your kids. Are we developing smaller schools with more opportunities for kids? Are we adequately supplying our teachers with materials and technologies to explore the world outside the class via the internet? Are we encouraging our kids to get out into field experiences and projects off school grounds so they can apply what they are learning?

No, No and NO. We are, instead, repackaging the same standards in different order with bigger words and selling districts a package of lies about how these tests will improve education.  Public education is doomed. Buy, buy, buy. Your child is for sale, and so is their education.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The 'Busy' Trap

This morning an article popped up on my Facebook feed, and, like most things that come floating across my consciousness this summer, it is timely; it discusses how busy we are. Constantly. Ridiculously. Falsely. "Busyness, says the author,

...serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day."

Bingo. If we, or our children, are not engaged in something that society deems " meaningful" (a class, a job, a project, etc), then we must not be "adding value" or "contributing to society," "making a mark," or "leaving a trail." We are the opposite of all of those things.

This article comes on the heels of a discussion I had with my husband over the weekend. I asked him to do some minor chore, nothing too intense or objectionable, but something that needed to be done nonetheless. He replied that he was too busy to do it; I pointed out, in a non-judgemental way, that he not, in fact, too busy, but that he chose to spend his time differently. This resulted in some prickliness, as he felt I was judging him on how he spent his time, but, at this point, I don't really care. I explained that since we killed the TV, we had, on average, at least an extra two to four hours a day; how could we not have enough time?

I am rejecting this concept of busy. This summer has been "busy," with a student coming to me once a week, a French class, and art class, the food pantry and three tutoring students. I am trying to redesign the website and switch servers (which takes forever because I am not a tech person), get ready for an accreditation meeting and overhaul how HoneyFern plans curriculum. And all summer long I have felt like I am spinning my wheels; I feel stressed and overtired. I am snapping at The Child too frequently and feeling decidedly unjoyful.

So my decision has been made for me. I need to back slowly away from the main time-waster in my life: the Internet, specifically Facebook (and, increasingly, Twitter). Spending time on non-essential and non-joyful technology pulls me away from what I need to do and what I truly want to do and cultivates this stressful aura of important busyness.  Days are longer; we have more time. It is time to use it more joyfully, as it is not infinite, and I will never have this day again.

On that note, I give myself two more hours online today, and then I am done. I may have to install a little meter in my laptop, but it is time to lose some structure in my day. I am done with being busy.