Thursday, April 28, 2011

Women Mean Business (and my students benefit!)

I gave my tenth grade students extra credit for attending our school's Women Mean Business Symposium. Besides being a great experience in and of itself, it relates closely to an upcoming class project.  However, when students reported back to me on their experiences I was delighted to find how valuable the event had been at teaching the importance of two themes I have emphasized in my professional development sessions this year:

1) The vital importance of learning to network.

2) The recognition that failure (and learning from it) is critical to the learning process.

The Importance of Networking

At the end of the night I received the business cards of the three women who were seated at my table.  An invitation was also extended to me by Cindy Cooper to visit WJR Radio for a tour of their facility.  Cynthia Robinette and Katherine Sharkey extended similar invitations. . . . .At the end of the night, I also spoke to Kathleen Ryan about her experience at Notre Dame which is one school that I have been considering.  I thought it was a successful night and I gained many new contacts and benefitted from the experience.   -- Jaclyn

Our Table leader was very energetic and wanted us to get involved, she brought us up to meet the women who were speaking and allowed us to ask them any questions that we wanted. We even got to take a picture with one of the speakers.   -- Amber

One thing that was great about this symposium, was that it surrounded you with women who were driven for success and that touched you to do the same. . . . When I was sitting there and listening to their answers and their comments you felt inspired and Itruly believe I left with something there that night. One thing I was also happy about was it was a great place to network. That is another thing that they mentioned that was a key thing to move up and would be helpful if you need an internship or if you were just looking for more information. . . .This was a great experience and actually I had myfirst experience at networking, Mrs. Ewald offered me to shadow her at Children’sHospital for a day.   -- Brittany

Learning from Failure

It was good to see such a successful women up there telling us one of the most embarrassing stories and realize that people make mistakes, even women, and it is easy to correct yourself and continue with what you are doing. Looking at all the successful women up there and realizing that they are not perfect makes it even easier to get myself out there and gain the courage to do what they do.  -- Lauren

My favorite was Kathy Ryan because I loved her personality. She told us an embarrassing story which I loved because she was able to laugh at her mistakes, unlike me. We talked for a while and she literally let her hair down, which I thought was really funny. She didn’t even seem like a judge! All the students from my table took a picture with Judge Ryan. Meeting her was my absolute favorite part of the night! . . .Overall, this whole experience was inspirational for me.    -- Briana

. . . .They told us that no one is perfect, we are all going to make mistakes, but it is what you do with your mistakes that make you who you are. The main thing that I took out of the whole discussion was you have to love what you do. -- Mary

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Crisis of the American Intellectual (part 2)

In my last post, I introduced Walter Russell Mead’s essay about The Crisis of the American Intellectual.  I reflected on his assertion that the “learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors . . . and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists" operated from “guild” world views which did not meet the needs of contemporary America.

I commented that “the guild metaphor is quite valid.  Among many educators there is an attitude of “if it’s not broken why fix it” about the system they went thrived in as students and then entered as apprentices who would then move into tenured positions.  This creates a terrific amount of certainty among teachers that not only are their methods tried and true, but new ones should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.”

Mead also discusses another factor contributing to the crisis of the American Intellectual.  He calls it “credentialism”:

We are extraordinarily rich in specialist intellectuals who have a deep knowledge of a particular subject. . . .We are much less effective at teaching and supporting people who are able to master the essentials of many complex subjects, integrate the insights from this kind of study into a coherent social or political vision . . . .

 In most of our learned professions and knowledge guilds today, promotion is linked to the needs and aspirations of the guild rather than to society at large.  Promotion in the academy is almost universally linked to the production of ever more specialized, theory-rich (and, outside the natural sciences, too often application-poor) texts, pulling the discourse in one discipline after another into increasingly self-referential black holes. . . .

Those who run our government agencies, our universities, our foundations, our mainstream media outlets and other key institutions cannot at this point look the future in the face.  The world is moving in ways so opposed to their most hallowed assumptions that they simply cannot make sense of it.  They resist blindly and uncreatively and, unable to appreciate the extraordinary prospects for human liberation that this change can bring, they are incapable of creative and innovative response.

These comments resonate with me very strongly. First, technology and social networking have allowed me to become a very uncredentialed "expert" in learning design and ed tech matters.  My credential is who I am and what I have done in the real world.  I present at state and national forums but cannot produce a degree that verifies my qualification.  I've worked very hard for three years to attain this goal, but have not been formaly trained in a traditional way.

Mead's remarks also justify where we are going with our curriculum at Mercy.  We are pursuing Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills

--critical thinking/problem solving
--collaboration/leading by influence
--agility and adaptability
--initiative and entrepreneurialism
--effective oral and written communication
--accessing and analyzing information
--curiosity and imagination

This sincerely believe  directly addressing these skills through new models, such Challenge Based Learning, we will prepare our students better for the real world than the traditional process offered by "the guild."

"Diploma" Flickr CC photo by .snow

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Crisis of the American Intellectual (part 1)

Recently, I came across an interesting blog post by Walter Russell Mead,  titled The Crisis of the American Intellectual.   He blames the demise of the American intellectual on three factors.  The first cause is the devotion to the “redistributionist and administrative state” which permeates corporate, university and intellectual thought. This struck me as relatively unoriginal, but the two causes arrested my attention-- A) our intellectual guild economy and B) the detrimental effects of “galloping credentialism.  
I found these topics so relevant to the plight of educational reform that I have divided my reflections into two posts-- this one and the next. 
First, take a look at what Mead says about modern guilds:
Too many of the very people who should be leading the country into a process of renewal that would allow us to harness the full power of the technological revolution . . . are devoting their considerable talent and energy to fighting the future.
 Most intellectuals today still live in a guild economy.  The learned professions – lawyers, doctors, university professors, the clergy of most mainline denominations, and (aspirationally anyway) school teachers and journalists – are organized in modern day versions of the medieval guilds.  . . . The culture and structure of the learned professions shape the world view of most American intellectuals today, but high on the list of necessary changes our society must make is the restructuring and in many cases the destruction of the guilds.  Just as the industrial revolution broke up the manufacturing guilds, the information revolution today is breaking up the knowledge guilds.  
From my little viewpoint as one who has been straining to pull educators toward a new learning design, the guild metaphor is quite valid.  Among many educators there is an attitude of “if it’s not broken why fix it” about the system they went thrived in as students and then entered as apprentices who would then move into tenured positions.  This creates a terrific amount of certainty among teachers that not only are their methods tried and true, but new ones should be viewed with a high degree of skepticism.

To make matters worse, we teachers tend to suffer anxiety about our professional status.  At times we feel treated like clerks and baby-sitters.  It's not uncommon for administrators or parents to talk down to us.  Feeling disrespected and unappreciated makes us even less receptive to new ideas, particularly if we feel that we're being told to get with the times and move away from our professional comfort zones.  On more than one occasion in my professional development sessions, I have stepped on these tender toes, and the "guild" has let me know their feelings about it!.
In my next post, we’ll take a look at what Mead calls, “credentialism”.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

And I Quote . . . .

The students in the Independent Project . . .  are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.
~Susan Engel, "Let Kids Rule the School" (New York Times)

When people fail to change. it's not usually because of an understanding problem. . . . American automakers in the early twenty-first century knew they were too dependent on the sales of SVCs and trucks . . .but they didn't innovate. . . We know there's a difference between knowing how to act and being motivated to act.  But when it comes time to change the behavior of other people our first instinct is to teach them something.
~Chip and Dan Heat from Switch

Like so many other aspects of life,  teamwork comes down to mastering a set of behaviors that are at once philosophically uncomplicated, but extremely hard to put into practice day to day.
~Patrick Lencioni  The Five Dysfunctions of a Team

Right now we are taking from our children all the time they need to develop self-knowledge.  That has to stop.  We have to invent school experiences that give a lot of that time back.  We need to trust children from an early age with an independent study. perhaps arranged in school, which takes place away from the institutional setting.  We need to invent curricula where each kid has a chance to develop private uniqueness and self-reliance
~John Taylor Gatto from Dumbing Us Down . . . 

Work and play are words used to describe the same thing under differing conditions
~Mark Twain

As soon as children become able to evaluate themselves, so of them become afraid of challenges.  They become afraid of not being smart.  - Carol Dweck

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Pleasing Department Collaboration

Even though most of my teaching prep now involves American Government, for the first eighteen years or so at Mercy, I taught English classes, exclusively.  I even served as Department Chair for a period.  Now, due to a variety of choices and circumstances I am down to merely one section of English the entire school year.

My emotional connection has also weakened to the department.  My enthusiasm for ed tech in general and Challenge Based Learning in particular has not been warmly embraced.  And by pursuing these interests, I have lost interest in important department issues.

So I found it quite heartening to participate in a major collaboration that involved all members of Mercy's English Department.  

Each department at Mercy has made a presentation to staff about what it does.  English decided to lean on multimedia for this presentation.  They spent months composing a script that conveys the scope of its election rich curriculum.  I'm sure this was difficult with so many wordsmiths in the same room!  On the other hand, it was probably a great exercise in considering their mission.  We decided several months ago that my good friend, Mike Gruber, would record audio files of each member reading portions of the script.  Our Yearbook advisor,  Hallie Smith, accumulated a vast trove of photos for the project and organized them to correspond to each podcast.  When more photos were needed, Lynn Waldsmith and I grabbed cameras and shot the needed content.  The needs became evident as I mixed and edited the narration, music, and  photos with Photo To Movie.

I'm happy with the product of our mutual labors, not the least because at least for a week or so, it moved me back toward a department that despite all the changes,  \my heart has never really left.

Here is a one minute slice of the 14 minute movie, plus full credits.  A big thanks to Claudia Michalik for giving me permission to blog her wonderful narration.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Intercepted CBL Praise!

Those of us who were in attendance at the  "Fight Apathy! Fair" are still enjoying the memories of this CBL challenge.  The solutions our ninth and tenth graders implemented were exhibited to a broad audience.  Here are some of the comments:

From an attending teacher:
Your students did it . . . with you as cheerleaders.  I could hardly believe my eyes when I arrived in the lobby at 5:30 yesterday:  parents, teachers, friends crowding around 17 tables with an array of visuals, pamphlets, (cookies,) buttons, booklets inviting visitors to fight apathy.  I have no doubt that these students have come away with invaluable skills which they will be able to use in subsequent classes and CBLs, due in no small part to your coaching and your willingness to pioneer these challenges.  

From a veteran teacher trying CBL for the first time:
Last night was one of the most exhilarating moments of my entire teaching career--one of those "lightning caught in a bottle" moments of grace that all teachers have many times during the course of a semester (usually within the bounds of a classroom setting, when things "click"), but here WRIT LARGE and public, almost like Revelation.  It will keep me going for a long time

From a parent who attended:

Dear Mr. Baker,

What a terrific job on an important range of topics!  The girls did a significant amount of work in very relevant areas and it seemed to be a motivating force when all the presentations were collected and presented together.  Great energy was evident last night and I am proud of all the young ladies.  I am sure you are too. 


From an attending administrator:
Last night was a POWER BOOST of massive proportions. I thank and congratulate each of you for your tenacious risk taking, for your mentoring, for your attitude, for your enthusiasm ....for not just thinking but acting outside the box.
From the least to the greatest results, these girls were involved in a different kind of learning. As I said on the PA, the poise, the openness to explain, the friendliness, their undaunted smiles in the face of so many questions . . . their participation in "teaching" their audiences..........
All of it was so far above and beyond what we might have been able to imagine (and this, from our youngest students!!) 

Photo by Chris Baker

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Using a Panel as an Authentic Audience

I tried something new with my AP Government Challenge Based Learning project this semester.  Instead of calling on them to take action to solve a political problem, I went for something more abstract.  I asked them to come up with a “health care solution” that would be presented to a “panel of experts” of their own choosing.  I had a very small class that was divided into two teams.   I’m using this post to work out my take-away from this portion of the project.  
Would I use the panel idea again?
Absolutely.  Both teams had extremely valuable experiences with their panels.  An engaging conversation was held on the topics.  Though the discussions did not always focus on the solutions offered by the groups all of the panelists brought information and experiences to bear that made us all co-learners about the subject.  In each case we all benefited from an hour or more of charged conversation.
In the end, who were the panelists?
I was disappointed that  the students did not recruit panelists from beyond their own personal comfort level.  All of the panelists ended up being parents and teachers.  They were pretty much treated with “kid gloves”, but I am guessing that less familiar guests would have had the same attitude.  Regardless, I’m not sure how clearly the students heard the flaws in their plans.  In one case the panel selected had somewhat squishy credentials for offering specific feedback on the medical/insurance areas of the solution.
How did an “authentic audience” effect the quality of the presentations?
In both cases, having a panel audience raised the bar.  The girls were well groomed, gracious hosts, and extremely professional in their presentations.  They chose excellent venues and provided refreshments.  They catered to their panels’ meeting needs by scheduling the presentations for a Thursday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.
What would I do differently?
They very nature of the challenge-- reduce the cost of health care for a specific cohort was almost ridiculously daunting.  The students by and large did a good job informing themselves about issues.  But even with research, by the time they presented to their panels, they were rather fuzzy, consequently the panel almost had to help them clarify the discussion points.  I would have started with something more narrow in order to produce a more engaging discussion.  The students generally could not defend their positions because their solutions were general and relatively unexplored.
Now that I have sat in on two such panels, in retrospect I would provide more guidance to the groups for leveraging the experience.  One group provided an outline of the presentation, which was an excellent idea.  Perhaps setting some criteria for panel selection (or brainstorming criteria) would have been useful. 

One group reported being “taken aback by the negative feedback.”  Obviously, I had not prepped them to invite such feedback.  From my perspective any criticism was offered couched in great praise.  I think the students needed some guidance about the great value of constructive criticism.
Flickr CC Photo by codepinkhq

Thursday, April 7, 2011

And I Quote . . . .

When we make our learning transparent, we become teachers.
~George Siemens

 But the biggest roadblock today is that so many of America’s best-educated, best-placed people are too invested in old social models and old visions of history to do their real job and help society transition to the next level.
~Walter Russell 

When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this - you haven't.
~Thomas Edison

Stay ahead of the Culture by creating the culture.
~Hugh MacLeod

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.
~Stephen Downes

The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.  
~Sydney J. Harris

If you want to know who’s doing the parenting part right, start with immigrants, who know that learning is the way up. Last week, the 32 winners of Rhodes Scholarships for 2011 were announced — America’s top college grads. Here are half the names on that list: Mark Jia, Aakash Shah, Zujaja Tauqeer, Tracy Yang, William Zeng, Daniel Lage, Ye Jin Kang, Baltazar Zavala, Esther Uduehi, Prerna Nadathur, Priya Sury, Anna Alekeyeva, Fatima Sabar, Renugan Raidoo, Jennifer Lai, Varun Sivaram.
Do you see a pattern?
 ~Thomas Friedman

"George Simens" Flickr CC Photo by Stephen Downes

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Final Round of CBL Projects

My tenth grade American Government class is moving into the final phases of their Challenge Based Learning projects.  These ten teams have been challenged to "Get Teenagers to Care about Politics."

This challenge has included a couple of new twists:

1) I have really emphasized the importance of the students' gauging the effectiveness of their solutions.

2) We are planning a "Fight Apathy! Fair to exhibit our solutions to invited guests.  This event is being planned in conjunction with teams from two other classes (17 teams total).  Other staff members are also assisting with this event.

As we move toward the finish line,  I plan to blog on the following topics:

Weird, Wayward, and Wonderful Solutions
Already, I have encountered new issues which have occurred primarily as the result of the teams' enthusiasm.  Some students have gone very public with grammar errors and factual mistakes.  In addition, the challenge has produced a surprisingly rich variety of solutions which I look forward to sharing.

Presentations as Assessment
Starting tomorrow, teams will be making in-class presentations about their challenge journeys. Once again I have given the students a "Ten Commandments" to follow.  This set includes the importance of evaluating the success of their solution implementation.

Fight Apathy! Fair
It all goes down on April 13, 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm in school lobby.  Hundreds of students, teachers, friends, and relatives will be invited.  (Wish us luck!)

Group and  Individual Reflections
Following the Fair, the groups will be completing a written reflection.  Individuals will submit audio files.  I'll be using new prompts in both instances.

Flickr CC Photo by Dan Bock

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