Category Archives: Change

You Can Only Grow as Big as Your Container

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Our ability to think and work creatively is heavily influenced by our workplace….the size of the container. District size doesn’t matter. What matters is group norms and culture. We can’t always control that in our work environments, but we can expand our container by connecting with expansive thinkers.

Intentionally choosing expansive thinkers as thought partners has been the defining element in my professional life. One way I’ve expanded my container is through work with a global team of educators. We only know what we know, and if we limit ourselves to our own district, we are often just reaffirming what we already think. Our global team was asked to keynote at the recent Global Education Conference.

How big is your container? Mine is as big as the world.

 

The City that Plays Together, Stays Together!

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What do you get when you mix 108 amazing Chicago organizations, 4,204 engaging learning opportunities, passionate leaders, higher education institutions, generous funding organizations, and 400,000 youth of Chicago? The Chicago City of Learning! (CCOL) An explosive convergence of possibility all focused on supporting youth in developing self-directed, interest-driven learning and achievement… that connects that learning to college and career….complete with a rigorous badging system. 

Want to be part of something bigger?

You can feel the electricity  in the room during the planning meetings with the vast array of stakeholders involved in bringing CCOL to the youth of Chicago as a network of support that provides 24/7 access to quality learning. This is personalized learning that covers the entire city…every neighborhood, every street, every learner.  And the city is rising up to support the entire effort.

Check it out. If you don’t live near Chicago, maybe your city could use the template to create something in your area.

What’s the Most Valuable Trait in Learning?

If I was to choose one single quality that helps people the most, not only with success in school but also with happiness throughout life, it would be internal motivation.

Internal motivation is what drives passion. It drives the quest for knowledge, it drives interest and it drives repeat exposure to something…which in turn creates expertise. Some adults never possess that in their lifetime, and I think it has a lot to do with how we structure our teaching…therefore our learning.

I have a niece who is brilliant by all standard and practical measurements. When she was about 16, I asked her if she had any thoughts about college. She told me that maybe she’d like to major in guitar. Now don’t get me wrong, I deeply value music…both of my kids are musicians, and although my niece plays guitar, it isn’t her biggest strength by a long shot…it isn’t even something she loves to do or is particularly good at. Of all of the many interests she has ranging from science, medicine, social justice, engineering, economics, literature and the like…why guitar?

The question really is: why is it when we think passion we think extra-curricular? I think it’s because those are the times that we can be internally directed. It feels like playing, and when we become so engaged in what we’re doing, we do more of it, and become more skilled.  It’s like a powerful ongoing circle of interest, learning, practice and skill.

Many of the great inventors, scientists, writers, artists, whatever… the greats in any industry…many of them approach their craft like play. The motivation comes from within. They follow their interests and curiosities as they weave in and out…they follow the winding path as it leads to new understandings and possibilities. They are often the people we call geniuses after the fact. If our goal in education includes helping produce successful, accomplished, empowered, productive human beings…we need the cultivation of internal motivation as part of our learning culture.

If we want to create a system that supports internal motivation…and invites passion in science, math, literature, global issues, as well as music, athletics, art, theater and anything else….we have to start creating and supporting a system that includes 21st century learning such as innovation, choice, relevance and  self-direction.  Maybe you don’t think it’s possible to do that while teaching content. Many teachers, schools, and districts already do. A quick internet search with terms such as Project based learning, Problem based learning,  21st Century Learning, STEM, Genius Hour, or 20% Time will start to point you in that direction. 

Here is a related TedXTalk by Scott McLeod, author of Dangerously Irrelevant.

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21st Century Learning. What exactly is it?

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The buzz about 21st Century Learning is everywhere, but what exactly does it mean? It’s often linked to technology, but that is only a small part.  In fact, much of 21st Century Learning can happen without the use of technology. If technology is available and used in the right way, it can provide powerful tools for authentic learning and integration of 21st Century skills, but unfortunately, that is not always what we see in our classrooms. Purchasing equipment does not automatically create better learning.  We watch our classrooms fill up with technology, but we often see no plan in place to use it to benefit student learning. This requires a change in teaching.  With no change in teaching and learning, computers are often used for mainly word processing and Google searching. As an educator, this concerns me.

Let’s start with what 21st Century Learning means. It is the marriage of content and skill. Teaching content is what we are familiar with in our education systems: learning states and capitals, mathematical equations, historical events, scientific discoveries, and countless others.  21st Century Learning takes that content and makes it relevant. It not only shows learners how that content can be used to solve problems, construct new ideas, and through collaboration, expand that understanding, but it allows them to actually experience that as they learn.

How many school districts have mission statements that refer to educating problem solvers, critical thinkers, and creative minds? How many of them go farther than words and actually do something meaningful to provide that in their classrooms?

Equipping teachers to lead our students’ way in this takes a lot more than buying computers for schools. Before continuing, let’s figure out how to use what we have to further what many of us believe to be true: the world needs empowered critical thinking problem solvers that have the ability to learn collaboratively and create the solutions to problems that we have no way of knowing exist right now. It isn’t as difficult as it seems.

It starts with a unified vision, the development of a plan to create the teaching and learning environment, and the implementation of that plan. Many have led the way. It isn’t a mystery any more. Schools around the country have embraced this and have left their footsteps to follow. It’s just a quick Google search away!

Here’s a related article by George Couros.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

One interpretation of 21st century skills.

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Surveys Should Never Replace Clear Leadership

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Do Not Open Until 2018!

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I came across a secret note in my classroom desk  from a student. She must have hidden it there at some point.  It was the typical style note you see in 5th grade, folded, stapled shut and written in red pen.  On the front it said:

Do Not Open Until May 2018!

Well, I did what any self-respecting adult would do; I opened it immediately. It had one simple line: Dear Mrs. Roman. Thank you. You have truly changed my life.  This got me thinking. Don’t we all change the lives of everyone we encounter? I can look back at seemingly insignificant interactions with people who totally changed the course of my life, sometimes in just a few words. “You’ll never go back to college. Once someone quits, they don’t go back,” from someone I only saw once when I was 19 years old in a group of us eating pizza at Joe’s Italian Foods in South Pasadena. I had quit school at St. Thomas University in St. Paul and moved to Los Angeles, every parent’s nightmare. Another time I recall was in a train station leaving on a trip with my then three-year-old daughter.  I was gripping her tiny hand and we were scurrying along in my usual hurried way when an older, gray-haired woman came up to me and kindly said, “That is an awfully quick pace for those little legs,” as she looked down and smiled at my daughter. As I sat on the 8-hour train ride, my anger at her rudeness in a matter that was none of her business melted away as I sat looking out the window at the blur of passing phone poles.

Scanning through interactions with people in my life that I can recall, some positive, some negative, most neutral, and surely millions gone from memory forever, I get the feeling that each one of those exchanges had the potential to impact my life or someone else’s in some way. Is it really important that we recognize each interaction that affects us or each time we have affected people we encounter? There are thousands of times this kind of thing happens in our weaving in and out of each other’s lives. Was it crucial that the guy in Joe’s know that he angered me enough to propel me back into college? And was it important that the woman in the train station realize that her comment pushed me to shift my way of being in the world in such a way that the quality of not only my life, but also the lives of my children, was significantly improved?

It would be nice to know those things, but in most cases we wont. That thought sure makes me see the every day in a different light.

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Reposted from a year ago.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Collaboration

Such a great view of collaboration! People that realize that “it takes more than themselves to make magic”. Calling at 2am with an idea…not being able to wait to keep talking about the possibilities. I know the energy and power of that kind of collaboration. Why is it this is so difficult to manifest in most work places?  True collaboration is mutual.  The kind of collaboration he describes is a two way street…it’s a give and take. 

That takes risk, and it takes trust.

Creating Innovators

Creating Innovators

“What you study is not that important. Knowing how to find those things you are interested in is way, way more important. . . . I’ve got this momentum, and the idea is to figure out what interesting opportunities there are around you and use them to get to the next point.” A quote by Kirk Phelps, Product Manager for Apple’s first iPhone, from Creating Innovators: The Making of Young People Who Will Change the World, written by Tony Wagner .

As educators we have to wonder, are we so focused on what we are teaching, that we miss the boat on the things that make a human being resilient and successful in a world that calls forth different skills than it demanded in the factory-driven, company loyalty mindset of the past?  Shouldn’t every person going through our education systems need to develop the capacities to solve problems creatively…in other words to innovate.

The quote above goes on to describe that kind of inquiry as similar to navigating a satellite though space…being interested in one area and going there for a while and then moving on to the next….all in a process of personal integration. This has been my way to learn, so I can say that this type of inquiry cannot be forced by super specific curricular objectives. I see attempts to take the old style of curriculum planning that starts with the standard objectives, and then almost as an after-thought, tries to force in creative problem solving. Can’t happen. What can happen, and what frequently does is my classroom and classrooms all over…is that the structure of the planning is focused on the thinking…the thinking…not the objectives. Then the objectives are put into that structure. The Common Core State Standards are getting some well deserved criticism, but they lend themselves much better to this kind of learning than our previous attempts.

To learn to be innovative, and all the things that go along with that: inquisitive, creative, logical, critical thinking, persistent, resilient… requires some specific conditions. First, it requires freedom to explore and play with the topic. In a school setting, this naturally reflects curriculum, but there are so many possibilities for doing this.  I use Project-based Learning to wed these innovator skills with curriculum. Second, it requires a balance of collaboration and solitude.

Co-founder and teacher of the Phoenix School in Salem, Mass, Betsye Sargent asked me this question about teaching for today’s world, “How does this fit with the current direction education seems to be going? How do we get it to change tracks? If 65% of grade school kids today may be doing work not yet invented (MacArthur Foundation), then the future really isn’t a multiple choice standardized test.”

As the push and pull between testing, curriculum standards, and an ever evolving planet continues…we as educators must become the student the world needs…the innovator. It is in becoming that ourselves that allows us to lead our educational systems, classrooms and students in that direction.

Lesson For All

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Originally posted on iEARN-USA

The Lesson for All is a set of two units focused on the right of education and the barriers that youth around the world experience when trying to access that right. Written by teacher Donna Román, each unit (K-3 and 4-6) has four lessons with multimedia, discussion and modes of assessment. Each lesson is mapped to the Common Core State Standards and the Global Competence Matrix

When Dr. Gragert asked if I would be interested in working on a project he was involved with, I didn’t hesitate. He is a man that I have respected and admired during his leadership as the Executive Director for iEARN, and although I wasn’t familiar with The Global Campaign for Education, United States, I jumped in with both feet.

As I wrote The Lesson For All units, I began to understand the gravity of this issue. What I learned gave me faith in us as human beings. It gave me hope in a more peaceful planet. It brought me fear for girls and women of our world. It pulled me through sadness and grief for lives unable to be fulfilled. But mostly, it filled me with pride to see what we as global leaders, educators, and caring citizens are doing to make this a more stable and humane place for all people of our ever-smaller world.

Here are a few facts to get you thinking:

  • In 1959, the United Nations adopted the Declaration of the Rights of a Child, giving children the right of a free education, among other things.
  • In 2000, the United Nations developed The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). They are the world’s biggest promise – a global agreement to reduce poverty and human deprivation at historically unprecedented rates through collaborative action by the year 2015. Universal free primary education is among the goals.
  • Significant progress has been made toward the MDGs but has stalled in some areas of the world.

Universal education is an issue that affects all of us on this small planet, and it is one that cannot be ignored as caring and pragmatic human beings. I hope that you too find what is real and possible in your corner of the world as you work through these units with your own classroom.

I will let my class of 10-11 year old students tell you what they thought:

“The United Nations has set a goal of an Education For All by 2015. Well that’s sort of a problem for it already being 2013. I think what needs to happen is to look more closely at the research of places that need the most help.” ~Sophia

“When looking for the reasons some kids are not in school, we have to stop and ask some questions.” ~ Kaylee

“If you didn’t go to school you would feel powerless.”  ~Ian

“When people feel powerless and less protected, they join gangs so they can feel powerful. That’s why some wars start.” ~Ally

“We should educate all kids by not ranking people and thinking that boys need an education more than girls.” ~Kate

“I think education should be free because many families do not have money. Some people have to spend their life in a dump looking for scraps to sell and for food.” ~Justin

“No child deserves to live in a dump.” ~Savion

“THANK YOU SO MUCH UNITED NATIONS!!!!!!” ~Ethan

“An education is a wonderful thing to have, because the place won’t have poverty, people won’t think that they are powerless, everyone will have a stable life, the environment will be good, and the spread of disease will stop.” ~Megha

“So far they are getting way more kids in school than they were in 2000, but there are still millions of kids not in school.” ~Griffin

“I think the goal is possible, actually I know it is possible, but it will be hard work. Some people are stepping up to help. These people are life savers. I hope more people will feel to help. I really hope this goal comes true. The world needs it, and the suffering kids need it to happen ” ~Ally

“Together, everyone can make a difference” ~Griffin

Click here to find the Lesson For All to use in your classroom.

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Professional Development Discussed by some Ed Rock Stars

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An opportunity to attend a conversation by some of the biggest Rock Stars in Educational PD was something I couldn’t miss. It was truly informative and insightful from all angles of the educational landscape.

During the conversation, Don Buckley, Director of Innovation and Technology at the School of Columbia University, discussed an article from Edutopia, he quotes:

“When teachers receive well-designed professional development, an average of 49 hours spread over six to 12 months, they can increase student achievement by as much as 21 percentile points. On the other hand, one-shot, “drive-by,” or fragmented, “spray-and-pray” workshops lasting 14 hours or less show no statistically significant effect on student learning. Above all, it is most important to remember that effective professional-development programs are job-embedded and provide teachers with five critical elements:” (see those at the end of this post or in the original article).

The panel of thought leaders in the discussion:

Don Buckley, Director of Innovation and Technology at the School at Columbia University, Alice Barr is the Instructional Technology Integrator for Yarmouth High School, Michelle Bourgeois is the Instructional Technology Coordinator at St. Vrain Valley School District, Noble Kelly has been a High School Educator and now founder of Education Beyond Borders, Julie Lindsay is an international educator and co-founder of Flat Classroom, and Sylvia Martinez is President of Generation YES.

Here is the recording from @GETIdeas.org

The five critical elements from Edutopia

  • Collaborative learning: Teachers have opportunities to learn in a supportive community that organizes curriculum across grade levels and subjects.
  • Links between curriculum, assessment, and professional-learning decisions in the context of teaching specific content: Particularly for math and science professional-development programs, research has emphasized the importance of developing math and science content knowledge, as well as pedagogical techniques for the content area (Blank, de las Alas, and Smith, 2008Blank and de las Alas, 2009Heller, Daehler, Wong, Shinohara, and Miratrix, 2012).
  • Active learning: Teachers apply new knowledge and receive feedback, with ongoing data to reflect how teaching practices influence student learning over time.
  • Deeper knowledge of content and how to teach it: Training teachers solely in new techniques and behaviors will not work.
  • Sustained learning, over multiple days and weeks: Professional-development efforts that engage teachers in 30 to 100 hours of learning over six months to one year have been shown to increase student achievement.