Friday, January 30, 2015

Educon 2015

I can see why many Educon attendees remarked that they’d spent their own money to be there. The conference, held at Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia is that good. It was an eclectic group of out-of-the-box thinkers, innovators, and activists. I knew I wanted to go when I saw Chris Lehmann, founding principal of the SLA, speak in Killington last year.

I was a first-timer. Day one was spent at the school - a public high school that is an inquiry-driven, project school - in partnership with the Franklin Institute. I and a few of my colleagues found a student to guide us. She patiently walked us to different classes where we watched, listened, and sat with students to chat. Students in one class passionately explained a project in which they protested the closing of a huge number of Philadelphia public schools. Students in Doug Herman’s photography class told me what they’d learned about composition and layering and why they were in the photography room even though it was actually their lunchtime. In Algebra II they had designed a catapult to hit a target and were typing a reflection about their group process. I was hooked.

Then, of course, there were many great workshops, Ignite talks, and side conversations on Saturday and Sunday. Here are some of the people I met and learned from, along with some quotes and resources.

A highlight of the conference for me and many others, I’m sure, was Raghava KK, the effervescent, charming presenter and self-proclaimed TED whore. Here’s a 4 minute TED on bias and perspectives in history. He helped me remember what it means to be truly creative. You don’t matter, he said to all the educators in the room. Art should be the medium by which stem is taught... Art is how you teach everything... Incorporate visual literacy in everything you do.

Every disagreement is a chance to learn about a different perspective.

Raghava’s co-presenter, Meenoo Rami, an SLA teacher, hosted this session in her classroom. After meeting her, I was sorry I hadn’t made it to her class on Friday.

Diana Laufenberg, of SLA, led a workshop on school transformation and Joni and I sat with a Eric Dale from the Dwight School in NYC and Andrew Gallagher of the NYC Department of Education. We enjoyed hearing about Eric and Andrew's work, marveling over the vastness of the NYC school system. Diana recommended the book Immunity to Change.
Deterritorialize departments. Get away from content and move to skills.

The one thing I wish I'd known about was this idea of transformational resistance.
Is the student trying to transform the environment in some way instead of doing something wrong?

Math and Social Justice, was a session I didn’t attend, but wanted to. Thank you for posting these resources.

Burlington High School (Massachusetts) has a course called Help Desk. See their great website here, which was presented by female STEM enthusiasts on their way to becoming engineers.

There was a really cool panel I was late for. I liked the conversation that was happening when I arrived, which included comments from Otis Hackney, Principal of South Philadelphia High School.
When people say ‘they don't have the background knowledge’, I say, it is your job to give them the background knowledge they need! If they walked in already knowing everything, they don't need us. As an educator you have a job to do.
What if you had a school with mostly white students and all black teachers, what would that be like?

David Jakes, Imagining Digital Spaces for Learning. In groups, we designed a digital learning space, but we were not allowed to discuss any specific tools. Anyone who is working in or redesigning a school should read Toolkit for Designing a Digital Atelier.

Have you intentionally designed a space that intentionally supports your vision of learning?
How do you design a physical space for an increasingly virtual education?

Last but not least, I was in a wonderful session called Shifting the Focus: Elevating Student Voices led by students and their teachers, Josh Block and Amal Giknis. First, the students shared their projects and then we were asked to create an “education manifesto” in 30 minutes that could be posted to twitter with hashtag #focusonvoice. The students were so open and passionate in their presentations and then were so effective as they came around to help us with our assignment...this session is one that has really stuck with me. I was fortunate enough to sit with Renee Hawkins, a very thoughtful educator from a school in Baltimore.

I don’t know how I’ll stay away from Educon next year. I had my mind blown by great thinkers, got to spend time with beloved colleagues, and had my first taste of a grapefruit brulee doughnut from Federal Donuts. As Raghava said, Don’t mess with passion.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

STEM and Equity in the Burlington School District

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.
― Albert Einstein

Recently, a budget draft included funding of a STEM position at Flynn Elementary. Here is why adding and/or strengthening STEM education at Flynn and in all Burlington schools is the right thing to do.

STEM is cutting edge education.

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. At its best STEM education consists of hands-on, student-centered design challenges and project-based learning that cultivates the imagination.

Einstein’s remarks about the importance of imagination have never been more apt.
The world is changing so rapidly that no one can anticipate what, specifically, students will need to know. We must equip them for success in a in a technology-driven world that demands continual learning. Students should be offered broad and varied opportunities to take charge of their own education, collaborate, communicate, design and synthesize.

STEM is diversity and equity.

Quality STEM education is enemy of the achievement gap. Women and people of color are still underrepresented in STEM classes in high schools, STEM majors in college, and STEM fields in the workforce. Women and people of color are equally capable of excelling in this work and they provide much-needed perspectives. We have to ask why the demographics of these fields continue to be skewed. The fact is that we still live in a world full of biases and systemic discrimination. Education is a critical part of the solution. Stereotypes, biases and barriers don’t go away without concerted effort to counteract them.

The importance of high quality STEM education goes beyond giving students opportunities in STEM fields. It makes school a place where more students are able to be successful, period. Hands-on, student-centered design challenges, a hallmark of STEM, tend to work better for all students than traditional pedagogy. Students who are from low income families, are non-white, are new Americans and/or English language learners are at greater risk for under performance in school. STEM helps these students. Education for equity means providing engaging, challenging work for all students.

As a K-5 Math Coach in the Burlington School District, I have personally witnessed the power of STEM education. Individuals who are less successful in traditional learning situations shine when engaged in high quality STEM learning opportunities. I’ve watched students who typically exhibit challenging behaviors and low academic performance become energized about computer programming, exploring fractals in art and nature, catapult building, geodesic dome construction, and on and on. It is hard not to become an advocate of this type of education after watching marginalized students get opportunities to demonstrate their brilliance.

STEM is for Burlington
It is wise to fund STEM education in Burlington. By investing in STEM, we are focusing on what really works for achievement and equity. This is a forward-thinking opportunity to empower our students to be the leaders, thinkers, and makers of a changing world. Imagine that.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Geodesic Dome Building, Part I

Ada Leaphart, Integrated Arts Academy Art Teacher Extraordinaire, and I have embarked on an adventure. We’ve got all the fourth graders at IAA building geodesic domes out of newspaper.

I really don’t know how this is going to end up, so that is why I have named this Part I. I hope to report back with more news as the project progresses.

Ada and I decided to keep things loose. We didn’t want to figure everything out for the students by creating our own dome first, learning all the lessons, and then presenting a tidy scenario.

Instead, we have never attempted to create a geodesic dome out of newspaper or anything else, for that matter. Sometimes STEM+Art (I, unlike others, am not wanting to call that STEAM) should be messy and students should have the fun of making mistakes and doing all the figuring.

Before the students got started building, Ada showed a photo of a geodesic dome and asked students what they noticed. We got some math+art conversation going from that, as students noticed many geometric shapes, like triangles, pentagons, hexagons, and trapezoids. Then we talked about old Bucky Fuller (every class asked if he was still living) and how he really wanted to make the world a better place for everyone by using an efficient structure like a dome for shelter.

Kids couldn’t wait to get started. Here are the instructions we are using from PBS.

It turns out, you can roll newspaper in a loose, floppy, weak way or you can roll it in a very tight, very strong roll. Students shared successful and unsuccessful techniques. Among the successful techniques invented by students are 1) Asking someone else to help you tape the roll, 2) asking someone else for help, period, 3) twisting the roll when it is finished to make it even tighter, and 4) using a pencil to act as the center of the roll, then shaking it loose once the roll is finished.

We ended up with enough rolls to make one or two domes. 65 usable rolls are needed. Next time we will need to establish a Quality Control group to assess, select, and count the rolls we’ve got. Ada and I aren’t sure how the whole thing is going to go. At the end of it all I would like to set the dome on fire in the playground. I am not sure we will get permission for that. Oh well, we’re going to roll with it.