Saturday, February 23, 2013

Schools Cannot Do it Alone - Week 1

I have enjoyed reading the first five chapters of Jamie Vollmer's book this week.  He offers a very different perspective that I think most everyone who reads his book can appreciate.  He has a business background and evidently had a very pessimistic opinion of how public schools are run.  In addition, Vollmer paints a picture of public education that many of us have not thought about before.

As a public school educator, I appreciate the spotlight that Vollmer shines on the overwhelming amount of responsibility that has been added to public schools over the last several decades known as "Vollmer's list."  He goes on to say that all of this has been added without adding one minute to the school day or one day to the calendar.  I also appreciate the idea of having a very different conversation about what we can and need to do to transform our schools into 21st Century learning organizations.

Below are a few of my favorite quotes from the first five chapters:

"Initiative, creative thinking, and problem solving are now encouraged if not required at every level of employment (p. 4)."

"For the first time in history, our security, prosperity, and the health of our nation depend upon our ability to unfold the full creative potential of every child (p. 4)." - This reminds me of a book called
The Element written by Sir Ken Robinson.  This book talks about how each of us has an element that takes us to another level of creativity and engagement.

"The problem is not the people.  It's the system (p. 6)." - He does not mean the district, but the American public school educational system as a whole.

"Every year, our educators teach more children in more subjects to higher levels than ever before, and, every year, millions leave school with nowhere to go (p. 49)."

I found this video that summarizes Jamie Vollmer's message (VIDEO)

I am thankful to be in a school district and the principal of a school that is willing to rethink how we are doing things in order to best prepare all of our boys and girls for their future.  The conversation here in Richland Two began back in October at the RSD2 Parent Summit.  You can view some of that conversation by clicking HERE.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

High Tech High (HTH) Visit

Mr. Lawrence, Mrs. Hethcox, Mrs. Eckenroth, and myself had the opportunity to visit High Tech High (HTH) in San Diego, California this week.  We began our visit at the Port Loma campus which is the original HTH campus and opened in 2000.  There is a second campus in Chula Vista which was built two years ago.  HTH is a public charter school that combines challenging academic curriculum with project-based learning, performance based assessment, digital portfolios, and internships for all students.

My visit was very eye opening, inspiring, and reassuring.  I say reassuring because I believe that the conversations and professional development that we are participating in here in Richland Two and at NSE support these same principles.  Teachers design work that is meaningful, authentic, and engaging based on the interest and needs of the students.  I could tell that the students knew exactly what they were working on, why they were working on it, and what they were going to do with it when they were finished.  We are doing this at NSE, but just like anything else we need to think about how we can do it better.

There were a number of statements that struck me throughout my time at HTH.  Instead of writing a long paragraph about each one, I will list them below:

"Less adult talk and more student talk and exploration."
"Students own the walls." - meaning that their work is everywhere.
"Where in the project is there a place for kids to show voice and choice (dream and surprise)."
"We need to think about what to keep out of our schools (i.e. what is holding us back?)."
"There are multiple grades throughout the project rather than grading the final product."
"Think - Build - Do"
"We need to blur the lines between school and community, classrooms, content areas, and abilities."
"Let kids make connections to the adult world (real world)."
"With freedom comes responsibility."
"Projects are the curriculum."
"Let go of control to gain more control."
"Allow for multiple entry points into the project."
"It's not about being perfect, but reflective and transparent."
Personalization - Common Intellectual Mission - Presentation of Learning - Adult world connections

The project to the left was a fourth grade project that required the students to design and build a boat that would hold two classmates and float.  They actually took the boats out to a lake and tested them.  With life jackets of course.  The experience was documented thoroughly in the hallways and you could tell that the students and teachers LIVED this project.  They were still talking about the excitement, their failures, and their successes.  This is one example of a long term project that included a number of standards and skills to be learned.

You can learn more about the project at Ms. Stacey Lopaz's digital portfolio HERE.  The video is a "must watch!"  Ms. Lopaz is one of the teachers who facilitated the project.  I would encourage you contacting her if you are interested in such an idea.

You can learn more about High Tech Elementary - Chula Vista HERE.

You can also view our visit on YouTube by clicking on the pictures to the right.  One of our tasks was to create a short presentation about what we learned while we were here.  I have to give Mrs. Hethcox credit for creating the presentation using PowToon.  You can see this presentation by clicking on the picture to the right.

Dr. H.