29 April 2016

Is "Makerspace" Another Learning Silo?

The principles of design, engineering and iteration that students get to practice in maker environments is invaluable - I get it.

What worries me some is I sense in the rush to get grant money for the next big thing, schools are rushing to put in makerspaces like they're just another elective that the creative students can go to, but might not be for everyone.

When we install the MAKERSPACE room or turn our libraries into them (which I'm more okay with, because it blends information space with design space with collaborative space), don't we run the risk of just building another silo in which kids compartmentalize their experiences? On the flip-side, if teachers know that kids will be able to do _____ in "makerspace," doesn't that give an escape clause to anyone who wants to maintain a more traditional lecture-practice-test-repeat classroom?

I love the way my friend +Manuel Herrera is developing his space at Affton High School, "Room 15" because while it has maker elements included, it's still a learning space first. Making is something that happens alongside other work, and students and staff and come in and try on the room for activities unrelated to "making" at all.

Because I love to see interdisciplinary approaches WHENEVER and WHEREVER possible, I would much sooner advocate a school invest in a few pimped out maker-carts if they're looking to buy and put together a bunch of maker-stuff. It loses the design-collaborative space aspect that makes Room 15 so special, but gives many more opportunities for teachers to practice making and engaging in design challenges.

What do you think - if you have to choose how to start, is it better to focus on carts and spread the opportunity in your school, or have a dedicated "makerspace" that serves as a model space for students AND teachers to learn about design?

10 April 2016

The System is BREAKING, for Many it is ALREADY Broken: A #MLTSfilm Review

My district is hosting a screening of the education documentary Most Likely to Succeed on Thursday, April 14 - its something I've been anticipating since I first saw this film last December at Mehlville HS (Get your FREE tickets here!)

The basic premise of the film is that US industrial education model that was developed at the end of the 19th century to develop a moderately literate, instruction-following, factory-ready workforce is obsolete and killing us. The filmmakers then show us a way out, specifically highlighting the work done by teacher-innovators and their students at High Tech High in San Diego, CA.

One of the most poignant moments of the film for me is when we see one of the school's parents admit that although she's nervous about what exactly her daughter is learning at the project-based learning school, she acknowledges that her friends' kids are often coming back from prestigious universities with prestigious degrees and having a hard time finding work. 

It's a growing cultural theme - the promise of college = great job is waning, if it's not already dead.

But is this really new, or is it new for the more privileged in our society, making it finally apparent to many more in power? 

The filmmakers give a lot of stats midway through the film about how much knowledge is lost in only a few months from taking a random test, that its nearly impossible to learn US history meaningfully in an AP US History course, and that good grades and good test scores don't exactly correlate into creative, independent, resourceful workers for firms looking for innovation.

Now to my point - urban and rural communities that are ALREADY struggling to keep up with affluent suburbs already know these things. They already know that the test system is rigged and meaningless for them. They already see their best leaving. 

Poor urban and rural communities that MOST need the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurism that this film advocates for our students need most to run with this revolution of what "school" looks like, but face more challenges in grabbing the ring. We see many of the parents point out in the film: "We don't know that this will really work! I'm nervous!" but they take the risk anyway, because their communities and families can risk the failures required of innovation. 

If you have any commitment to a community with a failing or struggling school, I implore you to support leaders who will take risks of innovation, rather than promising that we can do more of the same and eventually catch up. 

Thursday night is the 3rd time I will have seen Most Likely to Succeed, and I am more convinced with each viewing that we owe these experiences to all children. We need teachers who refuse to teach toward any test (AP exams included). We need administrators who will value We need parents who demand their children do more at school than study for tests of knowledge acquisition. We need university partnerships willing to train our current and future teachers in the messy process of nurturing creative processes and innovative, iterative learning environments. We need politicians who will make room for this innovation. We need cooperation between all of these.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that rather than only reminding us again that education is broken it shows us a way out and gives us a call to action we can use to galvanize communities around the change.

I'll leave your with a sit-down interview from Sundance Film Festival with the filmmakers, director Greg Whiteley and executive producer Ted Dintersmith, and a TED Talk from Ted Dintersmith about preparing kids for life over standardized tests.

08 April 2016

Should We Have Math 7th Hour?

I have 3 Algebra Strategies classes this semester - 2 in the morning and 1 in our last class of the school day.

These classes' assignments are all differentiated according to students' skill levels and all the exercises are individually generated using Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Math. I love doing these classes because I get a ton of time to work individually with students and its a fantastic opportunity for students to catch or get ahead in their math skills if they take advantage of it.

Because everything is differentiated and individualized, I've seen students' growth have a correlation to their capacity to monitor their own on-task behavior and persevere through assignments.

I'm sure I don't have to tell any educator this, but the last hour of the day is difficult for students' attention in any course. That physical need to blow off steam and relax after a long day of sitting in chairs is not a recipe for success in a program that requires that self-monitored attention.

Take a look at these box plots from my 3 classes measuring the spread of the students' "student growth percentile," a metric Renaissance Learning includes in their reports of student performance on their benchmark "STAR" tests that measures a student's age AND prior performance against a peer group.

According to training material from Renaissance Learning, "ideal, typical growth" for a student will be anywhere between 35 and 75 percentile SGP. My first two classes' median SGP are at the top of that range! Then inexplicably, a similar student population using the exact same program in my 7th hour has a median SGP of 38.

Could there be anything else at play here besides the 7th hour effect?