Future Ready Schools

What if school didn’t look like this?

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I know what you’re saying, my classroom doesn’t always look like that.  Maybe it never looks like that.

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Chairs, technology, walls…”school”.

If you asked most people (teachers, students, non-education people) what they expect a classroom to include they would have a pretty common list:  teacher, students, desks/tables, board (smart or otherwise), books, computers. And, if you really pressed them to list absolutely everything…walls! 

This, however, is where the problem lies – these constructs of a classroom and/or school are old, they are antiquated, they date back beyond my grandparents.  What else that we rely on so heavily today is done/made the same way it was 100 years ago? 50 years ago? 20? Think about it, look around you, what is one relevant thing that is the same as it was 20 years ago?  Computer? Phone? Books? The clothes you’re wearing? Nope…everything has changed – except education!

Every industry is working to improve their product; working to make them more cost-effective, make them more user friendly, make them more green, improve functionality or performance.  Yet education, by and large, remains the same.

How are we, educators who are meant to be preparing our students for the future, supposed to do justice to a process that prepares kids for a future that includes so many unknowns?  

The answer is breaking away from the deep-seated rituals that have become school.  We must offer students the chance to truly engage with their learning, get their hands dirty, and live a life of active (not passive!) learning.

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What is this was a “classroom”…everyday??

But how?  

Well, that is for each school to figure out on their own.  How are they going to commit to being a school for the future?  It will take courage, it will take forward thinking and it will take lots of time and effort.  The results, however, will easily outweigh everything. If we keep doing things the same way, we’re going to keep getting the same results.  If we’re preparing for a dynamic future, we need a dynamic present – flexible, engaging, adaptable and inspiring…

Take a look at these schools and see how they’ve already begun to challenge the construct of school and the classroom.  These are all forward thinking schools (listed here from closest to traditional to least traditional, according to me)…they’re all awesome and all have room to improve.  However, what they have in common is that they are all schools for the future!!

Perhaps your school isn’t ready or able to make such a leap forward right now, that is fine.  However, what are you doing to create a dynamic educational experience that prepares students for the future?

I was tempted to explain these programs in brief but was concerned that an oversimplification of these wonderful programs just wouldn’t be fair.  So, I’m STRONGLY encouraging you to have a look at these programs (or at least a couple) and evaluate them yourself.

Carpe Diem School in various locations

Western Academy of Beijing – Capstone Program in Beijing, China

Roosevelt Innovation Academy in Lima, Peru

Summit Public Schools San Francisco, California

Green School in Bali, Indonesia

High Tech High in various locations

Khan Lab School in Mountain View, California

NOMAD in San Francisco, California

Think Global School in…well…nowhere and everywhere at the same time (if you look at one of these, this is it!!)

 

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ISTE Standards 3 and 4: A Deep Dive into Knowledge Creators and Innovative Designers

We’ve been spending time every couple weeks working with the Admin Team, led by the Tech Department, to explore and dig deeply into the ISTE Standards for Students.  It’s been a wonderful way for us to stop and think about the student experience at AC, especially as it relates to their engagement with the digital world.  The last time we met we dove deep into Standards three and four, exploring how it might look for students to be meeting these standards here at Academia Cotopaxi.  After taking some time to reflect on this conversation and look around school for ways that our students are meeting these standards, it has become very clear that we are already on the right track.

Becoming a “Knowledge Constructor” is the main idea of Standard number three.  The exact language of this standard is, “Students critically curate a variety of resources using digital tools to construct knowledge, produce creative artifacts and make meaningful learning experiences for themselves and others.”  It struck me as I digested that standard a little more that this is exactly what I do when I write my usual blog posts.  I curate resources on whatever topic may have caught my fancy for the week, I then produce a creative artifact (my blog post) which creates a meaningful learning experience for me (and hopefully for anyone who reads my post!)  Cool, I’m a Knowledge Constructor!  Then I got to thinking about our students, is this happening in our school and, if so, where and with what frequency?  So I went looking…I wanted to find examples of our students as “Knowledge Constructors” in different contexts, here is what I found:

 

We are helping our students become “Knowledge Constructors” all over school, in many different contexts.  From Humanities, to Math, to Science class and beyond, we are offering our students the chance to curate resources and construct their own knowledge as part of the learning process.

We’re also doing it ourselves as educators…How do you Steep your tea?

My overall impression is that our students have the opportunities educationally to be “knowledge constructors” in a lot more contexts than I had imagined.  Design Technology class, sure, that’s an obvious one.  Even the Humanities classes seems obvious.  However, it’s happening in Math, Science, Art…seemingly everywhere!

Next, we came to Standard number four, “Innovative Designer,” Students use a variety of technologies within a design process to identify and solve problems by creating new, useful or imaginative solutions.  I was confronted with a harsh reality:  I don’t know the whole “design process” off the top of my head…I know it exists, I’ve worked with it before, and I’ve seen it maneuvered by students over the years but I still haven’t internalized it.  Now, to be fair, when you Google “Design Process” there are a few different versions of the design process.  However, this is the most common version and the one I am familiar with from my past experiences.

By Aflafla1 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

I think the “deployment” arrow should really loop back around to the “Initial Planning” arrow, as it is truly a never ending cycle starting with an “alpha” version, moving to a “beta” and then on and on into production and versions 2.0 etc.

Anyway, the “Innovative Designer” standard was harder to chew on than its “Knowledge Constructor” counterpart.  Looking at our school for Innovative Designers was fun but a little frustrating at the same time:

^ There should’ve been a picture with that one…Tweet fail 😦

So, why was it frustrating to find examples of ISTE standard number four?  Well, I was frustrated because I couldn’t find examples in a diverse range of classrooms like I could with Standard number three.  Design Tech, Humanities, and Science…these are all obvious to me.  Now, to be fair, what I did find in those areas was exciting…Rube Goldberg Machines, Stop Motion, Bridge Challenge, Speech Competitions all in the same week….awesome!

BUT…where are the “Innovative Designers” when it comes to the other classes?  The same students are enrolled in Math, Spanish, Music, PE, and other classes…where is the Innovative Design in those classes?  (Again, in fairness, I didn’t do an exhaustive search and it was brief.)  It’s quite easy to imagine students writing their own compositions in Music class instead of always playing someone else’s stuff.  Similarly in PE…creating their own games or exercise routines.  Art, I can only imagine that I just didn’t catch the right day…they’re always creating their own stuff, but how ‘innovative’ is it and does it solve a problem?  The opportunity is there and we certainly have students capable of being ‘innovative’…they just need the chance!

Lastly, about standard four, is the part I see as most crucial – following the design process.  This is something that our teachers are going to need to learn and practice.  I would wager that the majority, if not all, of our teachers have little to no experience with the design process and what it means to lead students through that cycle.  It’s not easy and takes some practice for sure.  However, the rewards are HUGE and totally worth the effort…I believe that our teachers will see that and completely buy in!

At the end of this reflection process it’s become clear to me that we’re on the right track, our teachers and students are working toward the ISTE standards three and four whether they know it or not.  We’re much closer with number three, Knowledge Constructor, than we are with standard four, Innovative Designer.  The difference isn’t a lack of desire on our teachers or students part but, in all likelihood, a lack of information…we need to help move them further along toward understanding of this standard.

For me this was a great experience, full of eye-opening classroom visits and wonderful conversations with kids about their designs!  So much fun!!!

 

Celebrating What we Value Most

It is often said, “we celebrate the things we value most.”  Well, I want to celebrate you…the teachers and leaders of our students.  

Long hours, endless frustrations, and countless sacrifices.  Fighting off colds, exhaustion, and 9 weeks of wear and tear.  Diagnosing, teaching, assessing, re-teaching, and re-assessing.  Teenagers, their parents, and all the hormones.

Success, the glimmer of hope, and the celebratory emails home.  The amazing lesson, the excitement of learning, and the joy in their eyes.  The growth, the pride, and the sense of achievement.  Smiles, laughs, hugs, and high-fives.

Students are both the greatest and the toughest part of this job.  They are the challenge and the reward all at once.  Yet, rarely, do they stop to say thank you and show their appreciation.  BUT…it’s there, I promise.  From the conversations I have in the halls and at lunch to the messages from parents.  Our students appreciate their teachers and this school.  The smiles and overall feeling of happiness that runs rampant throughout our school community is the most telling sign.  Our kids enjoy AC and they appreciate the work you do on their behalf.

What do teachers make anyway?

Well, if you haven’t seen this before you should see it now (I apologize for the occasional bad word)…and THANK YOU!!!!

What Teachers Make
by Taylor Mali

He says the problem with teachers is
What’s a kid going to learn
from someone who decided his best option in life
was to become a teacher?

He reminds the other dinner guests that it’s true
what they say about teachers:
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.
I decide to bite my tongue instead of his
and resist the temptation to remind the dinner guests
that it’s also true what they say about lawyers.
Because we’re eating, after all, and this is polite conversation.

I mean, you’re a teacher, Taylor.
Be honest. What do you make?

And I wish he hadn’t done that— asked me to be honest—
because, you see, I have this policy about honesty and ass-­‐kicking:
if you ask for it, then I have to let you have it.
You want to know what I make?
I make kids work harder than they ever thought they could.
I can make a C+ feel like a Congressional Medal of Honor
and an A-­‐ feel like a slap in the face.
How dare you waste my time
with anything less than your very best.

I make kids sit through 40 minutes of study hall
in absolute silence. No, you may not work in groups.
No, you may not ask a question.
Why won’t I let you go to the bathroom?
Because you’re bored.
And you don’t really have to go to the bathroom, do you?

I make parents tremble in fear when I call home:
Hi. This is Mr. Mali. I hope I haven’t called at a bad time,
I just wanted to talk to you about something your son said today.
To the biggest bully in the grade, he said,
“Leave the kid alone. I still cry sometimes, don’t you?
It’s no big deal.”
And that was noblest act of courage I have ever seen.

I make parents see their children for who they are
and what they can be.

You want to know what I make? I make kids wonder,
I make them question.
I make them criticize.
I make them apologize and mean it.
I make them write.
I make them read, read, read.
I make them spell definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful, definitely beautiful
over and over and over again until they will never misspell
either one of those words again.
I make them show all their work in math
and hide it on their final drafts in English.
I make them understand that if you’ve got this,
then you follow this,
and if someone ever tries to judge you
by what you make, you give them this.

Here, let me break it down for you, so you know what I say is true:
Teachers make a goddamn difference! Now what about you?

Thank you Taylor Mali for his inspiration and permission to use his work to inspire!

Mali. Taylor. “What Teachers Make.” What Learning Leaves. Newtown, CT: Hanover Press, 2002. Print. (ISBN: 1-­‐887012-­‐17-­‐6)

Starting Today for a New Ending

I love quotes, I collect them and enjoy reading them at all turns.  Perhaps more than anything I like breaking them down, contemplating their potential meanings and considering the context in which they were originally given.  

Recently a friend and member of my PLN posted a quote on Twitter.

@posickj got me thinking about this quote and I’ve been knocking it around in my head for a while now…

I immediately thought of Growth Mindset when I read this quote.  What could be a better philosophy in life than moving on from past troubles and starting anew?  Of course the past is important and we can learn a lot from our experiences, but the chance to wake up each day with a fresh opportunity is certainly motivational.  I could go deeper philosophically with this quote but I’m happy to focus on this marvelous message as a positive opportunity for the future.  I’d like all educators to stop and think about how this quote can be applied to their lives?  Was it a bad class or lesson?  Was it a long and stressful week?  Has the transition to a new school and city been harder than expected?  In all of these situations, “anyone can start today and make a new ending.”

It’s been a long start to the year without any breaks.  We’re staring down a five day weekend at the end of this month but we have to get there first.  Take some time for yourself and sharpen the saw.  Also, take a minute to think about where you can start working toward a new ending…

Granting Ourselves Permission

We have to grant ourselves permission to stop at some point, this is education and we could work 24 hours a day for the rest of our lives and the work still wouldn’t be finished.  The importance of slowing down and giving ourselves permission to search for balance in our lives is a crucial element of success in education.  

Each day that we work with our students we should be at our very best, but the reality is that none of us can honestly say that we’re doing this.  We come to school tired, sick, and overwhelmed by outside influences.  This is normal, everyone does this and that’s okay (to a point…stay home if you’re contagious!).  No one is going to have their best day every time they wake up and there’s a reason for that, we’re human.  However, despite being human, we are still able to control a lot of the factors that determine how balanced we remain.

We can help ourselves stay as healthy as possible by tending to our diet and exercise, we can ensure that we get enough sleep, and we can maintain healthy stress levels through yoga, meditation, or another relaxing activity.  Perhaps the most important way that we can help ourselves to stay fresh and in peak form is to grant ourselves the permission to stop.  Perhaps in no other profession does the anxiety over “getting everything done” build as quickly as it does in education.  After all, we’ve got these kids’ futures in our hands, if we don’t teach them everything they need they’ll never learn it…right?!?

Well, here’s a possible wake up call for you, if you’re burned out then your students aren’t going to learn much of anything from you!  Very often as educators we get caught in a cycle of coming in early, staying late, and then taking work home.  We want to try new strategies, give quality feedback, engage our students and increase student learning.  Don’t get me wrong, we should be doing those things…BUT…we need to do it at a sustainable pace, one at which we can stay healthy, relaxed and present for our students.  Find your limits and hold yourself to them without going over, it’s a long fall if you go over the edge.

It is essential that we acknowledge the fact that the work is never going to feel like it is done, that there will always be something more we could do.  Granting ourselves permission to draw a line and stop pushing for the sake of our own sanity must happen, or we will all work ourselves into the ground.  Prepare yourself at the beginning of the year, month, or unit.  Allot yourself time to complete the absolute essentials, then allot time for the balance outside of school,  and finally you can use what is left over to let yourself run wild with the “extras”.  To successfully maintain balance we need to plan for it and make it a priority.  

Including teacher inservice days we’ve been back to work for seven weeks now.  For new teachers tack on two more weeks dating back to your arrivals.  Some of you also spent a full week with kids on Discover Ecuador.  It seems like we just started school but we’re already well into the year!  Take a minute to check-in with yourself…are you getting the right amount of rest, what about your diet and exercise, and have you taken the appropriate time to decompress and relax on the weekends or with friends?

Grant yourself permission.

Camp Amazonia

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Last week I was lucky enough to join the 10th grade class on their trip to Camp Amazonia near the communities of Rio Blanco and San Alberto in the Amazon Jungle.  It was my tenth school trip in as many years and each has been unique in its own way.  This was my first time taking high school students on a trip and I can now say I’ve traveled for a week with every grade from 3-10 except 9th grade.  This trip included lots of hard work to help the local Kichwa communities, team building, cultural activities, and a trip to the Jumandi Caves.  At the end of the week everyone was exhausted but there was also an overwhelming sense of achievement!  

Awesomeness

Every time I take one of these trips there are wonderful examples of how amazing young adults can be when they are pushed out of their comfort zones.  This past week certainly did that, kids and adults alike were challenged in situations that went well beyond our everyday routines.  Right from the start we got right down to business with some hard work in the morning and then again after lunch.  We started the day in the rain and ended in fierce heat and sun.  Not only were we pushing ourselves hard to help these communities but the weather was pushing us as well.  However, by the end of the night everyone made it to dinner with a smile on their face and a sense of satisfaction in their hearts.  

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Working hard to create a botanical fence line.

The sense of community that develops over the course of a week like this is impressive to say the least.  Students who are struggling for one reason or another are picked up by their classmates without any teacher intervention.  Classmates who hadn’t really engaged with each other in the past can be seen walking, working, eating, and hanging out together.  New friendships are formed and old bonds are strengthened.  As important as community can be in international schools, trips like this are crucial!  

I’m not sure there are words to express how impressed I was with the efforts of the 10th grade group over the course of the week.  Through torrential rains, back breaking work, spiders and other critters, these kids stepped up in a huge way.  The work they did this

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Heading out to plant trees, helping to reforest a recently devastated area.

past week will benefit those communities for years to come.  Our students may never return to this area but their mark has been made, their efforts were not in vain.

What I Learned About Myself

While this was a tremendous learning experience for our students there were also some great takeaways for me too.  This trip was, by far, the most physically challenging of the school trips I’ve enjoyed.  I’m not shy about some hard work and I enjoyed every second of getting my hands dirty this week.  However, I learned a few lessons of my own through this experience.  

First off, I used to think that I would do pretty much anything to be out of the rain.  I HATE rain, or at least I used to think I did.  I mean, I’ve always loved a good thunderstorm but that’s conditional on me not being caught in the down pour.  In the Amazon, when it rains, it pours.  When it pours in the jungle there’s just no way to avoid it, no way to stay dry, get dry, or even remember what dry feels like!  However, it’s warm outside which makes being wet much more tolerable than I had ever realized.  In fact, by the time we got to Thursday and got stuck in yet another torrential downpour I was so used to the rain that I soaked it up and enjoyed every last drop.  I learned that I could manage being wet, even soaked with boots full of water!  

Another great reminder for me this week had to do with being prepared.  While I was prepared with all of the right materials and supplies, some of the kids weren’t.  Usually I pack extra and plan for this situation but for some reason I didn’t this week.  I gave up my gloves and came home with some blisters as trophies.  Not all of our kids had the proper footwear but thankfully Camps International had extra boots.  Finally, when it comes to being prepared in the jungle…bug spray is your best friend, I got lazy at the end of the week and my legs got eaten up!  Pack heavy and take extra gear, especially if you’re staying in cabins and not carrying it around all week.

Thankful

At the end of the week I feel extremely thankful that I was able to join this experience with our 10th graders.  We made a difference in that community, we learned about the Amazon, and we grew closer as a group.  Working alongside this inspirational group of young adults made me a better person and a better educator.  The best news is that I get one more week, this time with 7th grade…I can’t wait!!

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Hiking in the jungle, we stopped next to a 300 year old tree to learn how to create our own headwear.

Teenagers – Wild Animals

IMG_5524Last week Amy and I went to the coast to see Humpback Whales.  Just before we got on the boat our guide gave us the whole safety routine, then added one more piece that got me thinking.  Basically he said, these are wild animals and we never know what they’re going to do, we can’t predict their behavior so they may be jumping or we may not see anything, it’s nature.  

While we were motoring around looking for and watching whales I had a lot of time to think and I began connecting our guide’s warnings about wild animals to what we experience with teenagers on a regular basis.  Many outsiders, those NOT in education, view these lovely young adults as wild animals.  As I think about it, they’re not totally wrong!

Teens, the human variety, are capable of very high level thinking and processing.  They are empathetic, sympathetic, and very resilient.  Additionally, they are also full of hormones and are constantly changing.  In that regard they could be looked at much like the Humpback Whales I was hoping to see jumping all around me – wild and unpredictable.  

It would probably be a bit strange if I rallied all the teachers around each morning and reminded everyone about teenagers, “remember, these creatures are unpredictable…it’s nature, please be patient!”  However, it wouldn’t be untrue.  We’re dealing with some of the most diverse and rapidly changing brains in the world, no matter how well we think we know them nothing can be taken for granted.

The captain of our boat has been taking people on tours to watch whales for years now, he knows these waters and he has learned a lot about the movements of these massive mammals.  In an attempt to understand the wild, teenage minds that we encounter each day we work to establish positive relationships with our students.  By learning about their personalities we can better anticipate their learning styles and needs, much like the captain of our boat learning to anticipate the whales’ next move. We also have to remember that their brains are changing, each day may not guarantee the same interactions and behaviors as the last.

Keeping in mind that our kids are constantly changing is extremely important for the success of our young students.  Just as there will be days when the whales jump and there will be days when they don’t, the same can be said of our students – there will be good days and bad.  Also similar to the whales, we won’t ever know when these “jumping days” will happen for our students nor do we know when a bad day will strike.  The whales don’t jump every day but that doesn’t mean the captains don’t take tour groups out to sea in an effort to see them.  In the same spirit we must prepare to give every student the opportunity to “jump” each time we see them.

Creating the opportunity for kids to “jump” is what education is all about.  It won’t happen if they’re not comfortable and prepared, nor is it something we can force.  Each student is going to “jump” differently depending on a wide variety of factors.  Be ready for anything from these wild young minds, create the opportunity, and enjoy the show!