Attending a student council subcommittee meeting, planning for CityDay. This is a signature UHS day, it would seem, and planned by students, from what I gather; students spend the day interacting with the city, serving it, interacting with it, learning from it. Seems like excellent experiential, memorable, learning experiences, that also support student leadership development. Right now we are discussing budget for the day, and what to do for lunch: bag lunch, fund lunch from the limited budget, or offer kids to bring their own lunch or lunch money. Working on equity and perception– if the taqueria group gets their lunch funded, and others don’t, it will create distorted notions of fairness. Lunch is a big issue, and needs to be dealt with, someone says. And it is a big part of the budget, which is seriously factored.
The day includes a total of 30-35 different activities, the website says, so we are brainstorming project ideas. Ideas for the day include Back Stage at the Zoo; Non-Museum Art; Murals in the Mission; A Tour of the Castro; Walk the Bridge; OnTop: Photography at Coit Tower, the TransAmerica tower, The Westin St. Francis Glass Elevators. I want to interject suggestions for process– this open ended idea generating and critique is going to take a long time. But I don’t. That said, despite the difficulty of process, there is a lot of good, analytical thinking happening here, and the responsibility is being taken seriously. And it is great how well these kids know the city.
Good conversation/debate about scavenger hunts and how to make all these events more active, not just about viewing. Jane points out that a lot of these activities seem to be framed as Tour, tour, tour, tour, but, she says, they should be more Do: Do, Do, Do. Great conversation about how to make the day active and engaging– and not boring.
French class. Good energies late in the day on a Friday, and lots of laughter. Class really sparkles with pleasure; learning is certainly advanced by the comfortable quotient in this room. Teacher using a laptop/projector to facilitate students orally filling in the blanks of a lengthy paragraph.
Now we are discussing the news; students are reading French newspapers, and now discussing what they read there. Nice connection to the real world, and real world applications of their learning. Now students are being asked to compare their preferences for news via TV, radio, newspapers and the internet, which is a real, real-world issue; connected to questions of information and technology; and requiring them to think about similarities and differences, which we know is good learning. I wonder though if the kids could have spent more time discussing this topic with each other in small groups, with the teacher circulating, than having the students speaking to this one at a time.
Nice use of French TV news and President Sarkozy off the internet for student listening and discussion. Connected to global events, making good authentic use of their French skills.
Physics. Going over the recent quiz. Students asking good follow-up questions. After quiz review, assignment is distributed. Students are required here to design their own experiments, and have a framework for that, but he says he is not going to handhold for experiments. They have to prepare their own lab purpose and procedures analysis. Students required to provide a drawing too for their planned experiment, which is good non-linguistic representation. Nice.
Students now working in group, puzzling through the lab preparation questions, displaying good collaboration skills, explaining confusions and asking questions. The assignment has an end product goal– the ball has to hit the mark, rolling off a sloped surface above, and there is a prize for groups achieving this. To plan accordingly, questions of velocity and acceleration have to be accurately answered. “The goal of the lab is to try and place the target that you have been given at the correct position away from the base of your lab table so that you hit the ‘candy zone.’ You will be given a ramp, stand, and clamp, ball bearing, meter stick, stopwatch, and a target.” Students are drawing on previous knowledge, references to sine and cosine for instance. The teacher suggests, and students find great advantage from, drawing out their understanding of the assignment and the proposed solution. He also offers encouragement and reinforcement for good efforts.
Great conversation with the teacher, asked him how he was evolving the program to meet changing times. He said AP physics can be very tradition bound, but they are really working to evolve it here. He said the school is committed to more group work, and more communication– engineers can be geniuses in their own minds, but that isn’t going to cut it, they have to communicate their ideas. He also explained how he is trying harder to not give kids the answers, but empowering them to approach it in an inquiry kind of way; he explained he attended a good summer seminar in AP physics by a guy who was really into inquiry. So he is trying to not give the kids the answers and then asking them to repeat, but asking them to try to come up their own answers, and then review where they might have gone astray. He did point out this can be hard for kids, used to the other way, but it is important. He told me that this assignment, which I really like, he developed himself, and it represents a real change from the same unit assignment a year ago, which was much more traditional.
Tagging along with Jane to the student newspaper meeting. Asking for article ideas first. Proposal: Compare high school experience in France, Russia, and here in the US (nice!); the group brainstorms who they know at schools in different countries. Another: a shoe store named Tom’s that donates a pair for every pair of shoes sold. Sports– alternate sports people do. Great opportunities for students to pursue passions, do real authentic learning here. Great proposal: Menlo School is also doing a production of Our Town, and the idea is to do see both and write a review comparing how each school stages it. Another proposal– reviewing a new pizza restaurant. Great enthusiasm for a new band (Mgmt?) and a concert review of its concert.
Russian Lit. Jane tells me they don’t have AP English here, they have in junior and senior years semester electives on special topics, which I think is a great way to go. Class begins with what the teacher says is a “soft start” to accommodate kids coming in from other classes– there is a handout, with a philosophical paragraph, and students are reading and taking notes on it.
To kick off the period, the teacher asks students, in groups, to discuss whether the handout text is in agreement with, or disagreement with, their assigned homework reading. And provide two examples of that agreement or disagreement. This is great. We are seeing comparison and contrasting of the two texts (Marzano best practice), and then the requirement of an interpretive posture, recognizing there exists the possibility of an argument, pro or con, and they need to enter the test by taking a side and then offering support- which is really thinking, questioning, explaining (Graff, many others). Also good group work– small size, good guiding question– the kids are really engaged. The teacher is moving around, facilitating groups.
Reconvened; students asked to explain their choice. Good references to the text for support. Teacher follow up questions: Where do you see in the handout, (Chaadaev) that he agrees? Next question: what other imitation by Russia of Western Europe do you see? Waits for response, lets 30+ seconds elapse as students think, nice. What is behind dueling, why do people duel, what is the bigger idea here? honor, an answer. Describe honor for me, explain what is behind honor? Students pursue it– militaristic society generates an honor culture. Adds gambling to dueling and battle, and then asks what ties these together. Fate. Why Fate? Go back to yesterday– what did we talk about yesterday?
Good dialogue and good questions happening, but now limited to those students volunteering and then responding to the quality teacher followup, whereas earlier, in groups, it seemed a much higher proportion of students were talking and involved, and the teacher was getting to each group with good regularity. Nice and pertinent anecdote about Pushkin and gambling. Really got the kids’ interest with another story about a friend and a girl he met in a bar and a coin-flip– which is good, meeting the kids where their interests are. This, kids will remember– brain research really tells us that an emotionally packed, surprising, (hormonal) story is something the brain will retain.
Another student tells us his group went in a different direction– seeing more of a contradiction between the two writers. Really powerful analysis here. Teacher doesn’t respond himself– asks group what do you guys think? Waits for response. Students building off each other– and using that phrase, building off of that idea. Nice. “What I think we are arguing right now is whether the Russians have any inherent argument,” another student says– which is what Graff is pushing us to elicit in students, a conscious recognition that we are engaging in an argument. This is good, right now there is wider involvement in the rich, analytic discussion. Students have the book open, and are citing particular passages, not passages the teacher has already directed them to.
Wow– teacher showing us “drawings of the narrative”– what great non-linguistic representation, and multi-modality. Really fun, large sized, renderings of the text graphically. Love it. Asks kids to vote on the best– really engaged.
US History, great day to be here. The kids are about to conduct a debate about slavery, adopting the thinking of the pro and anti slavery sides in the mid-nineteenth century. Two students will moderate. Kids were provided, in a textbook, in a hand-out, and online, documents from the period, pro and anti slavery, and had to study them to prepare the debate. 10 minutes provided at class start to review and prepare for the debate; the teacher bounces back and forth to the two groups prodding and stimulating their thinking. The teacher checked in with me at class-start, and explained the plan; she told me that today I’d be seeing a “class generated by the students themselves.” Great!
First question from the moderator: Cites the Dec. of Ind., and its provision of inalienable rights, and asks why they don’t apply to Africans? The pro-slavery group makes it reply: they are not people, they are not landowners, it is not to apply. Anti responds with passion– they are people, they are brothers and parents and children, they have feelings, they are entitled. Pro group– a society is about parameters and civilization and society that the Africans didn’t have in Africa. Anti– but they did have that in Africa, more so than the London poor. Anti– they are humans.
This is so great. Second question from moderator asks about a document from a pro-slavery slave, Job, and how do you respond? Anti group steps right up– how can this be understood as representative of all slaves? Most slaves are living in terror, so they will say what they need to survive? The pro group steps right in– these slaves say they are happy, and what is better than happiness? Anti– “uh, freedom?” Further– proslavery takes on the topic of work-ethic– with a powerful logic that the slaves are unhappy for being beaten, but they are being beaten for being lazy or defiant; if they were not slaves, they would be lazy and unproductive to society, so it isn’t great that we have slavery whereby they are more productive. Anti– their defiance is due to their condition of slavery. Next– sophisticated economic analysis of the need for slavery– that tobacco/sugar plantations cannot compete globally with other slave economies if they have to pay wages, and so if they have to begin paying wages, they will go out of business, and then the unemployed slaves will become desperate marauders. Debate– what about using indentured servants instead? Answer– England’s economy is improving, hence fewer indentured servants available. Proslavery– don’t you enjoy the comforts provided? No slaves, and you are going to have to go work in the fields yourself!
Next question: Ethically, morally, what justifies your treatment of slaves? Pro: God provided us this, and we are Christians so god provides for christians. Another pro: we have no other choice– we couldn’t survive otherwise, and so we have to do this. Anti argument: But Africans are converting to Christianity too– so how does that change the equation? Pro: Well maybe the Africans owe us a favor for our converting them and saving their souls. We have helped them to eternal salvation– they can give us their temporal lives, and then in heaven they will have their payoff. This way everybody is happy.
Anti– if you are enslaving them because they can’t take care of themselves, why don’t you teach them to be independent? Pro– There are too many slaves, we couldn’t do it all.
Teacher processes “takeaways.” What did you get out of this? Student– I got better understanding of the economic value of slaves. Another: issue of slaves and Christianity, and that they were forced to covert to Christianity. Another: I was surprised to see how easy it is to argue for slavery– that if you are English, and have a sense of superiority, then you can make that argument. Another: you better understand the two sides of it now, and how do you undermine European superiority when they are so certain of that.
Nice homework assignment– a graphic organizer to accompany the reading assignment and provide guiding questions.
Had a good, brief, conversation with the Chemistry teacher after class. He taught four years of IB, four years of AP, and so is great observer of the two systems. He appreciates that AP covers so much important material, but as I asked him about IB, he shared a lot of things he likes about IB– including that the labs count, significantly, for the final score, which is a lot of work for the teacher to submit but really good for kids to have to do; he liked that the IB curriculum had so many choices for teachers on what to focus on, and can go in depth on, and he liked that the labs — and this is great– entailed an inquiry approach, where kids had to design their own labs, time consuming, but they had to do it, rather than being given a lab to do as in AP. I also asked about how his teaching is changing– to meet the changing 21st century– and he spoke of how they are doing a lot more environmental chemistry, and implications for the environment.
In chemistry class; yesterday they measured the silver content of a pre 1965 dime, which I would have loved to have seen. (A note about that– both UHS and Drew have shorter sections Mondays and Fridays, and blocks on T-W-Th, and both schools suggested I come on a Monday or Friday to see a wider range of classes, which I happily accepted and makes a lot of sense. BUT, that said, I know I would have seen much more activity based, engaged, constructivist learning in the T-W-Th. blocks).
Chem teacher is using laptop and digital projector for a powerpoint presentation/lecture on Dalton’s Law. A complex word problem is presented, and one student is asked to think thought the answer, and the teacher asks good follow-up questions. This is good, but only one student here is doing the work– why not take a pause and ask every student to work out an answer, rather than just the one on the hotspot?
Now he is giving problems for everyone to work on. Like that he waits for students to process and do their work, and then after an answer, asks others to “confirm” that answer.
In cluster, about 8 students and 2 teacher for a bi-weekly advisory. Usually food is available; food is important they tell me, and teenagers are always hungry. (certainly brain-research supports this good practice).
Very comfortable, students and teachers; kids call most teachers by first name, and one student tells me that this is a very good thing, it makes the experience feel more like “we are working together as a team to do our our learning, rather than being taught by a distant Mr. or Mrs.”
In cluster students vote in response to a poll from the global action committee, (which I love– how cool), on which project to focus on, supporting a book project in Tanzania, a woman’s center in Nepal, or an environmental center in India. One of the advisers here tells me she is sorry I won’t be here for an ASM, which is an all-school-meeting, at which the whole community really comes together and I could see the vibrancy of the student clubs.
Good morning; I am here at SF University High School, UHS, for today. Great to be here, so appreciative of Kate Garrett, Academic Dean, for her warmly welcoming me today.
In the company of my guide, “Jane,” we have already been to Calculus, where students were asked to explain their reasoning, and asked to do work themselves pretty consistently. Students used their graphing calculators with great ease.
Remember, a live- blog reads from bottom to top, in confusingly reverse chronology. Lots more to come.