August 2009

Dan Pink is one of the most fascinating thinkers in our era, and I have been a huge fan since his book, A Whole New Mind, which has influenced me enormously.  Now, this video from TED is 18 minutes long,  but it is really worth it: it speaks compellingly to the question of how to motivate people, workers or students, to tackle and solve complicated, 21st century type of problems.

Pink explains that rewards systems (contingencies, carrots and sticks, extrinsic motivators) do, they do, still work for simple tasks, for if-then thinking problems.  But they do not for more challenging tasks.   For challenges that require creativity or innovation, problems which require thinking out of the box, rewards and other extrinsic motivators not only don’t help, they harm.  (more…)

Yong Zhao, an educational professor in Michigan, published today an important editorial on the question of moving ahead with unified national standards in reading and mathematics.   Zhao and I share a commitment to preparing students to compete globally, and we have to acknowledge that the proponents of national standards, the Obama administration chief among them, argue that these new national standard initiatives do precisely that. “The joint initiative promises to help America’s children ‘to be prepared to compete globally.”

But the standards are concerned exclusively with assessing children’s ability to pass standardized tests in multiple choice formats in only mathematics and reading– and these standardized tests are set at a level that may be high for some children, but low for many others.     The result is anything but preparing students with the thinking, creating, innovating, criticizing, and collaborating skills necessary for their future.

More from Zho:

In reality, it is precisely what is needed to ruin America’s capacity for global competitiveness. No evidence shows national standards result in better academic achievement. Most countries have centralized standards, but their performance on international tests varies a great deal. (more…)

Wired has an article up this week, arguing for the value of geekifying our schools.

“The best schools,” Grodd told me later, “are able to make learning cool, so the cool kids are the ones who get As. That’s an art.”  The notion itself seems incredibly daunting—until you look at one maligned subculture in which the smartest members are also the most popular: the geeks. If you want to reform schools, you’ve got to make them geekier.

Our school here in Tucson is all about the whole child, and celebrates the artists and the athletes, and it celebrates the “nerds” too– it is not a social Siberia for lovers of computers or science fiction.    But there are still steps we can and should take to do more to put student learning front and center, as they are doing at one of my favorite high schools, High Tech High:

“Geeks get things done. They’re possessed. They can’t help themselves,” says Larry Rosenstock, founding principal of eight charter schools in San Diego County collectively called High Tech High. He has come up with a curriculum that forces kids to embrace their inner geek by pushing them to create. The walls, desks, and ceilings of his classrooms teem with projects, from field guides on local wildlife to human-powered submarines. (more…)

I am an enthusiast for student robotics clubs and activities to serve the project of 21st century learning; I became an enthusiast upon seeing the seriousness of purpose the High Tech High student robotics team displayed when I visited there in San Diego in December.     Yesterday edutopia published a short piece celebrating the robotics movement in Hawaii, and pointed the way to this article in the Hawaiian Airlines flight magazine (admittedly not my most common source!).

Some pull-outs:

In fact, robotics attracts students of all stripes. The same day I spoke with Sara, I spoke with Jon Asato, who is a student in Maui High School’s arts and communication track. He calls robotics “a good outlet to express my creativity at school. 

We the Academic Committee were treated to this Slide Show this afternoon by St. Gregory Middle School Head Phil Woodall, laying out Seven Perspectives on the need for improved reporting of student learning.  I thought I would share them with you here.

Edutopia, always great, has a piece this month by Rebecca Alber called how to give your school leader a grade.   As someone who tries my hardest to practice leadership by backward design and keeping the end in mind, and someone who says that what gets measured gets done,  it is only fair that I do the same.    Here is her list on the criteria by which to evaluate your school leader.

1. Making connections. —  Alber puts this first, and explains that it means that the principal genuinely values, and enjoys, visiting classrooms.    It is about rolling up sleeves and working side by side.  It is about being a teacher’s principal and being a kid’s principal.   It is about showing you really care about everything that happens and everyone who participates in the work of teaching kids.    I too think it is essential, and I would add that it is about understanding the challenges of teaching and seeking to understand the particular goals and concerns and values of each individual teacher; it is about taking the student side and looking at learning from the point of view of kids.

2. Clear, Comprehensible Goals.  For Alber, the principal’s  “fundamental philosophy and beliefs about educating children stay the same, and are transparent to all… (more…)

Below is the Academic Committee agenda for the year– in draft form.  We had good feedback from committee members today, to consider streamlining it, and to adjust it such that we tackle each of the three main projects one at a time, advice we will consider.   But in the interest of transparency, here is the tentative year-long agenda:

2009-2010 Academic Committee  Calendar and Agenda:

August 26, 2009 – Reporting of student learning and student advisory: 1) Seven perspectives on grading                                   and 2) The student advisory puzzle: 9 key pieces. (more…)

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