Monday, March 30, 2015

STEM to STEAM: A Teacher Field Trip

The acronym STEM has been around for awhile now. STEM is the integration of science, technology, engineering and mathematics to solve a real-world problem. So what is STEAM?! It is the same thing, but with an addition of art! When we talk about tinkering and making which is part of STEM one cannot be within that wheelhouse without the idea of art. Since LASD has a STEM program and an Art Docent program we decided to bring the two worlds together for a day of collaboration.

It was a brisk Tuesday morning when a group of LASD teachers and Art Docents met to carpool over to the San Jose Art Museum. It wasn’t a teacher’s day off, but a special fieldtrip that was arranged in order for teachers to experience learning in a different way. One of our districts Learning Principles is “Connect Experiences” and one way to do that is to be out in the world and have shared event. A field trip is a great way for teachers to collaborate and share ideas.

We started in a room with nothing on the walls, nothing on the tables and just a sign-up sheet in front. I wouldn’t have imagined an art museum being so stark, but that didn’t give us any indication of what was to come… As we stepped outside the room there was a beautifully created sculpture hanging from the ceiling made of paper clips. We looked at one another and many of us repeated the same thing “I love that - how can we make that for our rooms?!”

The first part of the day we spent in the museum learning about interpretation of photos or paintings. This was an exercise where everyone participated either with only one word or a story about what they thought was going on in the image. It was truly engaging for all. We even had a chance to be
part of a painting. The focus shifted to the classroom and how as educators we can bring these types of discussions into the classroom, how to honor everyone’s opinion and interpretation as well as having students explain their thoughts by using evidence from the image. Now it was time to apply what we learned about interpretation into our own work. When we entered back into the room with the sign-up sheet I noticed that there was a lot more in the room now. It had materials ready for the city creation project.

We worked in teams of 3 to 5 creating our city or town, but we didn’t jump right in as many of us wanted to do! We first had to brainstorm alone all of the things we could imagine or want in a city or town. Then we had to discuss those items as a whole group and decide what was going to be in our collective living space. The next step was a little difficult for my group. We had to sketch it out on paper. The paper we recieved was the same size as the plot of land that we will be using for our build. Each of us picked up a pencil, but no one wanted to make the first mark. I know personally, drawing is not my forte, so I was nervous that the image in my head was not going to translate on paper. Once

Erika, a team member, took the first step and made a mark we all jumped in and started to sketch. We finally had something to work with; a blueprint which became very handy as we brought our town to life.

Now it was time to start assembling the town. I watched and listened as other groups began their builds. There was a definite buzz of excitement as the teachers and art docents began putting their towns together. We received a small lesson on some paper techniques to help us create buildings and other essential items for our town. As I looked around the room there were four towns/cities erected, all with some similarities and some differences. We had an opportunity to reveal our towns and explain the layout as well as the features. One of the similarities between all of the towns/cities was a water feature where people can sit, walk or bike around and some of the contrasting features were wineries, civic centers and churches.

It turned out to be a great day full of creativity, collaboration and application of STEAM. Teachers walked away with ideas on how to implement more art into the classroom and ways to use active listening skills as part of the VTS (Visual Thinking Strategies), a technique the art museum uses for teaching about art. VTS includes asking questions and tips on how to respond to student's comments as well as emphasis on being open to student interpretation. When students are responding the instructor then uses paraphrasing as well as focusing on accepting students responses neutrally. I think this technique is useful not just for art, but in all subjects!

Contributed by Karen Wilson, STEM Coach

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Might We Transform Education?

LASD Participates in Re-Imaging Education Project in Washington, D.C.

LASD was recently asked to be a part of a national group re-imagining education,  Convergence Center for Policy Resolution.   This group is focused on creating a new paradigm for learning.  The request for LASD participation links back to relationships developed through our blended learning work.  Convergence created a vision that outlines  five interrelated elements essential to a new learning paradigm:
  • competency-based
  • personalized, relevant and contextualized
  • learner agency
  • socially embedded
  • open-walled

There is considerable overlap between these five elements and the seven LASD Learning Principles we have identified as critical to our vision of “Revolutionizing Learning.”  Simply put Convergence recognizes the current educational system was designed in a different era and structured for a different society.  Their vision is a call to action, not to tweak or modify the current system but to create a drastically different paradigm of learning that will serve all children.
Convergence hosted a “Pioneer Base Camp” of educators who have demonstrated their belief in one or more essential elements outlined in the vision.  “Pioneers” were identified by Convergence team and then if interested asked to interview.  LASD was selected as a Pioneer, interviewed and attended the Pioneer Base Camp in Washington DC last week along with 150 other educators from 35 organizations.  The invitation to participate in this event is testament to the work we have accomplished over the course of the last few years.

Our team consisted of:  Jill Croft, teacher at Covington, Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Initiatives; Katie Kinnaman, Principal of Gardner Bullis; and Sandra McGonagle, Principal of Blach.

After spending time with educators, policy makers, private corporations and foundations dedicated to improving our education system for ALL students, we all returned to LASD with  renewed commitment to revolutionizing learning for all students and BIG ideas about how to accelerate our work in LASD.  It was a tremendous experience to connect and learn with so many diverse groups.  Here is a list of some of the other Pioneers that attended:  Big Picture Learning, Design39 Campus, High Tech High, Iowa BIG, Lindsay Unified School District, MC2, Quest to Learn, Re-School Colorado, and Roycemore School. Our reactions to hearing what is happening elsewhere in the country ranged from “We do that, too!” to “Ooooh, we could do that!” to “How in the world did you do that?”

Fundamentally, our world is changing and so should our education system.  We are fortunate in LASD to have already embraced this mindset.  However, knowing we need to grow and adapt is only the first step, we must now apply new strategies and approaches across an entire organization. This is challenging.   Especially, when we are talking about making changes to a system that so many of us are products of.  Too often we hear, “I survived school…. It worked for me, what’s wrong with it?”

Yes, that system worked for me, too. Everything I needed for research could be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica and I relied heavily on my ability to memorize content.   In this traditional system, we “learned” at school, and then we left to “do” at work.  This approach no longer works - in today’s world learning and doing have become inseparable.  If we continue down the same path, are we preparing students for a world that no longer exists?  

Having just participated in this national conversation about transforming education, we are asking a lot of questions - questions that challenge the core of our learning system.  Here are a few of the questions swirling in our minds -
  • Why do we determine what a child learns and is exposed to based on how old they are?
  • How can we design a system that embraces the fact that not everyone learn in the same way or at the same pace?
  • What role does learning outside of traditional school “hours” and “walls” look like and how can we partner to make sure we are expanding opportunities to learn, not limiting them?
  • How can we re-organize our current resources (time, money, people, space) to shift our system now, rather than waiting for a full-scale, start-from-scratch re-design?

Knowing that there are big challenges ahead for all educators and educational organizations, I am extremely grateful to work in a school district that has already recognized the need for change and created three year goals headed in this direction.  I am more excited than ever to work on meeting the individual needs of all students.  While we don’t yet have answers to all of the questions posed above, we are working on them and committed to re-imaging what is possible for all students.

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships

Friday, March 13, 2015

How Might We Be Shutting Down the Intelligence of Our Students With the Best of Intentions?

5 Things We Can Do to Bring Out the Best in Students

Sketchnotes by @leoniedawson25 
Last night I had the privilege of hearing Liz Wiseman, best-selling author of Multipliers: How The Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter and Rookie Smarts, speak at a parent education event at Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park.  It is always a treat to hear Liz speak about Multipliers and Rookie Smarts, but I was even more excited to know that that she would be sharing information on both of these topics through the lens of education.

Liz began her research several years ago with a fairly straightforward question: How do some leaders create intelligence in the people around them, while others diminish it?  Her research uncovered two fundamentally different types of leaders.  In the first group are the Diminishers.  These leaders tend to believe there are few really smart people and that people will not figure things out without them.  The second group of leaders are Multipliers.  These leaders bring out each person’s unique intelligence and creativity.  They see their organization as filled with intelligent, capable people and create the right opportunities for continued growth.  As you can imagine these two types of leaders get very different results.  Multipliers tend to get twice as much from their resources as do Diminishers.  Liz goes on to identify a leadership continuum with Multipliers and Diminishers on opposite ends of this continuum.  As you might expect, just a small number of people fall into either polar extreme of being a Multiplier or a Diminisher 100% of the time.  Most of us find ourselves along a spectrum functioning as Accidental Diminishers.

This concept of Accidental Diminishers is especially intriguing to me in education, as most educators I know are extremely well intentioned, following popular leadership and instructional practices which may actually have a subtle diminishing influence on those we lead whether they are teachers or students.  With some focused effort, we can shift our accidentally diminishing tendencies and develop skills to lead and teach more like a multiplier.  In fact, Liz shared five thing you can do tomorrow in your school or classroom to bring out the best in students. (All of these suggestions work in work in parenting as well!)

5 Things You Can Do to Bring Out the Best in Students

  1. Shift From Answers to Questions
What if we stopped operating in telling mode and shifted to questioning mode?   Too often we fall into the trap of telling our students things they might already know.  Test this out by going extreme and only asking questions of your students for an identified period of time. What do you notice? Chances are everyone will learn more and you’ll improve your ability to ask questions in the process.
  1. Play Fewer Chips
Often as adults we just take up too much space.  We have so much to share, that we actually end up shutting down what our students have to share.  What if we thought of our contributions as poker chips to be played?  When planning, try identifying a number of “chips” to be played.  By limiting your contributions, you might actually create more space for students to do their best thinking.
  1. Offer Bigger Challenges
Imagine for a moment that the challenges we give our students are like the stretch in  rubber bands.  Now imagine that you are holding tight to one end of a rubber band and a student is holding tight to the other end of a rubber band - if you pull the rubber band to it’s maximum tension point (without breaking) the person holding the other end has a couple of choices: let go or they can step in and move closer to you.  In teaching we need to experiment with the amount of stretch on the rubber band.  Are we stretching too much so that students give up?  Are we not stretching enough? Are we stretching but then lessening the stretch at the first sign of struggle?  Try thinking of challenges in the amount of stretch offered.  As a teacher, do you tend to over stretch or under stretch?  Human beings are built for challenges, in fact our best learning happens when there is maximum tension on the rubber band and we have to step into the learning.
  1. Find Their Genius
What if we learned to see our students differently?  We all know our students are unique and have their own innate talents.  What might happen if we saw our primary role as teachers to identify and nurture the native genius of our students?  Challenge yourself to observe and identify the native genius of every student in your class. Help students see this native genius and nurture it.
  1. Give the Pen Back
We all know that learning is a messy process and there are times when people get stuck.  As educators our goal is to help students but sometimes when we jump in to help we end up taking the ownership of the learning.  What if we helped just enough to get students unstuck but then quickly gave the pen back, transferring the ownership of learning right back to the student?

Experimenting with these five shifts, may help you teach more like a multiplier and unleash genius in your students.  If you try any of the above experiments, I’d love to hear what you and your students experience!  

Contributed by Alyssa Gallagher, Director of Strategic Initiatives & Community Partnerships