“question everything”

“Basically, I question everything, and I’m always eager to learn new things,” she said. “I don’t ever want to stop learning.”

http://www.news-gazette.com/opinion/columns/2014-10-30/jim-dey-centennial-senior-keeps-eye-master-goal.html

 

The girl featured in Jim Dey’s piece has an amazing attitude and outlook on life. I mean, how many people can say that becoming a chess grandmaster is just one goal among many to follow afterwards? Wow.

 

I cannot add anything to what Mr. Dey has written. All I can do is hope that everyone has the opportunity and courage to adopt a similar attitude towards life. If there are roadblocks that stand in way, how do we obliterate them?

 

 

Another uplifting story in today’s paper comes from Jim Rossow about a visit to Unit 4′ READY program:

http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-10-30/top-morning-oct-30-2014.html

Unit 4 on the radio

Dr. Wiegand was featured on both WIXY (with Steve Holstein “HoCo”) and WDWS (Jim Turpin “Penny for your thoughts”). Sounds like they had a ton of fun on HoCo, and Steve asked some really good questions – I highly recommend you check it out. Many of the same things are repeated on the Penny show, but Dr. Wiegand had Marc Changnon and Stephanie Stuart with her, to help answer a range of questions/comments from callers (some obviously opposed to the referendum, some clearly in favor).

 

Along with Jess’s comment last night, I feel these are great conversations to be having, if only a year ago. :) There was a comment on one of the shows about how Dr. Wiegand’s campaign is doing really well. It is not quite her campaign, but I do give big kudos to the “Friends of Champaign Schools” for running such a well-organized and well-done effort.

 

On the radio show, Dr. Wiegand highlight two of the main priorities they are addressing via the referendum; capacity and programming. When I heard the explanation, I could not help but boil it down purely to capacity issues; it seems to me that the current problems with programming (as mentioned on the show) could be vastly alleviated if capacity were not an issue at all. Marc Changnon also spoke at lenght during the Penny show about the Trades. I found it interesting that one caller submitted that the Agricultural Trades are actually exeperiencing a drastic decline in employment because of the rise of mega- and corporate forms, which comes with large farming vehicles and significant amounts of automation. Another discussion point was that of how much is being spent per square foot and per student. Dr. Wiegand says that we would be right in the middle for schools in the area (Unit 4 has had several slides to this effect). One caller made the comparison to Texas, which (if I recall correctly) ranged from $76 to $180 per student, quite a bit less than what we are planning on.

 

I encourage you to listen to both as you have time.

Anyone attend the Rose & Taylor education forum?

I am curious to hear from those that attended the education forum at the Rose & Taylor last night (Sunday, October 26th). In reading Tim Mitchell’s NG article, I do not see anything that represents the voice of the 40 attendees. Did only white people talk?

 

I mentioned the following in response to Rebecca Patterson, but that might be buried in comments so I am bringing it front and center – here are the presentation materials used at several of the last few meetings:

Dropbox Prezi (you have to go to Dropbox, download the zip file, unzip the zip file, click on Prezi.exe)
– The slide on academic achievement at BTW and Carrie Busey
Social Justice “Restorative Justice” powerpoint deck

 

The Prezi is not too shabby, actually. :) I like Prezi over and above PowerPoint, and the motif in this one is helpful. However, it might be a bit awkward if you want to try to view it. I have some simple instructions above, but if they do not work, let me know and I can try to help.

 

Since the slide about academic achievement focuses on only two schools, I have asked about other schools. I am hoping to find out, perhaps via the Illinois Report Card, how other schools have done, especially those that have been remodeled (Garden Hills) or newly built (Stratton, Barkstall). I am also curious if academic achievent, as measured by ISAT, has a positive correlation with the age of the building, including the middle and high schools. That is on my “To do” list for later.

 

But in the meantime, is there anyone else that would like to speak up about the Rose & Taylor forum?

Computational Thinking on tonight’s BOE agenda

The agenda for tonight’s BOE meeting has a number of items, but my focus in this post is to concentrate on “Computational Thinking”. There is no attached document, so nothing I can link to from here, but the agenda item does have a lengthy description which I include at the bottom of this post. I have had many great conversations with Todd Lash, Kerris Lee and Dr. George Reese via Ctrl-Shift – there is so much exciting stuff happening with this group.

 

I will also say that I realize “computational thinking” can be rather hard to wrap your head around. In talking to parents and teachers, I have heard (and heard of) parents asking teachers “why is my child doing eToys? How is that part of the curriculum?”. I think one of the important things to remember about technology in general is that it is just a tool. Think about the root word in “computer” – to steal from the geek cult-classic Short Circuit “It’s a machine, Schroeder. It doesn’t get pissed off. It doesn’t get happy, it doesn’t get sad, it doesn’t laugh at your jokes. It just runs programs.” At one point, the pencil was a technological marvel. *grin* The idea is to use a tool that allows for collaboration, exercising critical thinking skills, and processing logical patterns. But read the “background information” below for more (and better?) details.

 

Kerris wanted to reiterate that even though he is involved with Ctrl-Shift (as are others from the University of Illinois), 100% of the money they are asking for is purely for teachers, subs and teacher professional development (PD).

 

At tonight’s meeting, I believe Todd Lash will be bringing forward some of the Kenwood students to present and show off what Computational Thinking is all about. I have asked Kerris to see if perhaps those of us who are unable to attend the BOE meeting can perhaps tweet questions to Stephanie Stuart during the meeting. I’ll update this post when I find out. I am curious, how many of you would take advantage of being able to tweet Stephanie with live questions? (regardless of whether or not the idea flies)

 


Background Information:

Kenwood staff and students will present their ongoing work on computational thinking and computer science. Cultural shifts made over the last year at Kenwood and future plans will be explored.

The use of technology has shifted dramatically in the first decade of the 21st century. The average amount of time spent on-line by Americans increased from 2.7 hours per week in 2000 to 2.6 hours per day in 2010 (Sheninger,2014). In 2011, 71% of students between 11 and 16 had their own game consoles at home spending an average of 1.7 hours per day using this technology. A recent national survey found that of those teens online, 73% used social networking sites while equal numbers of young adults also used social networking sites (Sheninger, 2014). The extensive use of technology by students and families strongly suggests that the practical application of 21st century literacy skills should be an important part of the school curriculum. However, in most cases technology and 21st century literacies have been taught in isolation from the rest of the curriculum. The importance of integrating these skills into the curriculum is an essential tool to help students deepen their understanding and increase their engagement regarding computational thinking, but also identifying its application in subject areas such as mathematics. The District proposes creating intentional connections between the newly adopted Everyday Mathematics curriculum and a computational thinking framework. During the past year and half, the University of Illinois has collaborated with Kenwood beginning the process of developing computer science and computational thinking (CS/CT) throughout the school. The Department of computer science has generously donated $40,000.00 during the 2013-14 school year to provide training and support for classroom teachers as they have continued to develop their CS/CT teaching strategies and in addition have worked with students and families through outreach during Saturday programs.  Kenwood and other district campuses and staff look forward to continuing this collaboration with the University of Illinois.

 

Staffing/Staff Development Needs:

The District will post and hire staff to develop up to five modules to connect mathematics content to computational thinking.  Possible connections include the following: Use one of the Common Core learning progressions in mathematics as a content template for development: K-6 Geometry, K-5 Geometric Measurement, K-5 Number and Operations, or Grades 3-5 Fractions are possibilities.
Participants may include classroom teachers (K-8), Unit 4 administrators, University of Illinois collaborators from the following colleges and departments; College of Education Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education, Center for Small Urban Communities, Department of Computer Science, Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences, Everyday Mathematics Collaborators and other community representatives.  If approved, the planning process will begin with positions posted in November. Curriculum writing work would be completed between December and May of this academic year.

 

Financial Implications:

Estimated costs of the project would be $37,340. These costs include teacher writing days to develop the modules, consultant fees for other providers, and materials.

 

 

 

 

Experimenting with the WordPress “Voter Information Tool”

Updated: Attempt #2

 

NG articles this morning; covering both sides of the referendum

A nice bevy of things to read in today’s paper:

 

Julie Wurth’s article goes into quite a depth covering both sides of the story, and references a study of which only a few pictures are included in the 6-page PDF, as well as previous studies. The editorial highlights two distinct viewpoints of the $149 million referedum, closing with “Next Sunday, The News-Gazette editorial board will offer its opinion on the Central/Centennial proposal.” I have not yet had the time to digest what both outstanding ladies have said, but I hope to do so later today. In the meantime, I recommend you read these articles as they are excellent windows into differing perspectives.

Why I voted “no” to the $149 million bond referendum

The question on the ballot reads:

Proposition to Issue $149,000,000 School Building Bonds
Shall the Board of Education of Champaign Community Unit School District Number 4, Champaign County, Illinois, build and equip a new high school building to replace the Central High School Building, build and equip an addition to and alter, repair, and equip the Centennial High School Building, improve school sites, and issue bonds of said School District to the amount of $149,000,000 for the purpose of paying the costs thereof?

I also noticed that folks are searching for “champaign school district 4 proposition to issue $149,000,000 school building bonds”

 

After talking to folks on both sides of the issue, reading what materials were available, considering the historical context, I was definitely torn on this issue, but in the end I was compelled to vote “no” on this proposition.

 

In talking to others who also plan to vote “no” (or who already have voted), their reasons are many and varied. Some think the location is horrible, some think the price tag is too high, some just outright do not trust the school district nor the board. In talking to those that support the referendum, they are full of energy and excitement, and full of conviction to give our children “the best.” This made me chew a lot – if anything, I fall in the middle. I found it interesting that when I talked with those who generally did not feel good about the referendum, they often expressed that they felt they were being labeled as being “anti-student” or “anti-public-school”. I have also heard a rumor that teachers are being told that anyone who votes against the referendum also votes against teachers; so far, this remains unsubstantiated (I asked several teachers). Is it possible to oppose the referendum and yet still show teachers and students that you support them? I believe so.

 

Back in April, I mentioned several things that I personally was looking for that would catapult me into a “yes” vote. There are still a few outstanding items on that list. Having said that, there are three factors that have persuaded me the most:

  1. The school district has not had a dedicated planner on staff, and as such, there is no consistent long-term plan, let alone one that has fully engaged the community. To my knowledge, the “living document” of projections and demographic statistics has not been updated, nor was the district left with the necessary tools to do so. The current 20-year strategic plan calls for addressing Garden Hills in 10 years and Edison in 20 years. “Our children deserve world-class educational facilities”
  2. We hear a lot about a “21st Century Education”. However, the precepts of a 21st Century Education are already taking hold in our schools. The vast and ambitious plans to build hi-tech modern high schools are definitely a way for the school district to jump in with both feet in a very public fashion, but I firmly believe a 21st Century Education does not depend on a $98 million high school. I do believe new construction and new renovation would certainly help in a big way. Additionally, it is obvious that many on the board and in district administration want to open the doors of the future by ushering in new facilities. I applaud the forward-looking vision; yet I maintain that the future does not need bright shiny new buildings.
  3. I am very much disturbed by the trend of hiring consultants that do a bare minimum of community engagement, and then turn around a very expensive plan which evolves into a big ticket referendum. Looking at the historical context of referenda (past ballot issues, consent decree and enrollment), we have seen that the school district has a long-standing penchant of seeking new money for new construction as a way to address old problems. When the 1% Sales Tax was passed, the district placed a higher priority on building new schools, renovating several others and paying off previous debt than focusing on the looming problems of Central, Centennial, Dr. Howard and Edison. It is odd that the August heat at Central was not even on the list for mitigation.

 

I wish to reiterate that there are many good reasons to vote in favor the referendum; I want to give credit to those who passionately stand behind Unit 4 no matter what. People like that are much needed. I also note that many stalwart organizations and groups are casting their support behind the referendum, including CUC2C, CFT and possibly “At Promise of Success”. Like I said, I have not arrived at my own personal decision easily, and I am still torn even now.

 

So as not to merely vote “no” and call it a day, I suggest an alternative. In the past I have referenced a “Plan B“. That plan continues to morph and change as I learn more from those I talk with. For instance, Dr. Laura Taylor has convinced me that high school size does not matter (at least, not as much as other more weighted factors in terms of total student achievement). I have also learned that the current building that houses Judah Christian School will not be up for sale in the next two years, probably even further out. It seems to me that one of the most significant priorities of any plan going forward must revolve around what makes an awesome educational environment. I truly believe that the administration and the board believe with their heart that they are pursuing this goal, and I give them all kudos for the bold plans they have laid down, and the taking the initiative in buying a huge swath of land to get the ball rolling.

 

Having said that, here is what I propose:

  • Fully embed and incorporate CUC2C and “At Promise of Success” into the Strategic Plan
  • Retain Central as a high school but cap the enrollment between 900-1000 students to reduce the number of students in each classroom
  • Build a third high school (personally, I don’t really care about the location anymore)
  • Continue to pursue CAPS, Computational Thinking and investing in preparing for the Trades
  • Provide a way for community members to help teachers create awesome learning environments
  • Hire a full-time planner
  • Come up with a new Capital Improvement Plan that prioritizes maintenance projects (including renovations) so as to lengthen the life of all physical structures
  • Pursue and implement distance learning options, with the intent to eliminate busing between schools for classes at one physical location
  • Don’t hire any more consultants; moderators that facilitate discussion panels and deliberations are ok
  • Always invite disagreement and healthy, public debate

 

Of course, I could be completely and utterly wrong. You are welcome to comment either way, but I especially value your constructive criticism and ideas for how you would improve the future. Regardless of how we vote, I do think it is very important for each of us to be involved with students, teachers and/or schools. I urge you to volunteer, whether it be over lunch, as a tutor, or just giving up an hour whenever needed, or sign up to be a mentor. The mission of the Unit 4 School District says it works “in partnership with the community”. We all need to work together to make that happen, and I am convinced that getting involved is one of the best investments you can possibly make.

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