We had a fun evening filled with stimulating conversations. What is truly awesome is that everyone brings something to the table; I think I am one of the few who has never been to grad school, but even so I am invited to participate in the free flow of ideas and thoughts. Some of you might ask “but what did you accomplish?” I’ll get to that.
I invite others to fill in the gaps, since I cannot possibly recount everything. But here is what comes to mind.
Travis Faust made a grand entrance with his Scratch reference material, two full-color items, one intended to be 2′ by 3′ quick reference “card”, the other a 8.5″ x 11″ tabbed book with more granular details. I believe Travis will be sending that to George in the near future, and perhaps George will blog about it on the CTRL-Shift website. 🙂 We had some back and forth about pros and cons, some ideas/suggestions, and in general much appreciation. Its kind of like a layout and quick users guide for a toolbox; sometimes when you are using Scratch, you want to pull out a certain block but you may not remember what it is called or which functional area it is stored in. In these cases, the color-coded reference card can help you find it quickly. The book could be really helpful if you are looking for a certain task, or if you come across a block and have no idea what it does. And of course, all this merely augments what is already available online. One of the benefits of having a physical copy is that you can minimize the context switch when looking at a small screen; another benefit is that you can write on them. 🙂
Addendum: In the initial post, I forgot to include a conversation George started with me via email about the correlation between low SES/minorities and test scores. He was specifically interested in charts and graphs that might capture that data via visualization, so I turned to the online Illinois Report Card and what I found was actually rather depressing. What I found is that while test scores in general decreased as standards became more strict (thanks NCLB! 😦 ), the gap between white and black populations increased at an alarming rate. George also found a scatter plot showing the correlation between SES and AYP (shown at left). There is an obvious trend in that the higher the low income population, the lower the number of students that meet test score standards. George noticed the outlier in the upper-right (100% low-income, 94% meets AYP) and decided to contact Eisenhower Academy in Joliet to see what they are doing. It turns out the Eisenhower Academy is cherry picking the best students from area schools.
Maya and George shared a little piece of exciting news; their NSF grant has passed the “recommended” stage, which sounds like is the final step before it goes before the ultimate decision makers. The grant, as I understand it, will provide a huge amount of support for local teachers to integrate Computational Thinking (CT) into the curriculum. The Kenwood staff got the ball rolling this past spring/summer, collaborating and smashing ideas together.
Katrina shared her “school that is not school” idea (my words, she is still hunting for a good label). She has a Venn Diagram showing three different phases; Inquiry, Project-Based Learning (PBL) and an applied mini-research project that is done in the community (she had a technical name, but I do not recall it at the moment). There is a heavy emphasis on community volunteers to provide mentorship, subject mastery, guidance and assistance along the way, along with what sounds like an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Phases last about 6-8 weeks. It sounded like an exciting work-in-progress. (apologies if I got any of that wrong – corrections would be welcome)
I also asked Katrina a little about the EdCampCU coming up, which I learned is slated for September 26th tentatively at Kenwood. She also mentioned that this unconference will change a little bit from last year where folks will submit questions instead of straight up topics. My small exposure to the EdCafe style last year impressed me because it seems much more organic, more of a natural way to find a group of people who can dive into a common shared interest.
Maya and Dave were having a fascinating conversation about Al Franken. Not being a SNL fan myself, I was totally clueless; it sounds like Franken has made a very successful, albeit risky and not easy, jump from comedy to politics. Based on what I was hearing, it sounds like Franken is pushing for some truly helpful bills in regards to Education in his state, and how crappy some of these other bills are (some of which are already laws). I would have to ask Maya and Dave to fill in details. That conversation morphed into how we do teacher evaluations, and Dave filled me in a little with some of the efforts the district is forging together with the local teachers’ union. I had a chuckle when Pearson was dropped as a four letter word. It surprises me how many influential hands are in the proverbial cookie jar, and yet how few of those hands belong to “the common people.” Why are most people so blasé about Education policy, and politics in general? (sidebar: Travis shared that the etymology of politics is poli, which means many, and tics, blood sucking bugs)
The conversation further morphed into how the model of school is in flux. Of course, I opined that I want to see more community involvement since I believe there should be a much more fluid boundary between school, community and life. I have followed up with Dave on some questions and will spell out more about that conversation later.
There were often multiple discussions happening at the same time. Some times my own little conference was with just one person, but then the next moment everyone was listening to one person. I missed a ton of other things, and even those that I participated in are not fully fleshed out here. So, if you were there, please help paint the picture. 🙂
What was the “take away”? How did we benefit? For me, one of the most significant aspects of these kinds of gatherings is just the simple, pure networking – meeting people and getting to know them. I was able to meet Mike Royse and Maya Israel, learn a little more about George’s family and gain an appreciation for what folks like Dave are doing in Unit 4.
Second is the open information sharing. On the one level, there are events and opportunities that I learned about. Another significant factor for me is witnessing how some of these pieces fit together; you don’t just throw some fancy buzzword like “computational thinking” on a piece of paper and then magically all the sudden you have kids practicing this method. It takes work. Lots of hours meshing talents and knowledge. In some ways, it is like one giant project-based learning effort.
Lastly, I gained a much deeper sense that there are people who really care about our community. Yes, we always say “it’s for the kids”, but these CTRL-Shift people are putting in some serious hours to turn it into reality. And I would go so far as to change the narrative it a little; it’s for all of us. We focus on kids because that is where we believe the biggest impact is, but the end goal is that we can live in a place where people respect each other and are willing to share, not only their material possessions, but their life. I know, it sounds totally unrealistic, I get that. But I have yet to find a better alternative.