The 21st Century has arrived

According to wikipedia, the 21st Century “began on January 1, 2001.” So when I hear talk of a “21st Century Education” and ask people what that means, I am always a little amused that we are still grappling with how to define it and figure out what it looks like almost 15 years into the century.


CTRL-Shift has been doing a lot to make that a reality in Unit 4 schools. Granted, there are a ton of efforts and teachers all over that are working on ushering forward these changes, but I am going to highlight just a couple that I have some knowledge of.


First, there is Unit 4’s Innovate page, which opens the first page of this book and was discussed at the October 27th board meeting. Additionally, Kerris Lee (U4 Board member), along with many others like Todd Lash, has been working with district administration and staff to further integrate these concepts into district-wide curriculum and pursue funding via grants for crucial staff Professional Developement (PD), inviting partnerships with the University of Illinois MTSE and even Last Wednesday, WCIA interviewed Trevor Nadrozny and Wendy Maa of Kenwood and gave us a look inside how they are approacing “21st Century Education”:


Another example is Mrs. Slifer’s class at Carrie Busey, where I have been helping once a week. Just this past Friday, they produced a classroom video showing how students are actively using these skills to collaborate and work together on common goals.


The main idea is to get kids thinking about how to solve problems, no matter what the context is. These efforts encourage and immerse children in an environment where they ask each other questions, work together online (for example, using Google Docs or Google Classroom), and explore many different ways to answer questions about the world around them. They are developing critical thinking skills by being assigned a project and analyzing, conceptualizing and researching their way to a conclusion. Whether they use a tool like, eToys, Scratch, google, wikipedia or something else entirely, the tool itself is not the object of the lesson, but rather just one of many possible venues to help guide the learner.


In light of all the controversy and talk (ad nauseam *grin*) of the Unit 4 referendum, I would absolutely love for the district administration to assign “the problem” of overcapacity schools and decades of deferred maintenance to our school children as a critical thinking project (*). What if students, parents and community members used an “intellectually disciplined process of actively and skillfully conceptualizing, applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and/or evaluating information gathered from, or generated by, observation, experience, reflection, reasoning, or communication, as a guide to belief and action” (The National Council for Excellence in Critical Thinking’s definition of critical thinking) to address these issues? I cannot help but wonder how many core curriculum concepts can be applied to such a case study; you pull in math, social studies, social science, history and language arts. And probably others as well.

(*) sidebar: I have traded emails with Ms. Stephanie Brown, a local AICP Project Planner with MSA Professional Services, Inc who sits on the board of the Illinois chapter of the American Planner Association (aka, ISS-APA), on the topic of conducting charrettes within the schools. The resources are there if only we can bring them together.


This got me to thinking, what does a “21st Century” classroom really require to accomplish these goals? Kenwood, the Unit 4 leader of the “computational thinking” crowd, is currently squished into the old Carrie Busey building on Kirby, along with the International Prep Academy. Even prior to moving to this temporary location, they had already opened the doors of the 21st Century at their pre-renovated home building at 1001 South Stratford. To me, it is fascinating that they are making all this “21st Century education” happen in a 20th century physical environment. Along that line, here is one infographic of a “21st Century Classroom”:


How will this change the face of classrooms? How will this change pedagogy and how we “do” education? The “Lewis and Clark” explorers of Kenwood, Carrie Busey and even Westview (as mentioned in the WCIA interview) are finding out.


One reader also asked how all this is being rolled into the current HS “programming” that is going on in regards to the new Central. I have asked around and so far the answer is “no”. Which absolutely boggles my mind.


A parting thought – only 85 more years until the 22nd Century…..

National Blue Ribbon



This post is about Central. According to the article: “Champaign Central was a two-time winner (1989, ’94)”


This is fascinating. Some think that Central is an “outdated piece of garbage school”, and while I agree that Central does indeed need major repairs and overhaul work, I think it is pretty clear that there is much to be proud of despite the conditions of the facility.


It would be very helpful to see a study that calculates the correlation between the average age of a building versus the notorious “standardized” measuring sticks we use to gauge academic excellence. I would be surprised if there were any strong correlation; is it not the people inside who make all the difference in the world? Which makes me very thankful for the totally awesome teachers we have at Unit 4.


Let us assume that the “National Blue Ribbon” is something every school should strive for. We could then look at every school that has won this prestigious award and find out what makes them tick, what makes them successful. Those elements should be our bread and butter, whatever they are. According to the Dept of Ed, there are two paths to achieving eligibility, “High Performing” and “Achievement Gap Closing”. Also, note that other Champaign alumni of this award include Carrie Busey, Dr. Howard, Garden Hills, Middle school at Columbia and Jefferson. Not too shabby, more so that they won before any of them were remodeled or built new.

Hour of Code

my_hour_of_codeSomething quite interesting is coming to Kenwood and Carrie Busey this next week; the Hour of Code.

You can read a little more from Stephanie Stuart’s recent Unit 4 news item. Or you can jump right in at (the twitter feed is quite hot at the moment).

I am a CS major, so all this talk about Computer Science is right up my alley. What is most fascinating about this approach is that the collaboration of authors (they drew on engineers at Google, Microsoft, Apple, Dropbox just to name a few small companies) have done a very amazing job at taking the dull, boring, tedious and onerous stuff I learned in high school and college and turned into a fun, intuitive subject matter that anyone can get into. Not just computer geeks. My daughter invited a friend over today just so they could both “play Blockly” (Blockly is the underlying environment).

hour_of_code_example1The “Hour of Code” that kicks off on the 9th starts you with a very well-done video featuring some people you might recognize (Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg just to name a couple), and then gives you a pointer about how to complete the first task. And of course, these guys got rights to use the “Angry Birds” theme, making an instant connection to that mindlessly addictive vice. What I love about this environment is that it is very forgiving, very smooth, very “web 2.0” and quite instructional. You start with a very simple task with a very clear goal, with only a few options to complete that task. And it just builds from there. Before you know it, you are using loops and logic branches (if .. then), and then immersed into the world of “Plants vs Zombies”. How can you not love this stuff?!? 🙂


The “Hour of Code” deals with just the first ‘stage’ of 20 total stages. Think of it is 20 different lessons, all building upon each other until you get to the end where you have essentially “mastered the basics.” And in my opinion, mastering the basics is a fundamental skill in our modern society. But it doesn’t stop there; the teams that bring you the cute little computer science training with the full sound effects of Angry Birds went a step further and created an “unplugged” version, an entire lesson plan on teaching these concepts with no computer at all. They use another fun, addictive activity that many youngsters will think fondly of – the Cup Game. In the “unplugged” series, a team of students, comprising of one “robot” and several “programmers”, have to instruct the “robot” how to play the game using a limited vocabulary of 4-6 “commands” or symbols. Basic things like “pick up cup”, “put cup down”, “move cup left”, “move cup right”, etc. The idea is for the programmers to come up with a stack of symbols such that the robot can follow the entire thing from start to finish. Not too different than the old punch cards programmers used to use several decades ago. 🙂

Both Kenwood and Carrie Busey have been exploring how to use a program called eToys in their curriculum. Kenwood has done a full-school immersion, while Carrie Busey is isolated to one class. eToys is built on a platform called Squeak. MIT came out with a very similar concept called Scratch, also built on the Squeak platform. Where eToys is open-ended, robust and quite comprehensive, Scratch is very focused, straight-forward and in my opinion, easier to use and teach. eToys is powerful and big, Scratch is simple. The Hour of Code utilizes something called Blockly, similar to Squeak, and looks almost exactly like Scratch. It is written entirely in javascript (unlike Squeak and eToys/Scratch), and the authors have made it available so you can download it to a simple usb stick and run it in a modern web browser.

Congratulationshour_of_code_all_trophiesI had a lot of fun with Blockly. I zipped through the first 20 lessons of the Intro stage, then marched through the remaining 19 stages. Another fascinating element is that the student is almost being tricked into learning core Computer Science concepts. Aside from control loops, logic branches, there are also functions and parameters. But these are hidden, or rather abstracted, behind fun tasks that are short, quick and easy to digest – bite-sized chunks of Programming 101. And beyond that, there is plenty room for creative exploration. One can choose to beat the suggested number of blocks and optimize their “code”, or one can just go crazy and make the subject do totally random things. I really appreciated how there are several stages devoted to artistic expression; this leaves things wide open for those that just want to try things out. There is no “penalty” for using too many blocks in these creative lessons (in the normal lessons, you are constrained by a maximum number of blocks). I had a bit of fun trying to figure out how to use the basic functions available to create the Golden Ratio, ovals and finally a sine wave.

I realize programming is not the end-all-be-all. I realize some kids have different strengths. I don’t know how all this programming stuff will fit into K-12 Education. My excitement revolves around the fact that some really smart people have come up with a totally fun way to open the doors and allow anyone to learn concepts that I labored through. For some, this might open the door to a future career without even having to go to college. For some, this may ignite a passion for computers. Who knows. All I know is that I had fun with it. 🙂


Carrie Busey achieves Gold level LEED certification


In principle, I support the investment of “trying for” high levels of LEED certification; it seems really “green” and environmentally responsible, which I think is important. What bothers me, however, is how do we measure the effectiveness on an ongoing basis? How do we know, for certain, that the environment is better off?

When I went looking on the LEED website, I found a really cool tool that breaks down the score for individual buildings. Carrie Busey scored a 61 out of 100, two points away from the lower Silver rating. What is really cool about the Scorecard is that it is both 1) aesthetically pleasing with Web 2.0 toys, and 2) quite useful in figuring out where Carrie Busey got points, and where it did not. This is one step in the whole accountability thing. For instance, we can see that the architects did really good with “Energy & Atmosphere”  and “Innovation”, but really poor in “Sustainable Sites”.

The other part of my question remains though. What if LEED engineers made annual visits to make sure the certification was up to date? Could we measure the positive impact without comparing to a negative example? Just curious.

quick update: Carrie Busey tentatively hosting the next Supper with the Superintendent (Oct 11)

From Principal Jeff Scott:

We will also be hosting an event called Supper with the Superintendent.  This will be an event for Dr. Judy Wiegand, our superintendent, to meet with the community.  In addition to the supper, we are also opening up the school for tours of the new Carrie Busey.  This event will give us a chance to show off our new facility and for Dr. Wiegand to continue to communicate her vision with the community.   This event is preliminarily scheduled for October 11, 2012.

Positive media for "Controlled Choice"

Noticed two positive articles this morning about “Controlled Choice” (aka, “Schools of Choice”, “Kindergarten Lottery”, “School Assignment”). Early enrollment is spiking, numbers are very high. Results may be delayed due to all the shuffling.

WCIA: pre-release numbers look like parents are choosing a more diverse selection of schools (and not hitting the “overchosen” schools as much). Could be due to the new push in how registration is advertised (new website, new video, ads on buses, billboards, pushed out through all the schools, etc).

I find these encouraging and very interesting in light of what is happening at Wake County; they just revamped their system and many parents are not at all happy about it. Wake County is significantly larger than Unit 4 and much more complex, yet they still use Alves. Reading the News&Observer (tag 1, 2) kinda makes me glad we are small time and that we now have some positive things to say. 🙂


The WCIA piece highlights Meiby Huddleston, a parent who hopes to send a child to Carrie Busey next year. WCIA also covered a mock classroom at the new building.

Response to WCIA "Carrie Busey name" article


The “comment” section still seems broken. Not sure what is going on, but they appear to have technical difficulties. So here is what I typed up but could not post.

“Leaders say”? Who? “Research shows…..”

I would posit that the “issue” of the school name is indeed a trivial matter at the root. What is much more significant is the dialog surrounding said rumors, “unnecessary controversy” and proposals. It is how these conversations are happening versus how they should have been handled from the get-go back when Arlene Blank brought up the possibility in June 2010 and Culver is reported to have made a promise to the staff. The really important, and very healthy, discussions should have started *then*.

Instead what we have now is no small amount of mud-slinging which deteriorates relationships. And it doesn’t help that the public news media is taking part in the food fight.

It is good that broader discussions between groups (ie, the PTA and the Board President, the staff, etc) are finally taking place. It seems to me that discussions between those who disagree can be very helpful for all involved in terms of maturing as a community and learning to value and respect different opinions. That is what I long for. People are important and their thoughts have value.


As an aside, I am amused that WCIA picked up on Sue Grey joining the PTA next week. I am thinking they have someone reading the Carrie Busey PTA facebook page, which was only posted last night. I don’t think Unit 4 has made such a public announcement, yet.

Another conversation starter: Carrie Busey

I usually try not to advertise too strongly that I have a vested interest at Carrie Busey; at least, not on this blog. I think it is more because I want the focus of this space to cover many different aspects of Unit 4. Having said that, there is some exciting stuff happening in and around Carrie Busey. It has to do with what to call the new school building in Savoy.


I realize some community folks still have some residual negativity towards a “south of University” school being built in what some consider a middle- to upper-middle-class neighborhood. Still others are like “Savoy? You mean those [insert adjective] folks who voted against the MTD and don’t want to pay any taxes?”. And still, “Savoy? Where’s that?”  Read the rest of this entry »

Dr. Wiegand shares on NewsTalk 1400 & Carrie Busey name

First the links:

NG focuses on the potential, possible, maybe new name of the new Carrie Busey building. The NewsTalk feed only covers it for about…. 45 seconds or so. But NG also has a 25 second sound bite from Savoy Village Manager Dick Helton (who has been very involved in the district for quite some time).

Highlights from the NewsTalk show: Read the rest of this entry »

Board of Education study session on Central High School

I don’t think the NG puts these out, so I might as well. They are on the Unit 4 frontpage, so that is good. 🙂

In addition to the regular meeting of the Board of Education tonight, the Champaign Unit 4 Schools Board of Education has scheduled a study session for May 23, 2011. The community is invited to attend the meeting in the Board room at the Mellon Administrative Center, 703 South New Street, Champaign. The meeting will begin at 6 PM. The topic will be the options for a new Central High School. Ideas, questions and comments from the community are welcome. Those unable to attend may send comments to

Also, the BOE is meeting tonight, and they have another heavy-weight, massive Agenda in store:

Glancing through the agenda quickly, I see that low-bidder Grunloh is being awarded the Carrie Busey project, and CUSF is again being recognized for generous contributions.