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 code.org. Last Wednesday, WCIA interviewed Trevor Nadrozny and Wendy Maa of Kenwood and gave us a look inside how they are approacing “21st Century Education”:

http://www.illinoishomepage.net/story/current/d/story/u4innovate/21401/YB6a6AonCk-jBLATimYngA

 

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 code.org, 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…..

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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.

 

 

 

 

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.