“It takes a village to raise a child”

Time and time again I have circled back to the thought that one or two parents cannot possibly bear the weight alone of nurturing, educating, training and preparing a child to live “in community”. And every time I bounce to this thought, I wonder “why?” What is it about parenting and raising kids that make it nearly impossible to do in isolation? And it occurs to me that parents themselves have not yet learned everything about parenting; we don’t magically acquire perfect child rearing skills once a kid pops out. And yet there is a much more subtle undercurrent that begs for attention on the topic of raising kids in society; “community” is not merely a telephone book of anonymous individuals. We see each other on the streets and sidewalks, we rub shoulders in grocery stores and libraries, we provide commodities and services for each other, we worship together in churches, but perhaps most importantly, we relate, socialize, talk with, and learn from one another. We are constantly changing, growing, learning – we don’t “arrive” at being parents, rather it is a long journey.

Having just finished Robert Putnam’s “Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis“, I came away with three main points:

  • it posits an excellent argument that by investing in the “have-nots” (whether you call them poor, low-SES, low-class, less educated, etc), we better our community overall more than if everyone only looks out “for their own”
  • throwing money at “problems” does not automatically fix them; the more impactful approach is listening to and caring for one another
  • there are no fast-acting, overnight solutions, much less a panacea; we have to be committed to the long-haul

The main point of Putnam’s book is that there is an “opportunity gap” widening between the “haves” and the “have-nots” of our nation. And perhaps what hit me the hardest is that a child does not have a choice into which environment she is born, yet that very environment stacks the deck either for or against her. Putnam carefully researches the differences in opportunity between 1960 and 2000 and discovers that one of the biggest factors in the “opportunity gap” is that the “haves” used to mingle with the “have-nots” much more than they do now. There is a strong correlation between the “opportunity gap” and how well the various classes are integrated. If Putnam were to expand his scope to other countries, I wonder if he would have found the same to be true elsewhere (I am thinking “yes”).

Like Lisa Delpit’s “Other People’s Children“, Putnam points out the many advantages of viewing all kids as “Our Kids”. I would go further and say, in alignment with Dr. Edna Olive of Rocket, Inc, that we are morally obligated to take responsibility for all the children in our community.

Todd Lash, an Instructional Specialist at Kenwood, recently wrote the first of many blog posts (*wink*) documenting the work going on at Kenwood via CTRL-Shift. Titled “Shifting Education Through Local Community Building“, Todd talks about the “powerful and transformative” impact of local learning communities for teachers (and building staff). He mentions that they often develop more questions than answers, which to me is perfect – they have formed an inquiry-based group that is traveling together on a journey. This is just one example of community coming together to make the educational experience for children more relevant by empowering students (and teachers) and providing students with the tools they need (ie, critical thinking skills) to live well in community.

Putnam highlights another “school-community approach” known as the Harlem Children’s Zone (HCZ). Local activist Imani Bazzell has worked with a number of groups to form “At Promise … of Success”, a form of “community schools” approach based on HCZ and tailor-designed for the north end areas near Garden Hills, Stratton and BTW. It is an excellent “wrap-around” system to provide for the educational and social/mental health needs of children and families in need.

Putnam does have a suggestion for those that want a “quick fix”. First, he suggests that all “pay-to-play” schemes for extracurricular activities be addressed, removing any and all barriers for those of “low opportunity” to participate. Second, he suggests you become a mentor. Or if I may extrapolate that a bit, be the “village”.

I will conclude this post by reflecting on a meeting I had at the United Way offices yesterday. I really love how the main thrust of United Way, both worldwide and locally, is to promote and sustain unity as a way to have a positive impact on their three pillars, Education, Health and Income. I learned about the different funding initiatives, how decisions are made, the desire to fund programs and not agencies, and even some of their struggles. In a sense, they are providing a basic “asset-mapping” service in regards to taking the pulse of the community, learning what the needs are, and working to facilitate those needs by partnering with service providers and donors.

I love that there are so many good things going on in our community. We have many awesome people, even some that are yet undiscovered. Who is awesome in your “village”?

#ctrl-shift: small recap of 17-Feb gathering

This post is an attempt to summarize some of the discussions held over drinks at the Blind Pig on Tuesday evening, 17-Feb. I will only scratch the surface, so I ask that others who attended fill in the many blank spots.

 

First, the CTRL-Shift email list now has a public archive (woot!!):

https://lists.mste.illinois.edu/pipermail/ctrl-shift/

For those not familiar with the pipermail interface, I recommend you start with picking the latest month (in the second row, eg, February) and choosing the “Date” format (last option in the second column). You can play with different formats as you wish. Basically, this is an archive of all emails sent to the CTRL-Shift email list. If you hunt around, you can even find a list of all email recipients.

 

Also, for record, here is the CTRL-Shift website:

http://ctrlshift.mste.illinois.edu/

 

The first major discussion, a topic we would return to many times last night, was about the PARCC test (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers). It seems the general consensus is that Common Core itself is a good thing, but PARCC is not serving our students, teachers or parents well. One person did raise the point that PARCC might actually be reinforcing the “good feelings” and confidence of those who take tests well in the first place, and for them PARCC might have some glimmer of benefit. But for everyone else, PARCC seems to do more harm than good. As tossed around in CTRL-Shift emails (for example), there is a fair amount of controversy surrounding the rapid Pearson-based implementation of PARCC, and so far we have not heard anyone who is really gung-ho for it. It is telling that so many states that initially supported the PARCC project have dropped out.

 

One of the many tangents/sidebars we explored was that of school board candidates and the leadership’s support of CTRL-Shift’s work at Kenwood. Obviously, those heavily involved in the programs at Kenwood are quite invested and want to see the fruit of their labor be sustainable going forward. There was talk of what various board candidates support, including the upcoming forums as an opportunity to learn more about the various platforms of each candidate.

 

Another related topic dealt with the work of curriculum development. As a parent and observer, I don’t really have any direct experience with such work, but one thing that was repeated is that this is very difficult, on top of the fact that there is no panacea, no “one-stop-shop”, no short-cuts to producing a curriculum; moreover, it is a process, as opposed to a product. Thus what CTRL-Shift is is not so much measured in physical output, but rather in how mindsets and learning environments are altered. Don’t be misled into thinking there is no output – check out the amazing TechTime @Kenwood blog to see what students are actually doing:

http://kenwoodtechtime.blogspot.com/

 

One very exciting report was that 15 Kenwood students are going to a SIT conference this weekend; what I personally find amazing about this whole experience is that, first, it is very project-based (which I absolutely LOVE), and second, to hear how students encounter and overcome challenges implicit in this endeavor; they have to not only come up with a topic, but figure out how to make it work and how to present it. From what I have heard, the actual presentation is just a small side-show compared to the bulk of the work these students and staff have been throwing themselves into at many after-school bi-weekly sessions.

 

Hopefully that gets your appetite going for what school can be. 🙂 It certainly made me want more.

 

I’m looking at you others that attended last night to fill in more details in the comments below.

“We make the road by walking”, part deux

Recently, Dr. George Reese (MTSE, CTRL-Shift, etc) emailed the CTRL-Shift list about a video he had watched of the “Good Morning Mission Hill” school model (from Founder Deborah Meier). I asked about borrowing it, so he brought it to the Blind Pig for the CTRL-Shift gathering tonight. I took it home and watched it straight away.

Now I am agitated inside because there is so much that I love about this school model that I dearly want to see in my local schools, but I don’t know how to make that a reality.

There are some major things that hit me hard.

First and foremost, it comes down to allowing humans to be human, allow the natural to be natural. And fundamentally to grow relationships. In fact, there was a line that a teacher used that almost exactly echoes the way Lisa Delpitt ends her “Other Peoples’ Children” book – “to teach you, I must know you”. Relationships are hard things, and our modern schools do not prioritize relationships. Yet, in my opinion, learning how to “do” relationships is probably the single most important factor in a successful society. I would ask Martin if he agrees, since we share many aspects in our world view. It seems to me that humans, and many other living creatures, are naturally hardwired for relationships.

Second, the school takes integration to a whole new level. It so much reminded me of Paulo Freire and Myles Horton (in fact, when I write my blog post about this, I will steal the title of their book, “We make the road by walking”) and their Highlander Folk School. So while we use new words like “project-based learning”, “collaborative spaces”, “student-directed outcomes”, really this just repackages older ideas that have older names (and so says Rebecca Patterson, who lived through something similar). For all I know, Freire and Horton recycled ideas that predated even them. They not only integrated, very successfully, people who are “different” (differently-abled or otherwise), but they integrated assessment (I absolutely love how they rendered assessment as “to sit next to”) and life-skills right into the daily flow of class time.

Third; while I do not yet share Dr. Reese’s conviction that PARCC writers set out to destory public education (*grin*), I would consent that standardized testing has had that end result. It seems that standardized testing killed what was great about Good Morning Mission Hill. But why? At the Blind Pig today we talked about what an awesome school Leal was. Is it merely the nature of these things to ebb and flow, to wax and wane like a moon visiting each chapter of its interminable cycle?

 

Conclusion

During a brief chat with Todd Lash and Minsoo Park at Kenwood today, I was commenting about how we got to where we are, and Minsoo wisely, succintly said “money”. Big money drives the federal mandates, while at the same time sucking away the very money needed to support those mandates. At the same time, “little money” is spent frivolously, without accountability – our tax dollars hard at work.

Last night I read the “young reader’s edition” of “I am Malala“; this was a totally fascinating, if shortened, account of a woman with tremendous bravery, amazing courage and wise beyond her years. She literally put her life on the line, multiple times, to pursue that which is good. Is this not what we all should be doing?

We will not be judged by what we say but by what we do. The path our feet make will show where we have been and how far we traveled.


I titled this post “part deux” because I have written about Freire and Horton’s book before.

You are going to be @EdCampCU

edcampcu-94Yes, you are going to EdCampCU! Why? Because you care about public education and you want to play a role in making sure it gets done right. Don’t have kids in school? You still pay taxes, and more importantly, how we educate the kids is going to determine what our future society will look like.

 

“So cliché” you say. You still don’t care? Fine, I am going to pull out my Ace O’ Spades – because you have never been to an EdCamp before and this is going to blow your socks off!

January 24, 2015
Saturday 8:00 AM – 2:00 PM
College of Education, University of Illinois
1310 South 6th Street
Champaign, Illinois 61820
Map

 

More info:

 

Bonus: get Todd Lash to explain  @nathan_stevens @taylorswift13 @neiltyson

a glimpse at what is going on

No doubt, most of you have read about several things in the News-Gazette recently, or heard things on the radio. I am not going to go into much detail, but do want to mention them because there is a lot happening. And this will just be scratching the surface.


TODAY: Craft Tech Fair Saturday at Kenwood (from Todd Lash)

I wanted to invite you to come play this Saturday from 1-3 at the Kenwood Craft Tech Fair. The event will include:

  • Widgets and tools showcase (Fab Lab-Jeff talking to parents)
  • Electronic cutters (Fab Lab-stickers, paper snowflakes, etc…)
  • Graphic drawing tablets (Fab Lab-Photoshop or PaintTools)
  • Raspberry Pi Mini-Computer Demo (w/ Adriana from Wolfram/ Tech Time)
  • Scavenger Hunt of the Champaign Urbana Wiki  (InfoCity)
  • Photography Station (Erin Knowles, Parent Volunteer)
  • Makey-Makey Music (Mr. Lash)
  • Computer Hardware (Tech Time Volunteers)
  • Scratch/Code.org Demo Station (Student Volunteers and Travis Faust (Tech Time Coordinator)
  • Minecraft Lounge – Creative Mode
  • Adult Computer Station w/ Printing
  • Foam bracelets
  • Holiday bookmarks
  • Kaleidoscopes
  • Scratch board ornaments
  • Holiday photo frames
  • Snowman puppets
  • Bags for decorating to take your items home ??

Equity and Civic Action at the high schools

First, some really good news: http://www.news-gazette.com/news/local/2014-12-04/central-centennial-land-honor-roll-doubling-access-ap-classes.html

I thanked both Nicole Lafond and the school district administration/BOE for all their work towards this goal. This demonstrated an excellent collaboration to address real and perceived issues of access. These are not easy issues to deal with, and I am glad that Unit 4 is not shying away from them.

On that note, you have probably already seen/heard the news about the planned peaceful protest at Centennial, but just in case you have not:

Centennial Principal Greg Johnson sent a note to staff and parents that reflected these thoughts as well. There are obviously two sides to this coin; I am proud that so many students elected to voice their chagrin at the injustice in New York and Ferguson in such a manner as to convey a strong message while not resorting to needless violence and spreading more hate. However, on the other side of the coin there are those that take things too far for one reason or another. It is easy to repay hurt with hurt, but it is both better and significantly more challenging to respond with some form of love and/or forgiveness.

Imani Bazzell has been running a series called “Why Black Folk Tend to Shout” on WBCP 1580 AM. While I have not had the privilege of listening to this fascinating series, I appreciate that folks like Imani are getting these things out in the open and provoking discussion. Our prejudices damn us, and we need to learn how to live with each other.

UPDATE: Several related stories in WILL’s Illinois Public Media page, including a video of the car being driven among protesting students:

Additionally, Imani has responded to the City’s investigation into the student who damaged the vehicle’s window, and has posted this elsewhere (still looking for a link):

https://thecitizen4blog.wordpress.com/misc/imani-bazzells-response-to-the-city-wrt-centennial-protest/


“Other people’s children”

At Thursday’s PTA Council meeting, three groups were featured that are proving assistance and aid to the needy in our school district. It was a heartwarming display of how people have a heart to reach out and provide essentials for those are lacking. The three groups were:

  • Helping Hands
  • Feeding our kids
  • His Kid’s Closet

I strongly encourage you to learn more about these efforts, or any number of similar work going on in our community. For those that are already involved, I sincerely say “thank you” for all your time behind the scenes and doing what you can to improve the lives of the entire community.


April board member elections

As mentioned previously, I was aware of at least two efforts to form a slate of board candidates for the April 2015 elections. I am still seeking permission to post a number of private emails (being sick has dogged my efforts) as there are many fascinating conversations revolving around why individuals wish to run for the board. One citizen has already made a very public announcement via the NG last week. What strikes me the most is that there is a wide array of specific issues that folks are passionate about, it is seems difficult at times to find the common ground we all know is there. Aside from the “unofficial” news, the PTA Council is making plans to host a board candidate forum in April. I hope all the candidates are able to attend.


Hour of Code

The official Hour of Code begins next week, even though technically speaking, anyone with a web browser can start coding right now, either as a guest or after logging in to track your progress:

http://code.org/

Kenwood has embraced Hour of Code as an entire school, and Mrs. Slifer’s 4th grade class at Carrie Busey will be participating as well. I am sure there are many other teachers/classes getting involved. The last time I visited Mrs. Slifer’s class (this past Thursday), we observed that the students are doing a great job of collaborating without even realizing it. For instance, a student will get an idea that will quickly spread like wildfire throughout the class, and pretty soon variations start popping up. It is really cool to witness. I must emphasize, the focus is not merely about using computers or “coding” per se, but exercising critical thinking and problem solving skills. The computers and the technology is merely a tool to help achieve this goal.

There is a lot more here, but I’ll have to save it for a dedicated post.

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…..

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.