Finding the good: awesome teachers and excellent opportunities

Today I was watching the most recent Board Meeting (Jan 23), and I was reminded that I wanted to write a post (several posts, actually). Aside from the important-but-dry communications about legal issues, bonds, finances, “construction management at risk” (it sounds worse than it is, lol), etc etc, I have been very impressed by the Staff Spotlights, not to mention the occasional report about some really cool things at various schools, like what was hinted by the Kenwood presentation.

 

At this last board meeting, there was a double dose of Staff Spotlights, honoring three outstanding individuals – from the Jan 23rd 8A agenda item:

Ms. [Lindsay] Green sees her students as people. She wants them to be successful both academically and personally. She was recently touched by the tragedy of a student suicide. She has since looked at her curriculum and how she can wrap around students as people and as students. She uses literature to help students be successful and active members of our society. She creates a space where students are heard, valued, and helped. Her students know and recognize her as a person who can be easily identified for support and advocacy. She is a teacher that I frequently use as a model to emulate. She is a teacher that all of us hope to be. She is a life changer. She is a safe space. She is an excellent teacher.

Every day, regardless of any outside factors or variables, both Tami [Fisher] and Iyana [Jones] show up to work with an attitude that puts what is best for our students first. They are experienced, confident, and understand how to work with students at baseline as well as those in crisis. The most amazing thing about these two is the work they put in outside of school hours to benefit our students. Be it service projects, going to see student sporting events, helping gather donations for students whose families are in need, or just always keeping their eyes open for rewards/prizes/snacks that students have stated they like, their devotion to our students never seems to diminish.

 

We are blessed to have people like this serving in our schools. Likewise, a shout out to Nicole Lafond for having a weekly teacher highlight in the News-Gazette; I would encourage you to check those out as well. Nicole seems to range all over looking for stand-out teachers.

 

In addition to the Staff Spotlight this past Monday, the Board was also treated to a presentation, via four students, about the computational work going on at Kenwood. These kids are being exposed to some really fantastic opportunities at such a young age, not to mention the enviable partnership with the University MTSE via CTRL-Shift. On top of that, while it is not in the limelight, for several years students have been able to attend the renowned Students Involved with Technology (SIT) conference; just as one other example of how doors are being opened. There is obviously a synergy happening, especially when you have folks like Wendy Maa, Kära Tanaka and Trevor Nadrozny, all of whom were supporting the students at the board meeting (there are of course many others, Kenwood has quite an impressive cast).

 

At one point during the meeting, Board President Chris Kloeppel praised the Choice program – and I believe he was very much right in that Unit 4 has a lot of exciting schools to choose from.

 

I don’t know about you, but these things warm my heart. Yes, there are still many challenges to address. But I believe we can and we will address them. If Unit 4 is full of such amazing people, how can we not? 🙂

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…..