Monday, September 26, 2011

A Little Less Talk & A Lot More Action

Last week I followed and tweeted during the NY Times Schools for Tomorrow  #NYTedtech conference, I spent my Sunday afternoon tweeting and listening to the conversation happening at Education Nations’ Teacher Town Hall.. While I am very happy that these conversations are happening on national platforms with large audiences, I crave as Elvis Presley once crooned "A little less conversation and a little more action, please".  

To get a little more action, I traveled to Columbus, Indiana to Columbus Signature Academy, a New Tech Network school, and spent two days at this school with a model that Jay Mathews called "A Wild Idea for an Ideal School" that has been cultivating a culture of trust, respect and responsibility for going on 5 years.

I could write pages about the school culture led by empowered students and teachers. The autonomy with which the students worked, the work spaces clearly designed for collaboration for both students and teachers or any number of ways the students and staff were engaged in the business of learning.  I will try to describe my two days in about 500 words, give or take a few.

Originally, I was invited to be in Jose Martinez and Katie Ferguson's Social Justice course (an integrated course of Eng10 and Current Problems, Issues and Events)  to sit on a panel and give feedback to students who were presenting videos they had created for a project around Censorship, the 1st Amendment and Fahrenheit 451.  Through Twitter, another facilitator (aka teacher) learned I was coming to campus and promptly requested a workshop with his students on utilizing Twitter to find experts as resources.  We set this up for first thing in the morning. The students were engaged and inquisitive as to how to create their own PLN via Twitter, which is unblocked for both teachers and students. 

During a conversation with the Director of Columbus Signature Academy, Mike Reed, we began discussing Social Media and the role it plays for schools. I suggested that the right person to manage the school's Facebook page might just be the students.  Mr. Reed nodded thoughtfully, looked at his watch and said Publications is at 11:00, does that fit your schedule?

Just before eleven I arrived in the work space for Publications, had a seat and pulled out my laptop.  Students arrived and began work on their tasks, not waiting in rows for a bell to ring or a teacher to call the class to order, they were engaged and busy as they walked in the door.  A few students recognized me from the morning workshop or their Social Justice presentations, sat at my table and inquired my purpose in this class.  I asked if they were interested in discussing how Social Media might fit into Publications and immediately a group of about 7 moved to my table to get started.  Clearly taking an idea from a thought to an action is a process this group knew well.  One young lady popped up her laptop, stating "I'll start a Google doc".  Then for about an hour we discussed knows, need to knows, challenges, possible solutions, veered off topic when an exciting idea came up (careers in social media, like mine), were brought back to topic by someone in the group and finally with about 10 minutes to go, someone piped up, "What are our next steps, what do we need to do to make this happen".  With every student chiming in the next steps were listed, and contact information exchanged.

All of the ideas I found interesting in the conversations happening at NYT Schools for Tomorrow and during the chats around Education Nation were alive and happening at Columbus Signature Academy. Here is a school with a culture that empowers, teaching that engages and technology that enables. 

So, while the conversation is good, let's model what the students at CSA did, what are our next steps so we can have a little more action!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not Enough Student Voices! Engage with Education Nation!

Education Nation’s second-annual nationally televised Teacher Town Hall is this Sunday, September 25th, continued live streams around specific topics happening on the 26th and 27th.  

When I attended an event at  Calumet New Tech High in Gary, Indiana during Secretary of Ed. Arne Duncan's Midwest Bus Tour, Dr. Martha Kanter engaged in a round table discussion about education, engagement, higher education and many more topics with the students.  The wisdom and experiences they shared should be heard by policy makers!

This year on their registration form they have included a dropdown choice of “student”.  I thought it might be something you would be interested in having your students, view the livestream,  comment on Facebook , follow on twitter . I would love to see some student voices come across the twitter feed.  We don’t hear from our students nearly enough during the national education discussions!  

Of course being able to work with this event and your students requires any number of progressive policies in place at your school, unblocking Twitter, or at the very least that it be unblocked for teachers and perhaps  students could access on their cell phones (if those aren't banned, too)! If you need some resources around unblocking, you can start here with an easy to understand post from the folks at Mind/Shift. 

A very helpful site when following a twitter stream around an event is TweetChat . You just type in the hashtag (for example,  during the Teacher Town Hall, #TeachersEdNat )  and it will pull up every tweet being tweeted.  Also, you won’t have to keep typing in the hashtag as you post, it puts it in your tweet for you! Each topic on the 25th, 26th and 27th  has its own hashtag and can be found as you scroll down this page.

Please forward this to teachers in your school(s) that might be interested in working with their students around this, or that may tweet or facebook during the discussion as well. I would suggest it for anyone leading current events/Government/Econ and/or digital media.

Hope you can tweet and/or chat during the Education Nation Teacher Townhall on 9/25 and for any of the events following on the 26th and 27th! I look forward to hearing those student voices!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The last two years of college are great that's when you really start learning.

"Once you get the classes you don't care about done, the last two years of college are great that's when you really start learning.  "  We have 3 college-age sons and this was the general consensus as we all were on the front porch talking.  My husband and I, both college grads, nodded in agreement.
Wow!  Doesn't that seem wrong?  It made me start thinking about what, exactly, I remember learning in college.  During my first two years, I learned to give my profs what they wanted.  I had a Pysch prof that wanted us to memorize picture captions, at least I think he did, since he put questions on the exam from them.  I had a writing teacher whose only feedback was "No one gets A's as a freshman in my courses". So I learned that with  lots of effort I could get a B or with a little effort, I could get a B . So, I think I learned to figure out what people want and then give it to them.   I always used to joke that my private liberal arts education made me really good at Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit. I no longer find that funny. So far, college has been a similar experience for our boys.  We have told the older two, hang in there, you'll love it when you are a junior.  Now, I'm a little worried about our youngest, he heads off to his first dorm room this weekend.  He went to a different kind of high school, a New Tech Network school.  He hasn't been schooled in the ways of "sit and get" he expects relationships with his teachers, relevant work and coaching, not lecturing.   He chose a school in Northwest Indiana where the New Tech model is growing exponentially. This school says they are ready for this kind of learner,not only are they ready, they want these "New Tech" kids. They have  a STEM emphasis, and are recruiting critical thinkers. I want to believe them.  I don't want his first two years of college to be excellent prep for board games or game shows. His future is too important.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Community College...because of one step

This Fall, Ivy Tech Community College is opening in our small rural town in Indiana.  I go out of my way to drive past the construction site on a weekly basis.  The story of how this came to be is a journey of a group of people who truly believe that education can change the world.

Over 5 years ago we hired a new Superintendent of Schools in Rochester Indiana.  Our school board gave her the directive "This community doesn't value education....change that."  With this in mind, she built her team and they began to ask questions, build relationships, gather data and research innovative school models.

After a year or so of many town hall meetings, public information sessions and data gathering, the decision was made to join the New Tech Network and become a school that promotes deeper learning via Project Based Learning in a technology rich environment. 

This ONE decision is the catalyst that brought Ivy Tech to Rochester.  This year in May of 2011, we graduated our first class to have gone through Zebra New Tech.  These students have learned to collaborate, compromise, lead, follow, innovate, manage their time, write and speak effectively and so many more skills that are never tested by a college entrance exam.

This first class graduated with nearly 600 hours of college credit, either from dual college credit classes taken through online courses  or from our teachers who are ACP certified.  Our graduation rate went from 78% to 93.1% in theses four years. Students are engaged, they have relationships with each other, their teachers and the community. 

This fall the students at Zebra New Tech can walk to a brand new facility they can see from the front door and take college courses side by side with adults from our community.  Because we took that one step towards New Tech, one of 3 of the first schools in Indiana to do so, we have a college in a county where less than 10% of the population has any kind of college education.  I am so proud to have been a part of the team that accepted the challenge to change the way this community views education.  Having a college presence in our town will not just change views, it will change lives.

All this, because of one step. What is your next step?

*I worked for Rochester Community Schools as the Director of Instructional Technology for the past 4 years.  A few weeks ago I was very honored to begin working with New Tech Network as a part of the team that has so inspired our community.