By John Clements (A cross-post with NipmucPrincipals.com)
Last week I had the chance to give the keynote address at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) annual Showcase of Model Schools. It was exciting to be part of this event which highlighted programming from some of New England’s most innovative schools. The audience was filled with educators who are inspired by the capacity of teachers to create schools that prepare students for the modern world.
I focused my comments on “Building Schools We Believe In” and was excited to share the work that Nipmuc has undertaken in building learning experiences that promote student agency, deep inquiry, and real work that matters.
When addressing this group of teachers and leaders, I encouraged them to be clear about our job as educators by asking them to share their definition of learning. As you might expect - even for some of the most talented teachers in New England - providing a single, cohesive definition of learning is a challenge.
Learning is complex and messy and difficult to describe - even for learning professionals. What’s easier to define is what learning is NOT. With that in mind, I asked the audience to share their answers of what learning isn’t. While it was challenging to build consensus about what learning IS, defining what learning is NOT was simpler. Check out their answers in the image below.
What’s exciting to me about these answers is that all of us, whether students or teachers or parents, can agree about what learning isn’t.
We agree that learning is not memorization or regurgitation of ideas.
We believe that learning is neither passive nor standardized.
We support a definition of learning that moves beyond lecture or skill-and-drill or busy work.
If we can agree what learning isn't, can we take the next step and build a shared definition of what learning is? The answer to that question is yes. Let's build that definition together!
3. Questions. Not answers. Our conversations focus on exploring questions together. You don’t need to have expertise… just curiosity.
4. Interviews first. Conversation follows. This year we’ll be hosting short interviews (approximately 10 minutes) with educational leaders who are doing the work to reimagine school before transitioning to full group conversation. The interview segments will be available - podcast-style - for sharing after the convo.
5. Safe space to learn together. The interviews are the only parts of the conversation that are recorded. After the beginning interview, we shut off the recording to allow for open discussions.
6. Change your tomorrow. New ideas shared by a community of professional learners help us to get actionable in shaping the future of our school. Join the discussions to expand your thinking and find ideas that will change your tomorrow.
The first Inspired Learning Conversation of the year takes place Thursday, November 8 from 3:30pm - 4:15pm (EST) as we explore reimagining the use of time in school. We’ll kick-off this new season with a short interview with Phil Conrad and Bill Burkhead. Mr. Conrad is Principal of Andover High School who has shared Andover’s reimagination of the school schedule with audiences across New England and the nation. Mr. Burkhead is the 2018 Massachusetts Principal of the Year and Principal of Monomoy High School where their “Jawsome Hour” has injected agency and personalization into the traditional school schedule.
Click this link on 11/8 from 3:30pm - 4:15pm to hear the interview and join the conversation.
By John Clements, Principal, Nipmuc Regional High School
Where do you go when you want to push your thinking? Do you have a reliable resource that can challenge the way you frame your ideas? If not... welcome to Akimbo. Akimbo is a podcast from Seth Godin - an entrepreneur, author, and thinker whose ideas sprawl across a range of topics from marketing and business to leadership and education.
Godin describes Akimbo as a podcast "about our culture and about how we can change it. About seeing what's happening and choosing to do something." Sound familiar? That mission resonates with an ever-growing audience of educators who spend each day in a similar headspace, reflecting on past practice and creating actionable solutions to build schools that inspire. Any of the Akimbo episodes are worth a listen. They are brief, tightly organized, and thought-provoking. Beyond that, they're told with simplicity, honesty, and closeness that makes the content feel more like a conversation than a lecture.
The episode I've featured here makes a case for doing the work - simply, persistently, and purposefully doing the work necessary to make an impact. It's worth a full listen; however for the sake of this blog post, I focused only on the Q &A section at the end of the episode. Each week Godin takes questions from the audience about the previous week's episode. In this Q & A wrap-up, one listener asks the question, "What is school for?" Using the embedded podcast above, feel free to scan ahead to the 20-minute mark of the episode or read the transcript below. Let Akimbo push your thinking with the question, "What is school for? "
Read the excerpt from Akimbo below and see how you would answer the question, "What is school for?".
Q: “How might a large organization like a public school district scale up efforts to make the system fit its students.”
A: Yeah, this is a great question and the idea is how do we use the bureaucracy we've got now - the efficient powerful bureaucracy - to make school what it needs to be, which is personalized and individualized education about leadership about making change happen. Well, I think if we think about it a little differently you'll see the problem. Let's say you ran a really efficient division of the army - the division of the army that shaves the heads of all the people on their way into boot camp. That on a good day you can shorn 400 people, no problem. Well, that's super efficient, and I understand how you would organize a squadron of barbers to end up with 400 haircuts done in no time. However, if you're going to take that approach and try to build a chain of beauty parlors and hair salons, you're going to fail. And the reason you're going to fail is not because you're bad at shaving the heads of 20 year olds. The reason you're going to fail is that's not what the public needs or wants from you.
And so the wrong answer would be “Here’s how you take this squadron you’ve got that was good at the old job and turn them into people who are good at the new job.” The right answer would be “What's the new job? Let's build something around that.” So the challenge of adjusting the bureaucracy of school is there can be no effortless, easy, top-down solution to this problem. That the problem is going to be solved the different way. It’s going to be solved by parents asking a simple question, “What is school for?” And if we can be clear with each other about “what is school for?”, we will no longer tolerate wasting time and money doing things that school isn't for. And organically - with a lot of dislocation and pain and suffering and discomfort, but yes organically, day-by-day, classroom-by-classroom, student-by-student, the school system will begin to change. But it will only begin to happen when we ask the question, “What is school for?”
Add your answer in the comments below. "What is school for?"
By John Clements, Principal of Nipmuc Regional High School
Across the nation this month, students and teachers have made their way back to classrooms with a mix of excitement about the new year, anxiety about the work and expectations in the year ahead, and - let’s be honest - a sense of sadness about saying goodbye to vacation. There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of vacation-mourning. Who doesn’t love the relaxed pace of the summer, the adventures of day trips or travel, and the chance to set our own agenda? Think of your own vacation. Did you read a book that’s been on your bedside table for months? Did you have summer days when you woke up excited about visiting a new location? Did you tackle a project at home that you’ve been putting off? The joy of summer isn’t about not working… it’s about doing the work you want to do.
The challenge for educators is to take these aspects of vacation and build them into the experiences we create for students. It’s about finding a way to make learning more than the curriculum, standards, and assessment prep. More and more, we are connecting with educators who share the excitement to move beyond traditional practice. They’re willing to recognize that the job of a teacher isn’t to cover material but to create lasting moments of learning… to inspire their students.
The Inspired Learning Project provides a resource and community that support educators in the challenge of reimagining school. We are believers that everyone is a learner. We are believers that cultures of learning are more powerful than cultures of teaching. We are believers in the talent, heart, and importance of teachers. We are believers that a community of like-minded professionals can support small changes that make a dramatic impact. Welcome back to the Inspired Learning Project!
The idea that small steps lead to big change is one of the key ideas shared by Ted Dintersmith in his recent book What School Could Be: Insights and Inspiration from Teachers across America. In the book, Dintersmith - a former venture capitalist turned education disrupter - shares the work of inspiring educators that he collected during a year of visiting schools across the nation. The book is an exciting call to action for parents, students, and educators to pursue an aspirational vision of school.
We’ll be sharing more from Ted Dintersmith (including some thoughts about his film Most Likely to Succeed) throughout the year. In this post, we encourage you to listen to his conversation with Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon from the Modern Learners podcast. (Always a reliable source of thought-provoking ideas!)
Check out the podcast to learn about the following:
Additional Resources Worth Checking Out
Click here to access the Modern Learners blog, podcasts, resources, and more.
Learn about Modern Learners' Change.School here. A powerful community dedicated to reimagining school. Each of the ILP team members is a graduate of Change.School. Cohort #6 is starting soon. Let us know if you're interested!
Check out What School Could Be by clicking here.
“When Mrs. Hough gave us the project I thought it was just another engineering project, I never thought we would actually design and create products that would be in Laos. Plus the project has grown so much, it is like a school wide project with cooking the food, making the movie, so many people are involved.”
Empowering Students to Globally Connect is a two-year project that started with three teachers who saw an opportunity for students at Mashpee Middle High School to connect with an Australian Professor and help the people of Laos. Our goal was to make a technology and engineering class project that connected to the real world. The students would be able to apply their engineering skills and see a global impact from their work. The outcome has been a global project that has impacted students not only in the Technology and Engineering class but many students throughout the school with the creation of a student produced movie. The original student movie has allowed for additional cross curricular opportunities within music, art, and culinary.
Empowering Students to Globally Connect started as a way to make technology and engineering have a real world connection. Students were initially tasked with researching the country of Laos with the end result creating a product that would improve the lives of its people. Initial research led to misconceptions that were clarified by Australian Professor Rachel Sheffield, who participates in mission trips to the country. Some of the information that Profession Sheffield shared included:
Mashpee High School students use their engineering skills to create products to better these students’ lives. Initially the ideas the students had and the products they created weren’t used for the original creation. For example, a student designed a strainer/colander assuming the Laos students would use it for noodles but he didn’t realize most of the foods the kids in Laos eat are soup. Instead the strainer is used to carry soap to and from the Mekong River for bathing. Other items were also created but we ran into a roadblock as we were not able to ship the products to Laos. Importing and exporting is not allowed by the Laos government which prevented the students from producing some of the items they thought would be helpful. We had to come up with an alternative way to help the Laos children. This roadblock was not obstacles for the students, as they decided to use PTC CREO Parametric software to design the strainer, shower caddy, and tic tac toe boards that could be 3D printed by Dr. Rachel Sheffield while she visited the country. The Laos children and the Monks that support them, enjoy playing with the boards and using the strainers.
None of us could have imagined how our meeting and connecting at a conference could lead us to this two year project and its far reaching impact on all of us. Our students showed their world to the Laos children who intern thought of our world as magical because of the advanced technology. The Mashpee students realized how lucky they are in the US and how easily they take for granted the basic things they have in life that the children of Laos do not have access too. The Mashpee students have come to realize the simple products they designed will have a far reaching impact which has changed them more than they realize.
Students involved in this project come from all grade levels and all abilities.
It allowed students who might not engage in a project typically because they feel it didn’t have meaning the opportunity to apply their skills in the real world. Many times your most reluctant learners are those that don’t see a purpose for doing the assignment, this project gave purpose specifically through the skyping sessions. The Mashpee students were able to see the effects their efforts in the classroom were having on the people of Laos through speaking with them and Rachel while she was there. Also, the core group that started the project were high school aged students in a Technology and Engineering class but the group has grown exponentially. We have included students from across grade levels and subject areas. Students involved in the project range from grade 8 through 12 and come from Culinary, Techsperts, Music, Art, Drafting, Engineering, and Technology. We have included students to film aspects of the project, Culinary assisted in creating a traditional Laotian meal for our culminating project, a music student is creating original score for the film the Techsperts are creating about the project, Art students are creating a special logo for our presentation at the International Society of Technology Educators (ISTE) Conference being held in June. These students don’t typically connect with each other but reaching across disciplines and interests has brought these students together in a way that may not have occurred otherwise.
The greatest challenge we had was the time difference. Dr. Sheffield lives in Australia and the time difference is 12 hours, this was true for when she was in Laos too. Trying to coordinate times to connect and skype was difficult. Also, in Laos they experience rolling blackouts so skype sessions were often interrupted or could not occur. Another issue was the temperature in Laos. Due to the heat and humidity the 3D printer often malfunctioned. The technology and engineering students also designed products that would fit the dimensions of our 3D printer only to find out the 3D printer brought to Laos was about half the size. They had to redesign their prototypes and adjust to product assemblies when designing in PTC CREO Parametric in order for the products to be printed. Although we had some challenges and some were completely out of our control we just kept at it. We rescheduled time to skype, changed printing days, and worked with the issues we were faced with. It would have been great to see more students but with our time difference it wasn’t possible.
Culminating experience, eating Laotian food and skyping with Dr. Sheffield while she was in Laos.
If you are thinking about a project to connect your students globally, here are some first steps to get you started:
Teaching Global Competence: https://asiasociety.org/education/teaching-global-competence-rapidly-changing-world?utm_campaign=crowdfire&utm_content=crowdfire&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter#61863287-tw#1516933155223
Amanda Hough is currently the Technology and Engineering Teacher at Mashpee Middle High School in her thirteenth year. Along with teaching Technology and Engineering she teaches High school Robotics and Engineering the Future to 8th graders. She holds teaching licenses in General Science 5-8, Technology and Engineering H.S., and has her Masters Degree in Administration K-12 Education. She is a Raspberry Pi Certified Educator, Competitive Robotics Coach, and avid Maker. She is a member of MassCue and ISTE. She is presenting at ISTE and has partnered with International Professors to create collaborative learning experiences for her students. She was nominated as one of the top five STEM teachers of the year in Massachusetts by the Hall at Patriot Place in 2018. Amanda truly believes in cross age student teaching and collaborates frequently with teachers within her school district to create authentic learning experiences for all students.
Colleen Terrill is currently the Director of Instructional Technology for Mashpee Public Schools after being a 6th grade teacher for 15 years. She provides ongoing professional development for teachers in her district where she focuses on the importance of balance between technology and curriculum. Colleen is a regular presenter at regional and national conferences such as MassCUE, ACTEM, Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference, CoSN, Tech and Learning Live and ISTE. She was a Keynote Panel Presenter for the New England 1:1 Summit. She is also an Associate Professor through the Extended Campus Program at Fitchburg State University where she teaches Explicit Instruction as well as Technology Integration in the Classroom. She is currently pursuing her Certificate of Advanced Graduate Studies in Educational Leadership from Curry College.
By John Clements, Principal of Nipmuc Regional High School
As our world has become much smaller, the scope of our possible connections has become much larger. Today’s teacher is a globally connected citizen.”
Takeaway #1: What do we mean by global education?
Establishing shared definitions of terms is critical. Bold Moves for Schools helped me to see “global education” as more than a buzzword by discussing it in terms of competencies. The book shared four competencies of global education (as defined by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Asia Society) including investigate the world, recognize perspective, communicate ideas, and take action.
This simple framework provided a lens to view the ways that my own school is exploring global education. This definition prompted me to consider the tech tools that are being used to build connections. It encouraged me to think about whether these opportunities were taking place across all disciplines. It made me wonder about the resources teachers need to make these connections in the curriculum.
Takeaway #2: Resources for getting global.
There’s a reason that so many schools and districts include global citizenship in their mission and vision statements. As educators, we recognize that this is a critical competency for the modern world. Although we believe getting global is important, making it a part of our professional practice isn’t easy. The right tools can take the mystery out of putting this belief into practice. Included below are two of the wealth of resources from Bold Moves for Schools that could spark some ideas to build global connections in the curriculum.
The “Dollar Street” project on the site couples pictures and data collected from a range of countries, giving a moving insight into the details of daily life. Viewers can investigate intimate data about the spectrum of human life. Pictures of a range of topics from armchairs to backyards to cars to diapers to earrings to front doors (and on and on!) are coupled with monetary value, giving perspectives on wealth, values, and quality of life. You have to see it to believe it. Imagine how you could use this data across all disciplines to allow students to develop deep inquiry about the distinguishing details of the human experience across all of the world’s population. Check out the site’s educator resources that will help you to find a way to use this dynamic tool.
Takeaway #3: Teacher as a globally connected citizen
One of the most powerful parts of their book is the way the authors define “The Job Posting for a Contemporary Teacher.” They identify “teacher as a globally connected citizen” as a core competency. They discuss how this skill will inform curriculum and shape learning experiences. Perhaps more importantly, this competency reminds us how critical it is to embrace a culture of learning in our professional work. In a world where technology is flattening the globe at a tremendous rate, only educators who value their role as learners (above that of being a teacher) will be able to design learning experiences that connect our students to the world.
On Thursday, April 12, at 8pm EST you can “walk the walk” as a globally-minded educator by joining our digital conversation about global education. Click here on 4/12 at 8pm EST to participate in a free digital discussion about global education.
Check out Bold Moves for Schools: How We Create Remarkable Learning Environments to explore the resources above and so many other ways to rethink past practice as we reimagine school into inspiring places of learning.
By Deborah O'Neil, Environmental Science Teacher, Sutton High School, Sutton, MA
“Working with the Blanding's Turtles is a very exciting experience. Not only are they adorable, but it helps me understand human impact on other species and what we can do to help. “ --High School Student
Summary of Inspired Learning Project:
Students were given the opportunity to use their academic knowledge to affect positive change in the quality of our environment. They are doing this through a variety of pathways. Some students were involved in a program with U.S Fish and Wildlife to foster a species of threatened turtles called Blanding's Turtles. Other students managed a school-wide initiative to improve our recycling program. Additionally, some students reached out to political and corporate leaders to provide positive feedback and to encourage environmental change.
Creating a Curious Learning Environment
I want to create an environment for my students where they can take on the role of apprentice and feel that we are on the journey together. I was lucky enough to be treated as an apprentice during my education as a scientist and I believe this style is what made me excited and curious. In high school, my advanced biology teacher would sit down next to us and get involved in our labs. He didn’t stand in front of the class and lecture, but rather jumped right into the hands-on science with us. Similarly, my ecology professor in college made the class active and engaging by working beside us as we studied things such as the biodiversity of snails at the ocean and the high underground temperature caused by decomposition at landfills. Finally, during my first career as a research assistant at Massachusetts General Hospital, I was surrounded by open and nurturing scientists who focused not only on their own research, but also on encouraging another generation of scientists. I try to continue this method of teaching science so that my own students will be excited and curious. My hope for the students is that they will be better stewards of our planet, either in their day-to- day lives or as a future career.
My inspired learning experience began as a result of encouragement from both my administration and my students. On a regular basis my principal passes along information about opportunities in the area of environmental activism and then fully supports the implementation of our plans. Likewise, I have wonderful current and former students who are motivated to be activists. They send me information and encourage me to work with them.
Blanding's Turtle Project
My students are a wonderful source of information about ways that we can become advocates for the environment. Last year a student became motivated to help the environment through the Sierra Club of Worcester. He met with the organization and learned about the work of the Worcester Tree Initiative, which was looking for volunteers to plant trees at the World War I Memorial Grove in Green Hill Park. Like this particular student, I have found that others want to take an active part in helping the environment and having a voice in decision making, not just learning about it. To that end, each student wrote a letter to express their opinion about environmental policy. The letters ranged from positive, complimentary letters to companies that use sustainable practices, to letters to government officials expressing their disapproval of changes in environmental protections. The students were passionate about their opinions and learned that they can share their ideas in a productive way.
This year, the students wanted to make a positive impact at our own school. Two seniors led the charge to restart an Environmental Club. The group got off to a fantastic start and immediately worked on an initiative to improve recycling at our high school. They made a slideshow, gave presentations in Advisory classes, created posters for the school with recycling directions and included messages in the morning announcements. Along with that, they are creating artwork with bottle caps in order to bring attention to the overuse of single-use plastic beverage containers. In the spring, they will be making seed balls to give to members of the community. The seed balls will help replant native flowering plants that are beneficial to the soil and to pollinators such as bees, birds and insects. This group of students is highly motivated to put their beliefs into action.
Inspiration from Graduates in the Field
My current students also received inspiration from our graduates. By maintaining connections with former students, I am able to provide links to the real world of environmental science. For example, a graduate became a researcher at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire. He shared his experiences from working at the world’s longest running experimental forest, and studying the quality of water as it is affected by weather and contamination. My students also loved to hear about a graduate who went on to work at the New England Aquarium and helped to educate the public about marine animals. Sharing these anecdotes confirmed how students can have a positive impact on the world.
I recently had a conversation with a few students that helped to validate the importance of our work in environmental science and let me know that they were inspired about learning. The students admitted that when they made their course schedule, they were not really sure that they wanted to take an environmental science class. Now that they are taking the course, they think that it is so important that it should be a required class in high school. They feel this way because everything that they learn applies to real life in an important way, whether or not they choose a career in science. I can also tell that the students are inspired when they show me their reusable ziploc bags, send me articles about how to restore the tropical rainforests, or share environmental photographs that they take on their trips to visit colleges. They demonstrate their interest every day when they stop by the classroom during their free time to check on the progress of our Blanding's turtles. All of this shows me that they are feeling a drive and motivation that extends beyond the class. When they look back on these experiences, I think that they will remember it as a time when they made a tangible contribution to helping the planet.
A Few Words of Advice
Some advice for someone looking to implement the Blanding's turtle fostering program with U.S. Fish and Wildlife would be to get involved because they will be amazed at the many ways it can be woven into the curriculum. It leads to discussions about food webs, comparative anatomy, legislation, funding and resource allocation, habitat fragmentation, and climate change, to name a few. In regards to other areas of environmental activism, my advice would be to let the students take the lead and to provide support, resources and encouragement.
Blanding's Turtle Project
Living Memorial Tree Planting in Worcester
Source of Supplies for Seed Balls
By Dave Quinn, Director of Technology Integration, Mendon-Upton Regional Schools
Several weeks ago my colleague, Maureen Cohen, wrote a warm, thoughtful blog that explored the importance of building wonder into our classroom practice. The student questions and strategies she provided reminded me of one of my favorite books, Thomas & Brown (2011)’s New Culture of Learning which discussed approaches to rethink education. In the book the authors write:
What if, for example, questions were more important than answers? What if the key to learning were not the application of techniques but their invention? What if students were asking questions about things that really mattered to them?
It’s a vision for education that makes me inspired.
While thinking about Maureen’s piece, my mind began to shift from “the what” to "the how". How might our students go about exploring their wonderings and answering their questions? In particular, how are they making sense of or critically evaluating the information they obtain? Research by the Stanford History Education Group suggests that students of all ages struggle to evaluate the credibility of claims made on social and digital media platforms.
Questioning is essential to personal growth as is the development of what Ernest Hemingway would call built-in, shockproof crap detector.
So how might we help students develop a better information filter? Mike Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University Vancouver provides a simple, straightforward approach for quickly determining the accuracy of a claim in the article. The process, The Four Moves and a Habit, is a process for fact checking that gives students a process for assessing claims they encounter on the net. This resource is outlined in the infographic below.
Caulfield has also written an e-book, Web Literacy for Student Fact Checkers, where he outlines the moves in-depth and also provides examples for using the moves on web texts. The Four Moves Blog has several fact-checking tasks based on current news articles. You can also check out his personal blog https://hapgood.us for deeper reading on information literacy and web navigation.
By Maureen Cohen, Assistant Superintendent, Mendon-Upton Regional School District
Student agency was at the center of our December 2017 conversation for the Inspired Learning Project. Each month we tackle a core characteristic and pillar of inspired learning to help build our capacities as educators to continue to grow and move our practice.
In this capacity building, we developed a shared understanding of what we felt were key characteristics of student agency through the lens of how we view an entrepreneur. The group came up with the following characteristics of an entrepreneur:
self-manager, self-starter, visionary, productive problem seeker and solver, independent, innovative, reflective, creative, confident, innovative, curious, collaborative, turns challenges into opportunities, brave, desires feedback, forward thinker, has focus, self-evaluator
As we expanded our thoughts on the characteristics of an entrepreneur, we moved into a discussion about student agency and how student agency is more than just giving students choice. The group felt that agency is about deeper learning opportunities and personalization. The conversation really took off when we discussed Spencer’s metaphor in his book of a teacher being a tour guide who brings you through a tour. We pondered, who should be the tour guide, the teacher or the students?
One participant stated, “The problem in schools is that we tell them they are going to Paris, or Rome, but they have no choice over where they are going in their learning. When students have the agency to choose their own tour, that is really important for fostering student agency.”
We ended the highly engaging conversation with some actionable approaches to add more agency into what we are doing. Here are a couple of examples provided:
We hope you join us in our next conversation this Thursday, January 11th at 8PM as we tackle the concept of building authentic learning opportunities for our students.
Click above to share a practice that promotes student agency, ignites students' passions, or creates a bridge between classrooms & the real world.
Click above to nominate an educator to be celebrated by the Inspired Learning Project.