mccoyderek

Knowledge vs Intelligence: A Discussion for Digital Learning Age

I came across this article  some weeks ago – Does knowledge matter in the age of Google? http://buff.ly/2brmg2N.  Heads up, the first couple of sentences may be slightly bothersome to some but bear through it as it gets to the heart of the discussion – how we as a society, particularly our growing millenial workforce,  view knowledge and more importantly, the value we place on knowing facts. There’s a great statement about how we are ‘outsourcing memory’ and are at the detriment of not knowing what we don’t know. It has a great conclusion, ‘Knowledge is not wisdom, but it is a prerequisite for wisdom..,’ after all, we do have to know why we have made decisions we’ve made and why we should or shouldn’t make decisions.

But we have the hard reality of living and working in the information age. This article, Knowledge Doubling Every 12 Months, Soon to be Every 12 Hours –  http://buff.ly/2bJV5TH hits on this point. Prior to our world being connected and our developing the ability to share conversations and information with the click of a button, gathering this knowledge was work and saved for exclusive groups. Now, information, more accurately access to information, is a right! We can get to it by making a casual decision to do so. With our inventions and innovations and our deciding to share, we are growing the amount of information in the world. We once held libraries in reverence for holding all or most information we needed. Now, we can take a smart device, with or without service, to a public wifi and get those same facts.

All of this leaves me with some questions:

  • What key facts should we insist on knowing/teaching?
  • What is pertinent information?
  • Who should be determining ‘pertinent facts’?
  • Are we allowing and promoting that pertinent facts should mean different things for different people?

Call to Change

The solution here of course lies in the how and the what we do in education. Our expected learning outcomes and demonstrations of learning can’t be tied to regurgitating facts or filling in blanks or solving naked math problems. It calls on us to unlearn most of our own K-16 learning experiences and embrace delivery methods that require kids to ask questions, solve problems and challenge existing viewpoints. We have to embrace that the grade of 50 or 70 or 100 cannot denote the end of learning.

We have to embrace that where our emphasis and value was on knowledge, now it has to be placed on growing intelligence and perseverance of every student. Changing these perspectives should be our top priority.

Last year, my instructional team developed a learning activity for the staff. We gave them fact recall questions OUT of their content area and told them NO TECH! There was a little stress at first but when we allowed them to use tech to answer the questions they felt a little better. Imagine how this makes our kids feel. [Fact deficits should not impact a child’s comfort in class] Later we gave them a the real activity that required them to dive deeper into the concepts and create a project that really demonstrated understanding. For this outcome, it really didn’t matter what facts you brought to the table, the tech helped with the fact gathering. What counted was the team working together to achieve the goal and building upon each other’s strength. The lesson design made the day. We have to continue to work with our adults to change their perception of good work to ensure that our students are able to participate in that work.

There are new skills and mindsets our students need that we can dive into while teaching our standards:

  • 21st-century-skills-4-cs-graphicWe can design with the 4 C’s in mind;
  • We can coach perseverance;
  • We can help stoke the fire in our students to be compassionate and service-oriented;
  • We can bring the value and need for curiosity to the forefront;
  • We can unlearn and relearn what’s ‘important’ in education to design learning and delivery that will help students with their future needs and problems.

Supporting Our New Teachers

I’ve been meeting with our school based new teacher mentor about  planning impactful on-boarding experiences for our newest teachers, both to the profession and the building. This is her first year in the role and she wants to make sure she does a good job in supporting our newest game changers.

mentorDuring our last talk, I asked, beyond the normal paperwork and monthly meetings, what innovative things did she have planned for our new teachers? This conversation evolved into something wonderful. We all know the value of the gentle nudge, the right question that will inspire people to do move out of a routine pattern and think different. That’s what happened here. I don’t think our new teacher coach [and that’s the title I am giving her by the way] expected to be given a wide berth in this role. But that’s what I was asking for – extraordinary experiences to grow our new teachers.

We prefaced our list of learning opportunities with the premise that while we won’t overwhelm our new teachers, we will provide them with quality growth opportunities with consistent opportunities for reflection.

I was very happy to empower our lead learner/new teacher coach with the freedom and support to help our newest game changers grow and develop. Instead of a checklist, she needed support and encouragement to take risks. It made it safe to give her the three things we need to grow and support our new teachers:

Game Changer Initiative 1 – Support: During our last faculty meeting the outgoing new teacher coach gave a very moving and heart felt appeal to our new coach – ‘You have to get to know them.’ Those words still resonate with me. On her last day, she told me that getting to know new teachers and seeing them grow gave her personal/professional joy and fulfillment, in turn I’m sure it enriched their lives as well. This opportunity to build relationships and have different conversations has to get beyond the check-in and check-out mode we fall into. Our newest game changers need to know it is safe and always welcome for them to come to us with what’s on their plate. They have to know they won’t always get the answer they want but they will always get the support they need. #relationships
Game Changer Initiative 2 – Motivation: We can’t change the realities and demands of teaching. While we can challenge traditional thought, we can’t shield/protect/avoid the things that can easily despirit us. Its our charge as lead learners to keep new teachers inspired. Visiting other schools and seeing best practices, getting new teachers to find and share a great Pinterest collection with the group, share a new PLN building experience are great ways to start conversations and keep everyone focused on moving forward. Getting better is the goal. Carol Dweck’s Mindset, is a great read and it dispels the notion that we have to stay in cheerleader mode 24/7. While I believe in a positive disposition, we have to keep new teachers focused on growing and improving, not at an arrival. new teacherNo matter they victories or barriers we are living now, we have tomorrow to make another difference with students.
Game Changer Initiative 3 – Keep Them Hungry: This is a goal for every lead learner. How does a teacher keep his class motivated to keep learning more difficult materials? How does a department chair keep her teacher group focused on trying new teaching methods? How does an administrative team keep teachers focused on continuously growing new skills to match new learning needs? I share resources I collect from my PLN regularly with my staff. I embrace my role as a researcher/reader and filter out what is not needed, what can be useful later and what will make good PD/discussion points now. My team makes a point to challenge traditional concepts when we can and at the same time provide alternatives, mostly found from our PLN. But alternatives and a suggestions don’t create fire in new teachers – a lead learner focused on seeing learning and teaching that is responsive to student needs does. Good talks about our new vision, mission and core values is a good start. Not settling for what is convenient is great mindset and students-first is a must.

One of My Teachers Built a Hovercraft with His Students – No Big Deal

As a middle school administrator I work hard at keeping a good poker face and on the surface, at least appearing that I’m not amazed or ‘shook’ regularly. But when one of my new teachers first told me his plans to build a hovercraft with his class, I was surprised and curious, to say the least. And the finished product is something that absolutely made me raise an eyebrow [among other things]

Mr Choo at NCSU receiving his award from Bright Ideas
Mr Choo at NCSU receiving his award from Bright Ideas

Mr Samuel Choo is our new EC math teacher at Spring Lake Middle. He brings a dedicated focus of integrating #edtech into his classroom instruction and practice. His graduate work involves research on the integration of #edtech in the EC math classroom.  When we hired Mr Choo, he committed to bringing a high level of instruction and unique learning opportunities to Spring Lake and he truly has.

I’ve been in education for 16 years, 13 at the middle school level, and have seen a lot of tech projects from lego machines to robotics to building circuit boards. This was one of those experiences that  remind you of the great impact great teachers have on kids.

Mr Choo applied for a grant and received a grant from the Bright Ideas Program,  a program sponsored by North Carolina’s electric cooperatives that strives to improve education in classrooms across N.C. by awarding grants to educators for innovative projects. His proposal was one of many awarded and recognized at an appreciation luncheon at NCSU. He used his award to purchase the materials needed for innovative construction and math concept tie-in to ratios and proportions.

Amazingly, this construction required no hammer or nails! After Mr Choo did some preliminary work with pre-cutting and measuring, students only had to plug pieces together and appreciate the dynamics of a hovercraft! The pictures below show the final project the student projects in progress.

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I really appreciate this initiative! This unique integration and work translates into engagement and relevant learning. You can see the fun on the kids faces and eagerness to learn! This type of vision and ambition is how we make a difference with learning and teaching

One of My Defining Days

I had one of those days this week that helped remind me why I became an educator and why I’ve always worked with kids.

The Meetingstem

Wednesday, at our principals meeting, three of our assistant superintendents met with me and four other middle school principals regarding a STEM program sponsored by Fayetteville State University. This program will target our rising 8th graders who will likely be 8th grade Algebra students. Dr Black, one of the assistant superintendents, had run lists of our rising 8th graders using EVAAS, an online data program for NC schools, that runs student and school data a number of ways. We received achievement probability reports for these students. It listed students’ probability of passing the Algebra 1 EOC based on past EOG performance. As I read the list of students for my school, I was excited to see the name of one of our students [for privacy reasons, I’ll call him Baxter]. Baxter is served in our exceptional children’s program for behavioral reasons. This list generated showed all students with a high probability of passing Algebra. Baxter’s position on the list places him higher than 2/3 of our current 7th graders.

I was excited for Baxter when I saw this! What a great opportunity for him. There is research that shows, properly identified students who are successful in the 8th algebra have a significantly high probability of post-secondary success. For a student like Baxter and his family this could be a life changer.

But my excitement was soon matched by concern. As I began playing out scenarios I began to worry about Baxter’s preparation. This probability model is great – I’ve used EVAAS in another NC district as a principal and as the Director of Curriculum and Innovation. We start the conversation with this data – who has best chance. Then we look at other data for consideration. This is where my concern began – have we done enough to support and prepare Baxter?

Divine Intervention

It just so happens that when I got back to my school that afternoon, Baxter and a couple of other students were a little talkative in class [ironically math] and were sent to the office for redirection. These are great boys and we had a great conversation. They all admitted what they did wrong, knew where they went wrong and promised to do better. Great talk!factortree

I kept Baxter back a little while. Given my talk earlier and the fact that I’m a middle school math teacher [having taught 6-8 math all levels, and 7th and 8th Algebra] I just wanted to see where Baxter was. I asked him what they were studying in math and he replied ‘trees’ [great answer]. He of course meant factor trees. I asked him a couple of questions and he answered them flat out so I dove straight into the heart and asked him to show me a factor tree for the number 24. I’ve attached a picture of his work.

I like Baxter and I’m not saying this because I like him but he demonstrated a clear understanding of concept including use of terms prime and composite, exponent form and when to use a factor tree. Clear ability. He wrote out this example and explained it without pause and without missing a beat. This conversation was as positive as it was concerning. Clearly he knows what he knows but I have to keep asking have we done enough to prepare him for the rigor of a high school course as a middle schooler?

Have we done enough to support this at-promise student’s natural ability to help him be successful?

Meeting with the Beginning Teachers

That same day after school, I was called into our beginning teachers’ monthly large group meeting. I was asked to share a couple of words with them while they were finishing up their paperwork. I had to talk about Baxter. Many of the mentors in the room and some of the BTs knew Baxter and they all attested to his good nature. When I shared the data everyone in the room shared a feel good moment and were genuinely happy for him. We help a lot of needy kids and its good to share promising news.

My talk with the BTs went a little deeper. I asked them a couple of questions:

  • What was their vision of our school?
  • What contribution or part will they play in helping take our school to another level?
  • What will you do to make sure we don’t miss kids like Baxter again?
  • We have proven success in helping kids grow but what about building something new, something supportive for kids?
  • What are we doing to create very different opportunities for kids?
  • What are we doing to change our approach to make sure our school is serving every child?

These questions generated a lot conversation.

As I said, this was a one of those defining days. It made me remember back to my days of teaching ‘below level’ students and ‘above level’ students and how frustrated I got because I needed some flexibility in identifying students and in most cases better support in preparing them. It made me remember previous days as an administrator committing to do all I can to ensure that every middle and high schooler, who was capable and ready, would get my support and help in getting placed in courses that would help give them a step up.

This has a been a great first year at a great school. We have had tons of growth conversations. I need to make sure that this topic doesn’t stay remain a conversation – but that it becomes what we are about, what we do and our vision.

Great day!

Middle School Schedule [6]: Book Review ‘Making Teamwork Meaningful’

‘If teams of teachers are going to accomplish anything of substance, they need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to collaborate. In addition, if a school truly want to provide differentiated learning experiences for students – the teachers need regularly scheduled opportunities during the school day to provide targeted interventions.’ Ferriter, Graham, Wight, 2013

   Fortunate circumstances or divine intervention led my friend Bill Ferriter, @plugusin, to share his latest collaborative venture with me. I feel honored that he thought enough to share this great book. Bill is an authority on PLCs and building collaborative, goal oriented cultures in our schools. You’ve probably seen a couple of his works on the Solution-Tree catalog.

   Making Teamwork Meaningful is a great piece that dives into looking at all the systems and processes in a school that affect how students learn and teachers teach and a big part of that is how we promote and protect collaboration. This includes taking a look at our hiring process, developing intervention efforts and of course increasing our efficacy in collaboration and as the book points out, the school schedule is a critical starting point. This is a piece that all school leaders have to key into if we are going to make student learning a priority.

   Related to my series on middle school scheduling, there are some takeaways I thought that really resonate:

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  • Teachers can’t be effective in ineffective structures
  • Outlining priorities and planning methods to protect them
  • The master schedule should support collaboration
  • School leaders have to create and protect opportunities for teachers to collaborate
  • School leaders should  consider how reflection and a commitment to flexibility will play a role in the schedule

   In addition these great points the book provides four key questions in guiding the building of the school schedule:

  1. What are our organization priorities, and who should help protect them?
  2. Who needs opportunities to collaborate to advance priorities, and how will we create time during the school day for that collaboration?
  3. What role will reflection and a commitment to flexibility to play?
  4. How can we be creative with positions and time to free teachers for intervention?

 I received this book well into our planning efforts for next year’s schedule but this was a timely read. Of course there are more aspects to this book developing a school scheduleIf you’re a school leader that’s involved in the decision making process including school improvement planning, building the schedule or designing interventions this is a must read. There are great points on every level for every level.

Middle School Schedule [5]: Intervention and Operations

intervention   The transition next year is about  bettering how we teach and how students learn, those are first and foremost. Our discussions in SIT and leadership focus on how this move will significantly affect those areas and change what we do.

One opportunity created from this move is our ability to manipulate our schedule  and create a small period of time wherein we determine how it will be used, when it will be used and how regularly we will use it. I’m breaking down the benefits of this time into two functionalities – its opportunity for intervention and how it benefits school operations. Both of these are critical in how we protect and promote better practices in teaching and learning.

‘The How’s’

Our schedule will essentially be four blocks of 95 minutes with slight adjustments for added time homeroom and lunch to two blocks. By taking 10 minutes from each block and chunking that time we create a 40 minute opportunity. This flex period, with design and planning, will address student needs on multiple levels. Keep in mind, even when this flex period in place for the day, there is still 85 minutes of instruction for each block. The flex period, that we will call Bronco Time at Spring Lake Middle, can be inserted before or after any period. The school scheduler will need to be mindful of the changes to minutes and schedule because this will affect the lunch period, transition times and any other functions specific to a school that are set in the day.

Intervention

A big part of middle school concept is to design and structure support systems for kids in this transitional time. Middle school educators know that all students need support academically [either remediation or enrichment], socially [mentoring, group discussions]. Design and planning will help address these needs. Typically, this time is scheduled at the beginning of the day to reach kids while they are fresh are receptive.

Academic – Its important to know where our students are in terms of knowledge gaps and concept mastery. This is why schools use a variety of data points, both formative and summative, in their planning efforts. Using your schools’ data, you can create groups that focus on different objectives. The challenge here is to think beyond the traditional. We typically think in terms of who has reached a certain cut off in tested subjects and design lessons or activities that are either remedial, covering objectives students didn’t score well in or give some kids the opportunity to preview some new material. This support is important but we cannot limit our efforts to only this course of response. As a math teacher to my heart, I know this reaction well. This is a time for us to develop some creative lessons and activities that we normally wouldn’t dream of during school year [which we should be doing] and challenge all kids.

 ContinuumTriangle

Social – All kids need mentoring. This is their time to learn about themselves, dealing with people and problems and life and they need guidance. It is our duty to put a plan in place that will help kids. The students at Spring Lake Middle are great kids and many come serious needs that can easily be overlooked in the day. Our Bronco Time will be a strategy to provide regular talk and share time for our students. When the middle school concept began, there was major effort creating and maintaining an ‘advisory time’ for adults to connect with a group of students. Some middle schools have shifted from this practice. Speaking honestly, I have not given this the priority in my schools that it deserves. Protecting this times and planning the year out ahead of time will go a long way in minimizing internal school conflicts and helping kids know better ways to deal with problems.

While there is value in meeting regularly, using this intervention time will not be daily or even weekly for Spring Lake Middle. Strategic planning and implementation doesn’t mean we have meet every day or every week. It means we have to plan for our desired outcome, design instructional activities and implement them effectively.  Individual school needs will warrant different balances between the two intervention tactics. Be willing and ready to differentiate.

Operations

   This flex period can be held between any blocks of the day, including before and after the 1st and last blocks. Thinking of this period of time as a moving piece that can be placed strategically at any point of the day helps us in planning events. These include pep rallies, guest speakers and other special school events. It helps me protect the school schedule by making sure that we are planning school events that don’t significantly impede our school schedule. This is an important piece in our duty to protect the schedule – making sure that we are maximizing instructional time. Having a plan for these times beforehand is important. The above schedule outlines two of the more common uses for the flex period at my previous school. It will be worthwhile to develop a schedule for other possibilities and share all them with the staff at the beginning of the year. The staff needs to know what’s expected and how the day will look like. Making decisions on a whim is how we harm teaching and learning.

The flex period, our Bronco Time, will play a big role in reaching kids. I’ve seen it make a difference in a high school. We thought of that time as the opportunity to tutor kids who normally couldn’t attend after school. Expanding our thinking here to meet not just the academic but the social/emotional needs of our kids is how we are going to make a huge difference.

Middle School Schedule [2]: Block = Flexibility

Our current schedule is a 7 period schedule. We take our instructional day and divide it into 7 equal blocks of time allotting additional time during lunch as well as consistent transition time between classes.

 Next year, we will be moving to a modified block schedule.

images (1)   There are several options and models of the block schedule. High school educators, and most people who have recently graduated from high school, will know the 4 x 4 or the A / B block schedule. They are both creative ways to maximize classroom/instructional time by giving students four classes a day, eight for the year.

   Our current 7 period day has been in place for a while. Even though the schedule has changed since the school was built [this is not the original schedule of the school] this schedule is very much a junior high schedule. Right now, our teachers don’t all have common planning with their subject or grade level counterparts. This is a necessity for the middle school concept. Common planning is not only for time for instructional design, it allows for more creative ways to provide interventions for students. Common planning time for teams and subjects has been a staple for years at the middle school level – this was before Common Core was a thought. Our shift to this will enable some great collaborative opportunities for our teachers.

   Common planning will make a huge difference. But the biggest benefit to this block transition will be the flexibility our school will have in serving our students. Increasing common planning means teachers can schedule regular time, either on team or grade level, to discuss student, group or grade level concerns that need special attention. The options here are only as limited as our imaginations.

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   One opportunity I’ve seen success with is taking a chunk of time from all 4 blocks and placing it either at the beginning of the day or the end and using it for special functions. At the beginning of the day, we can get creative with remediation/acceleration efforts, clubs or mentoring opportunities. At the end of the day, we can use it for concerts, assemblies, pep rallies or other functions. In either situation, we are still maintaining significant time in the classroom and benefiting from special time given to instruction or operations. At one of my last schools, we had a tough time getting kids to stay after school for tutoring. We used that special block of time in the morning for additional instructional time. We had to create a different mindset for teachers – treat this additional time like you would for students staying after school. This time made a huge difference with learning and planning.

   This flexibility isn’t available with our current 7 period schedule. Part of my job as the leader in my school is to create options, different opportunites for us to support students. This will be a huge difference maker for us in the upcoming school year.