Serious Meddling in New Hampshire’s North Country

Being a school principal, if you work hard enough and enter with the right motivation, can be one of the best possible jobs around. I did it for 21 wonderful years. It’s also relentless, grueling, exhilarating, vexing, work that sometimes seems to defy gravity. Max DePree once defined good leadership as serious meddling in other people’s lives. I think he was right on, especially about leading a school. Its an element of the job that eludes many.

Mike Berry has been doing serious meddling for almost a decade now in a village in the North Country of New Hampshire, principal of a regional high school that has become a mecca for good teachers, new ideas, and most significantly, a place families can count on to take excellent care of their children. That “taking care” of young people, and of each other is something you can feel in and around the school and it takes many forms.

WMRHS Students' inquiry in action

WMRHS Students' inquiry in action

Over the past three years I’ve appreciated the chance to watch Mike’s work and see some of the outcomes. White Mountains Regional High School is a New Hampshire “School of Excellence” and Berry himself was recently named one of five New England NESSC 2018 “State Champions”, an award given to a select group that push for equitable learning for all students. In Mike’s case, I know specifically what that work looks like, doing more for more kids in his words. 

At White Mountains, beware Mike’s serious meddling in your professional life. Its not okay to be complacent. But also expect his energy and support, any unique resources you might need, and pats on the back at just the right time. To work at WMRHS is to choose an active professional life and major commitment to growing your practice in a public setting. That’s some of the magic there, you don’t get to work in private. Berry has converted several classrooms into Silicon Valley worthy collaborative spaces, with all the tech supports needed for documentation, and curation of work. If and when a teacher leaves, their legacy of curriculum thinking and instruction will remain behind in their portfolio of work, intellectual property to be treasured and kept in play.  I’m reminded of the wonderful Ivory Coast proverb, “when a teacher retires, it’s like a library burning”. Its not likely to be that way as much at White Mountains.

Among big ticket items, the school has converted to a Humanities approach in grades 9-11 rather than separate disciplines in social studies, history, literature and language arts. That move was based on Berry’s teaching experience, achievement data from Boston and elsewhere, and the simple notion that big ideas and questions are the best way to avoid learning silos. You can find the arts, classical readings or political theory, social media, contemporary issues and more in those classes.  An Innovation Academy, focused around STEM and STEAM ideas, will occupy a portion of the building next year. The Spartan Steam Innovation Academy (SSIA) is pushing the frontiers of inquiry teaching,  experimenting with alternatives to traditional groupings, scheduling and curriculum thinking, extending beyond the veneer of “PBL” to deeper, more authentic projects, problems and scenarios. Two central ideas of SSIA are, one, to push for more rigorous, long-term individual and small team projects by using the ERC Grand Challenges link as a different and more engaging approach to presenting content; the other is a focus on building each student’s intellectual and inter-personal “tool kit”, skills that help with research, presentation, teamwork, reflection, inquiry and curation.

STEAM faculty Rick Grima and Dan Hubacz, who mentor the new Robotics team, joined by ERC’s Dr. Katrina Kennett

STEAM faculty Rick Grima and Dan Hubacz, who mentor the new Robotics team, joined by ERC’s Dr. Katrina Kennett

ERC is proud to be consulting to these efforts, as well as supporting Berry and his Leadership Team in their plans to keep growing and improving and maintaining smart risk-tolerance. Mike has really latched on to two of our big ideas --“moving to a culture of learning” (much harder than it sounds), and living out the old innovation mantra, “first different, then better”. He’s taken those notions and is running with them, cooking them into the work of the school with help from lots of eager staff. His team recently presented their work at the NESSC Conference in Norwood, MA, drawing large attendance and great reviews. They talked about the evolution of their work, and how working in collaboration and in a public setting has fueled their work. On that team with Berry were Molly Campbell, Patsy Ainsworth, Abby Roy and Melissa Jellison.

The White Mountains team presentation at NESSC 2019

The White Mountains team presentation at NESSC 2019

In more good news, the school learned recently that they will become a regional center for TRRE, a program from the University of New Hampshire that prepares teachers to do high-quality work in rural settings. Practicing teachers from around the region combine 15 months of graduate degree coursework with a full-year teacher residency and initial NH teacher licensure. Having White Mountains Regional High School as a North Country center for TRRE students will allow them to be in one facility under the tutelage of supervising faculty while they focus on creating inquiry-centered classrooms.

And there’s more! Other developments include a new 9th grade Integrated Math & Science initiative, and, one I was pleased to help prompt, a growing collaboration between the school and WhatIf Math out of Boston, see link an exciting new approach to thinking about, teaching, and learning math. Co-founder Art Bardige is headed to the school this spring to work directly with the Math Team and the SSIA. Berry hopes to be among the first high schools in the nation to fly the WhatIf Math pennant, looking ahead to a different, more utilitarian and engaging approach to math.

WhatIf Math is beginning a collaboration with the school.

WhatIf Math is beginning a collaboration with the school.

In another innovation, Berry now employs two school-wide “integrationists”, versatile thinkers and do-er’s with private sector experience who can inject concepts and skills from art, design, music, social media and beyond, to enhance engagement, research and presentation. That’s a job description I hope we will see more of as schools cope with the research on student disinterest in traditional classroom learning. A recently added “elective”, Progressive Styles, taught by Mike Martins, has become a hot spot for students with a range of musical and artistic interests and not one, but two White Mountains students were recently admitted to the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston.

The Spartan Van kicks up some dust down Boston way -Berry, on the left, with Jellison, Roy, Campbell and Ainsworth

The Spartan Van kicks up some dust down Boston way -Berry, on the left, with Jellison, Roy, Campbell and Ainsworth

As you can see in this last picture, the WMRHS Spartan van is getting around. Serious meddling is paying off. And the winners are the students, families and professionals of a school on the move!

 

Dr. Larry Myatt,

Co-Founder

Education Resources Consortium

THREE STORIES FROM LAST YEAR TO GUIDE US IN 2019: ERC Wishes You a Happy New Year

Greetings--- As we roll into 2019, here are three education stories worth revisiting and talking about with colleagues:

1- Teachers Leaving the Profession at Record Rates

One of the things ERC does regularly is to facilitate school-based “new teacher groups”. They’ve gotten high praise from principals and from participants. We’ve been around and have learned to pay attention to the issues surrounding the attrition of young teachers. We see groups like these as a critical investment. Disturbingly high percentages of educators leave the profession after a brief foray, especially in poorer schools and low-performing settings, and despite a major financial investment in a teaching degree. We base our approach to working with new teachers on the fact that many people leave teaching not because they can’t master the technical aspects – organizing content, planning lessons, using computer programs, etc. but because of isolation and loneliness, on-going anxiety, lack of professional support, and the amount of time and emotional energy consumed by just showing up every day for school. We’ve also noticed over the past 4-5 years more complaints about the grind of getting scores up, a focus on trivial results over more engaging teaching, a relentless march through textbooks and standards to keep pace with demands for “coverage”, and the associated impingement on creativity that led many to consider the classroom to begin with.

 Now we can add meager pay and competing opportunities to that list:

 Teachers Quit Jobs at Highest Rate on Record

 

2-Facebook is not our friend

My instincts always made me leery of Summit Learning. Purchasing that platform seemed too much like a capitulation, an acknowledgement that a school can’t organize its curriculum, design lessons to connect with and motivate students and spark curiosity, or function as a “living system” with the capacity to recognize and address its own shortcomings. The Summit educators I met were largely unable to cite a theory of action, explain their role in making critical decisions about student learning, or comment on how the Summit approach fostered professional collegiality (remembering that adult learning and collaboration are the #1 predictors of a high-functioning organization). I attended Summit events where a common answer to any serious question about teaching and learning was, “oh, just have the students click here”. I also heard thoughtful educators rue the program’s reliance on cartoons and videos to explain and/or teach skills and a trivialization of serious historical and contemporary issues of class, race, gender, and equity.

I wasn’t surprised last year when more reports began to surface about students and families who had those and other issues with the Facebook-backed, Silicon Valley incursion into classrooms. Designed by pseudo-educators to make a buck and expand customer base, its unsavory aroma began to spread. Here's one story, and we think it’s cool that NYC’s Urban Academy, a public high-school bastion of rigorous, inquiry-based teaching and learning and attention to issues of social justice was one of the schools whose students led the way.

Students protest Zuckerberg-backed digital learning program and ask him: ‘What gives you this right?’

3-We Knew It All Along: More Pressure is Not a Solution

 Sadly, but predictably, the “School Turnaround” effort has largely been a costly failure. Few schools have ever turned around, and those that did had short-lived, marginal improvement. Policy-makers under duress, living apart from the reality of schools, have too often tried to address the wrong problems. An emphasis on technical fixes and programs to raise scores, many delivered as part of the proliferation of “school management” organizations (for both charter and traditional public schools), combined with low district capacity to identify and address root causes to make the turnaround approach a major loser for schools and taxpayers (but a boondoggle for “providers” --see Meyers and VanGronigen’s So Many Educational Service Providers, So Little Evidence.) This retrospective look raises questions about whether the meager gains were worth the political controversy, and the educational costs of putting a greater focus on test scores:

Pressuring schools to raise test scores got diminishing returns, new study of No Child Left Behind finds

Looking Ahead

Front-line educators have work to do. We have to do our homework and we need to know our history. We have to ask harder questions, and commit to engage the pubic on the issues that matter to us and to our students and families.

Here’s to a healthy and rewarding 2019.

Larry Myatt and Wayne Ogden, Co-Founders

Education Resources Consortium

 

 

 

 

 

EdHistory 101 Project- Volume 2- December 2018- Our Industrial Legacy

Why do schedules, bells and teaching routines in our schools feel so machine-like and industrial? So relentless and repetitive? It’s not by accident. And it’s certainly not good for learning. In this edition of our EdHistory 101 Project, we look back at the roots of some of the unhelpful correlations among time, learning and subject matter that persist today.

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One summer a few years back, at a shoreline vacation spot bookstore, I picked up a volume called Six Lives, Six Deaths. The book related the lives, and as the title suggests the manners of ritual death of six notable figures in Japanese history. As the book unfolds and relates stories from the 19th century, it so happens that a favored practice in a late-1800’s, “newly-opened”, Meiji Japan was to send promising military men abroad for study in Germany, England, France, and the United States. Notably these were the world’s major coal-powers, and the goal of these study tours was to keep abreast of exploding Western developments in science and technology.

At that point in time, the accelerating industrial revolution was advancing into new frontiers, including an area that became known as “management science” -the detailed study of work and factory production.

In the first half of the 19th century the requirements for precision in the finishing of machine parts increased sharply as steam engines spread and machine-building developed. This brought about the rapid development of industrial measurement technology. The works of Carl Gauss, who had developed the  method of “least squares”  and  the “absolute  system of units” (CGSE), became foundational. New principles and theories abounded, and the field of metrology was established, including the metric system, to insure uniformity of scientific research and production.

As the new field of management science matured, it quickly developed its own canon and lore, ascending into prominence in the burgeoning world of capitalism. Attention turned to how newly-recognized “improvement principles” in industrial settings (i.e. factories) might be applied to other important dimensions of a nation’s growth and development. Industrial technology science was most often applied first to a nation’s military infrastructure, but then its principles began to branch out to other aspects of public works and government services. It seemed that wherever the Japanese visitors travelled a consistent component in the quest to create a secure, wealthy and high-functioning state was the application of “measurement technology”.

In America, concepts from this field soon began to impact the design of a new wave of larger and more uniform public schools, beginning by impacting the beliefs and practices of the educational administrations that shaped and tended schooling “for the masses”. Reading reports and records from that time period concerning the nature of those “scientific” developments I was struck by their potent impact on end-of-19th century thinking about school.

At the turn of the 20th century powerful metrological institutions were founded in industrially-developed countries where their technologies swiftly meshed with emerging knowledge bases in other fields. Some contemporary educational graduate courses (I hope) still spend time on the impact of thinking from Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915) on the organization of our work force, and later, on our schools. He was convinced that with study, observation and analysis -and the application of new concepts in measurement science- the "one best way" to do things in almost any arena could be discovered.

Taylor is perhaps most remembered for his stopwatch time study, the findings of which combined with motion studies (now able to be captured on film for analysis) to become the larger field of “time and motion study”.  Just as with factory machines, he could break a job into its component parts and measure each to the hundredth of a minute!  One of his most famous studies involved shovels. Taylor observed laborers shoveling varying weights with the same size shovel. After analysis, Taylor concluded that the shovel load with which “a first class man would do his biggest day’s work” was 21½ lb., and therefore fabricators could design shovels that, for each material , would scoop up exactly that amount.

At this point, it’s worth noting that among Taylor’s aficionados were Elwood Cubberley –arguably the most influential figure in shaping the early 20th century’s school routines and organization (Link to EdProject 101) Cubberley as well as 1930’s-40’s Soviet economists who built much of their social-industrial planning on Taylor’s  ideas and studies. In America, Cubberley, citing the threat from other nations with competing philosophies and economies (and armies), drilled home the ideas of schools as “factories where the raw materials can be shaped to meet the various demands of life”, institutions that demanded “efficiency in all endeavors”.

The extension of that thinking among school-designing policy makers was to use the schools as a “grading” device, so that the top 10% of school performers would become our leaders –the bankers, professors, statesmen, generals, inventors and entrepreneurs – and the rest would be directed where they were “suited”, a paradigm that, despite our rhetoric,  exists today. Other distinct hallmarks of that historic intersection of schooling, capitalism and industry remain largely without examination, such as the “report card” which mimics quarterly reports of production, profit and loss, and stock value to boards and shareholders, and which resembles an accountant’s ledger to quantify “learning” and behavior. Others include the calculation of grade-point averages and the reporting of “class rank”, suggesting the social “class” within which one is likely to fit.

So, there it was, and so it remains. The result of that era’s machine-age thinking was the solidification of an industrial model school, which, as intended, remains separate and apart from daily life, and as Peter Senge articulately pointed out in Schools That Learn, poses the problems which students, families and teachers struggle with to this day. Beliefs from that era include that knowledge is fragmented and arises in separate, distinct categories; that the school should therefore be broken into “pieces” managed by specialists; that there are smart, fast kids and slower, not-smart kids, and when the machine moves forward some students will lag, others fall to the side and require some sort of label addressing their inability or difference. The list goes on, but the upshot of these beliefs is that every day secondary teachers face the impossible task
of addressing dozens of learners in hour-long settings, and consequently, many learners and
their families struggle to fit into a system that is built to impede “fitting in” and a degree of
success for all.

And the brilliant Yale psychologist Seymour Sarason pointed out, the system can degrade the motives and performance of teachers as well. (The Culture of School and the Problem of Change, Sarason, 1996) He writes convincingly that, despite their proximity to children, most educators work largely alone the vast majority of the time, and too many can experience a kind of professional isolation and loneliness. Many suffer the negative effects of prolonged, relentless routine and repetition, similar to those of assembly line workers. Others lose faith by internalizing some of the impact of the failure and “buy-out” they see with many learners, year after year.
As a consultant to scores of schools, these are symptoms that are all too common but seldom discussed, even surprisingly, by groups that represent our teaching corps.

As we close out 2018, growing student disinterest in what we offer as classroom learning is increasingly well-documented. Two decades of flat achievement and our inability to move beyond repeating the same list of failed strategies ought to lead us to look more deeply at the model, and ought to be disturbing enough to make those who guide our policies decide to revisit the 19th-century “science” that has given us the schools we have.

At the very least, we ought to know where these lingering ideas come from.

Larry Myatt, Co-Founder

Now! A More Useful and Engaging Curriculum Framework

We're really excited about some new curriculum thinking that holds huge potential for kids and schools. Here's how we got here.

The first time I got really provoked about curriculum issues was when Coalition of Essential Schools Founder Theodore Sizer visited our school in the early 90’s. He spent most of a day and seemed to have had a great visit, roaming around the school on his own for several hours, asking students about their experiences. On his way out, after a few glowing remarks about the climate, he asked, with a curious look, “You know, schools are funny. I wonder why we’ve decided to offer American History in the morning, but American Literature in the afternoon?” He asked it lightly, in a tone that suggested he wanted me to think on it more than he wanted an answer. That would be Ted.

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As a busy high school principal, I didn’t give it a whole lot more thought that day, but it came back to me that evening, and again the next day. That simple question from Ted led to weeks, and ultimately years of thinking about how we order things, how, in Jal Mehta’s words from The Allure of Order, we attempt to “rationalize” human learning and school behaviors. Ongoing deliberation on his question led our school to move eagerly to a Humanities format that included those two traditional fields, or “classes”, that Ted mentioned, but also social sciences, music, art and design, themes re-cast in deep exploration of issues that matter to us all, that go beyond simple notions of “inter-disciplinary”.

A decade later, I, like 15 million other viewers, chuckled and nodded through Sir Ken Robinson’s TED Talk- “do schools kill creativity?” Of course, they do. We know that. They are meant to instill conformity instead. But in his delightful skewering of our industrial model, he not only reminds us that the traditional curriculum is wildly unhelpful, he traces its origins to the desires of late 19th century policy makers to prepare a small percentage of learners for academia and the professorship, another small batch, the would-be doctors, lawyers and generals, and the rest for work and various levels of drudgery.

So began my long road of nagging doubts about the effectiveness of the traditional “math, science, history and English” line-up. My experiences as high school principal, college professor, school coach and consultant repeatedly unmasked school as limiting and often discouraging. At each stop along the way I was reminded me that people crave connections to their own “mysteries”, want to ask their own questions and chase big ideas, to find out more about things that really matter, not bounce around each day in a world carved into four or five thin slices.

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In agreement, and likely somewhat out of pity, a good friend, the late and great Ron Wolk, founder of Education Week (he was an early and persistent Jiminy Cricket of our disappointing “standards” movement) urged me to read Marion Brady’s work. Brady’s rich library of thinking on curriculum and standards added perspective and substance to my own from-the-trenches critique. See link.

That talk with Ron, who had his own rich legacy, inspired me to put my mind in a more focused way to contributing to school redesign. Serious redesign. The kind we imagined with Ted in the early 90’s. Not the silver bullets we’ve seen come, go, and repeat themselves --mastery learning, “PBL”, “blended” learning, competency-based instruction. They’re helpful but insufficient, adaptive approaches that accept most of the current “arrangements” of school. Our schools need the kind of redesign that doesn’t skirt the core issues and problems of our school “architecture”. I wanted to surface the hurtful impact of our industrial approach to school on learners and families, issues such as the false correlations between time and learning, the smothering limitations imposed by age-alike cohorts and overly simplistic cognitive and social/emotional development paradigms, reductive concepts of the locus of learning, and above all, the CURRICULUM. The curriculum that’s like carbon monoxide, that puts us to sleep without our knowing. A curriculum whose origins we can’t cite, that seems to have no agreed-upon aim or over-arching purpose and disregards the seamlessness of human perception. As Brady points out, our traditional curriculum thinking "accepts short-term recall rather than logic to access our memory banks, has few criteria for determining the relative importance of what' being taught, relates only occasionally to real-world experience, and fails to encourage creative thought".

I had a breakthrough moment in 2013. I had the good fortune to read a short yet especially thoughtful article, “Synergies”, by G. Wayne Clough, then Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. His insights in to the urgency of organizing human thinking in a collective effort moved and excited me just as they had inspired his colleagues and collaborators at the Smithsonian. Finally, here was a way of making sense of our intellectual efforts, our potential as social and thinking creatures, and doing so in a way to make for a better planet and a better “civilization”.  See link.

The Grand Challenges presented themselves immediately to me as a framework for re-igniting the passion and curiosity kids bring to the early grades but which are mainly lost as they learn to conform and to please, solving predetermined puzzles, a framework that can help us dig out from under the glut of competencies, do-now's, etc. that no one wants to come to grips with, but which is link here to Gallop poll putting kids to sleep.

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Over the past two years, my ERC colleague Katrina Kennett and I and a small but growing number of teachers and schools we work with are helping us to deepen our understanding of the potential of The Grand Challenges. We’ve developed powerful visual provocations and entry events that correlate to the Grand Challenge topics and issues, as well as new tools to organize and expand the learning environment. We have imagined a unique learning landscape and developed a glossary of terms that explain those new structures and practices. Our “New Architecture of Learning” includes the elements of an ecology that can sustain more robust learning and activate powerful affinities among people, places and ideas, in the spirit of the original Grand Challenges.

Along the way, we’ve also learned that dissatisfaction with the traditional curriculum is not unique to us, is quite long-standing and comes from a wide variety of historical figures and intellectual fields. Link here. 

This new collective energy gives us increasing hope that people can begin to slowly put aside our tired approach to “curriculum” and replace it with explorations and activities that use the Grand Challenges as a framework for learning, activities that erase some of the unhelpful boundaries and structures that inhibit passionate learning. Whether you use it in an existing unit of study, as a larger scaffold, as an alternating curriculum, or as your basic framework, you’re helping us move the dial.

White Mountains Regional HS STEAM Innovation Academy

So, if you’re ready, here’s the Grand Challenges “primer” you’ve been asking for, link below. Check it out. Imagine new, place-based, YES IN MY BACKYARD additions to the Challenges that resonate where you are and far beyond. Join our network, connect with others and help us move forward to meet the needs of our people and planet! Link here to see primer.

Serious School Redesign: ERC Efforts Moving Forward

We’re proud to announce that an ERC-led team has been selected to participate in the upcoming Mass Ideas Summer School Design Studio, a three-day working session for teams that want help to create innovative school models (whole-school redesign or new school design). The experience is intended to support teams to apply key levers for high-quality, innovative learning design and develop action plans for continued work following the event.  According to their website, Mass IDEAS “supports bold education thinkers across the Commonwealth to turn their ideas for reimagining school into reality, and with interest in any Massachusetts public school governance options”.

The team consists of ERC Co-Founders Wayne Ogden and Larry Myatt  joined by community partner Michael Dawson of Innovators for Purpose (iFp), strategy advisor Sharon Lloyd Clark, and Kristina Lamour Sansone of Lesley University, College of Art and Design who brings graphic design for learning expertise. Dr. Katrina Kennett, ERC Consulting Practitioner for Technology and Professional Learning, will join the team as needed moving forward.

Many of the ERC team’s ideas are guided by redesign and inquiry efforts well under way at White Mountains Regional High School and Manchester’s McLaughlin Middle School, through a STEM partnership with STEAM-Ahead NH. Both schools are moving ahead with a strikingly different approach to organizing for learning, adopting a novel framework and practices that the ERC Design Team will seek to refine in the Summer Design Studio. ERC in particular is looking for community collaborators seeking more inclusive, high-performing STEM programming and who are excited about new designs to achieve that.

Beginning in 2020, Mass Ideas will offer implementation grants for school teams who are ready to launch their designs. Mass IDEAS is part of an initiative launched by Next Generation Learning Challenges (NGLC). Since its founding, NGLC has grown to include a burgeoning group of organizational and philanthropic partners who are actively expanding the adoption of innovations that completely reimagine K–12 in their regional communities and nationally. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Broad Foundation, Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, Oak Foundation, and the Barr Foundation are among the key funders.

The ERC group has built its approach around “six big ideas”:

1-the equity challenge: high-quality opportunities for learning are distributed unevenly in Massachusetts (and elsewhere); achievement is unacceptably low in many schools

2-a core challenge in secondary schools is student disinterest in classroom learning; loss of curiosity, choice and engagement explain flat achievement

3-the traditional curriculum is increasingly problematic; the allotment of time, adult roles, assessment schema, student groupings and pedagogy that accommodate it prevent and undermine truly “student-centered”, personalized learning

4-a more engaging curriculum framework is available

5-re-ordering key elements of learning will yield greater student engagement and achievement

  • start with curiosity and thrill

  • hands-on, experiential activities and multiple inquiry efforts propel learning

  • learning with generative, big questions, and the uninhibited pursuit of learners’ “mysteries"

  • emphasize skills in a “learning team” context

  • unpack and negotiate a more suitable and generative place for standards

6- a new, comprehensive learning management framework is required and is part of our design

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For more information on the ERC Redesign and Grand Challenges efforts, please email wayne.ogden@gmail.com.

White Mountains Students Join to Help Bees Prosper

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In this time of peril and hope for our global bee population, we can’t help but say that one of our ERC Grand Challenges Network schools is creating quite a buzz! The Spartan STEAM Innovation Academy (SSIA) at White Mountains Regional High School, teaming with the school’s Agricultural Science program, recently was awarded a Whole Foods BEE-cause Grant.   

Things began to hum this past winter, when a White Mountains High School team consisting of plant science and horticulture specialist Rick Grima, SSIA Teacher Leader Melissa Jellison, and science and math specialist Daniel Hubacz joined a bee-keeping workshop at the Rocks Estate in Bethlehem, NH, teaming with White Mountain Apiary and local Beekeeper Janice Mercieri as a Bee Mentor. Beekeeping books, bee-made products, and tools for the hive came from the Savannah Bee Company as a part of the Whole Foods grant through which the program’s students will become co-creators and eventual owners of an on-going project to bring their winged friends to White Mountains Regional High School in New Hampshire’s North Country. Once they have studied where bees are happiest, they will find a permanent and suitable location, measure and clear the land, build the facility, and with their new state-of-the-art bee suits, will activate two new hives to host a bee population provided by the White Mountain Apiary. The goal is to ultimately host 40,000 honey bees. 

Using the Grand Challenges as a framework for exploring past, present, and future challenges to planet Earth, STEAM Innovation Academy students are in hot pursuit of scholarly, experiential ways to understand where bees fit in sustaining our biodiverse planet. See ERC's Grand Challenges Network link here. WMRHS is poised to become the first and only school in New Hampshire to have and keep bees, beginning with a summer work program to maintain the hive when school is out, track bee health and supervise honey production. Grima, who splits duties with SSIA and agriculture sciences, and is one of the Bee program founders told us, “By September we should be in great shape to utilize the hive regularly with students taking over all aspects of the maintenance and monitoring.”

For staff and partners, two chunky Grand Challenge-related learning objectives sit at the heart of all this Bee commotion:

  • Improving understanding of and access to the biology and natural history of the species, their evolutionary and ecological place in global ecosystems, and the processes responsible for population declines and extinction.
  • Developing concepts, theories, tools, and models that contribute directly to halting biodiversity loss, managing species and their habitats, restoring ecosystems, and mitigating threats to the environment.

Scholarly standards such as these are high, but the kids themselves are just raring to get out there and get with the bees. Front office staff and passing teachers get a kick of Grima and his students in bee suits with bright orange "Bee Buckets" as they had out each morning like clockwork. As word spreads, students have already begun to research and develop products at school and in “home food labs” with the beeswax scraped from the first sampling of the frames, including lip balms flavored, so far, with eucalyptus and lemongrass.

As hoped for, curious community helpers are materializing. Geoff Gaddapee, manager of a local hardware store and a beekeeper himself, provides support, hardware and tools and NH Fish and Game biologist Andrew Timmins visits to work with students and monitor bear activity around the hives. Each hive is expected to produce around 300 lbs. of honey every year, so students will suggest unique labels, flyers and develop marketing and advertising plans for honey sales, all of which will underwrite the on-going hive operations. Popular WMRHS Culinary Arts Chef Matt Holland hopes to utilize the homegrown honey in as many recipes as he can.

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Next fall SSIA will kick-off with a survival unit that includes food growing as part of living off the land. The math department will support student team projects revolving on population estimates, calculating population growth in the hive each day, and using scales to track the weight of the hive as the bees build and work inside. Down-the-road plans include working with the local Cooperative Extension and USDA office to create a SSIA Bee-related website, a global resource hub with updated-daily information about local bee keeping, bee projects, bee health and science, explorations of pesticide effect and attempts to rejuvenate bees world-wide. NH Fish and Game could possibly add a link on their site to be managed by SSIA student teams. Although SSIA generally only hosts visitors once a month, staff are arranging for the Lancaster and Whitefield Elementary STEAM programs to visit periodically and work with high school student mentors on several projects across the school year.

All in all, its an exciting time for the Spartan Steam innovation Academy which expanded from its original two-year STEAM-Ahead program, with more students and staff and a range of new learning activities, project teams, inquiry and learning management tools. Principal Michael Berry has been a champion in supporting the effort to create a culture of intense and engaging student learning through greater collaboration among teachers and, with support from ERC, innovative practices in inquiry learning. His motto of more success for more students is increasingly becoming a reality as the school’s reputation grows and continues to attract new, motivated, high-quality professionals to the school.

Keep your eyes and ears open for more news from NH’s newest bee keepers! For more information on the bees and/or SSIA contact jlabounty@sau36.org

 

School Shootings: Things Overheard

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In schools that I visit, here are some things I’ve heard teachers saying:

  •  I try not to, but I’ve had to think of how I would respond if I heard gunfire down the hall
  •  my wife/husband says good-bye to me differently now each morning
  • I have students who don’t want to leave my side
  • teachers have speculated about which might be the students who would come after them
  • students have been asking me if I want to carry a weapon; if I say “no” I wonder does that mean they think they can’t count on me?
  • we say our school perimeter has been “hardened” but in casual conversation we’ve ID’d three easy ways to get into the facility
  • where would I keep a gun?
  • in the cafeteria, I overheard kids predicting which of their peers is that kind of dangerous
  • I never dreamed of discussions like these in my school
  • I had “active shooter” training in my undergraduate teacher education program, so its not a new idea to me
  • if first responders swarm our school and we have multiple people with multiple weapons, who are they going to target?

Spending a lot of time in many different schools, it’s been impossible to avoid the myriad feelings and emotions brought to the surface by the Florida (and other) school shootings. The reactions have been surprising in their breadth, sobering, moving, alarming, and, frankly, new and unanticipated to a veteran educator who did NOT have to confront such issues while leading my school.

But, on the positive side,  here's a huge reason I believe in our kids and in K-12 schools. Check out this video. Go to link.

Dr. Gil Noam, PEAR founder,  speaking at Albuquerque Sign Language Academy

Dr. Gil Noam, PEAR founder,  speaking at Albuquerque Sign Language Academy

Finally, for the past four years, I’ve appreciated being a working partner of and  of and with the Partnerships in Education and Resilience (PEAR) Institute. Their work helping schools to know young people is more important than ever. PEAR Founder, Dr. Gil Noam, has responded with this thoughtful piece and I think it’s a critically important perspective. Go to link.

 

Stay safe.

Dr. Larry Myatt

Co-Founder

 

Treating Students with Dignity

This past August I had the pleasure of attending some professional development activities organized and presented by educators within the Central Falls, Rhode Island school district. One workshop was being presented by David Upegui, a science teacher whom I knew from my days consulting in the district years ago.

David is a big thinker with a huge heart, always active doing things for young people and the community, see link. He’s well-known in the state, see link and I wanted to make sure I took the opportunity to see what he was up to, what he was saying of late.

His workshop was full of great ideas and his unique provocations. It reminded me of how much work we have to do to nourish the spirit of young people. And how important it is, each and every day, to remember the powerful role we have as educators in treating students with dignity. I asked David to recap his workshop in this following essay.

 Larry Myatt
Co-Founder
Education Resources Consortium

 

David Upegui

David Upegui

It so happened that I grew up and went to school in the most economically disadvantaged city in Rhode Island. Even more than I realized at the time, I was in dire need of guidance, support, academic discipline and most importantly, a sense that I mattered, that I had a future. I was among the few and the fortunate to find that one special teacher, one that understood how that idea of agency would determine my future.

Now, as a teacher in my very same alma mater, I see it as my turn. I work as diligently as I can with a new generation of students, trying to provide for them that same sense of agency that freed me from economic -and intellectual- poverty. I had left my job as a researcher at an Ivy League university in hopes of igniting minds, in that very same place I had once sat as a student.

My son was born with an extra chromosome in each of his cells. Life with and learning from a young person with Down Syndrome is not what I had expected when I became a parent, but my son has taught me more than I learned in any class. My work became making sure that he would be treated fairly, with equanimity, and that he would have positive school experiences. It reminded me in the most powerful way of the power of each human being, and the fundamental belief that ALL children can and should learn. That’s what drives my teaching now.

So how do we do our best as educators, every day, to ensure that all our students are empowered and treated with that kind of dignity? Here is a short list of things I try to do that have shown positive results for my students --simple but important things—some having to do with the environment in my classroom and others more specially about my content teaching.

I call students by their last name. As simple as this may sound, this enables all of us to address each other with respect. When some students first hear me say “Ms. Rodriguez” or “Mr. Hernandez”, they are confused – it’s new to them. But I tell them that I try to look beyond their current status, that I see them as significant right now, that they will become even more important as they grow in our community.

I greet all students as they come in to the classroom. As an American-Latino, salutations and recognition of the other person were of importance growing up in my household. It may seem like a small gesture, but a smile and a hardy hello can have a profound impact. Even though I teach students that are in their final years of high school, I still begin each class with a “good morning/afternoon” and I expect the whole class to repeat it – it has become our custom. 

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Being prepared with lesson plans and materials. This may seem like a no-brainer, but one of the simplest ways to show respect to the students is by being prepared for class. When we are prepared we send subtle messages that let our students know that we are thinking about them outside of class. When we are not, that resonates as “he doesn’t take us seriously”.

Discuss the “rules” for all (including teacher). The rules that I have settled on are very simple: be prepared, be present and be respectful. They apply to everyone in the room, including me (and this is stated). It’s our way of agreeing on how we can be at our best with each other as we learn.

Introduce and value student questions. As a way to demonstrate the importance of questioning, I try to acknowledge and reward “good” questions. I have to make time for them, to go with the moment of curiosity. Over time students begin to notice the significance of questions and provide each other with encouragement.

Play music. This may seem trivial, but music can have a great effect on the culture of the classroom. I select playlists that not only have baroque musicians (studies have demonstrated the effect of this type of music on learning) but also include music that represent the wide variety of background my students bring. For example, I may play Sara Tavares or Mayra Andrade (both Cape Verdean), or Carlos Vives and Pedrito Fernandez (Latinos) and follow that with Air Supply, Olafur Arnalds, and Bach.

Regular communications. Some of these exchanges may be in-person or email, and regardless of method, communicating with students about their work, their academic performance, their strengths/weaknesses, dreams and plans, enables students to feel valued and important.

Explicit democratic voicing. I tell my students not to believe anything and everything that people say (even me!), unless evidence and data are provided. In other words, I want my students learn to be skeptical of “beliefs” and begin to recognize that their voice and opinions matter.

Bring in outsiders to the classroom/bring the classroom outside. Our classroom has many visitors each year. Any given week may include visits from college professors, nurses/physicians, graduates of the school, engineers, a swami (to teach the physiological effects of meditation on the body), or scientists. When visitors spend time with my students, everyone wins. My students begin to recognize that there is a larger world that wants them to succeed. And the visitors are inspired by the potential my students hold. Also, I try to take my students out of the classroom as much as possible – even it is just around the block – they are part of a greater community.

Storytelling/circle time. As unusual as this sounds, I hold “circle time” with my seniors in high school. I stop the action and call my students to bring up their lab stools and sit around a circle so we can all see each other. This works for many reasons including the fact that storytelling is the oldest form of communication and education (as well as being able to see who has their cell phone out). The stories I tell may include specific stories about science like the stories of Rosalyn Franklin, Lynn Margulis, Michael Faraday or Alhazen; stories which speak about perseverance, overcoming obstacles and using curiosity as an empowerment tool. Other stories may be my personal experiences or just about inspiring people such as Wilma Rudolph or Michael Jordan. Regardless, stories connect us as humans.

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Specific lessons that address liberation. A powerful examples is what we call “race”. I introduce the science underlying that notion. Skin coloration has historically been used to segregate and discriminate people, but what if we take a look at the data of ultra-violet radiation (UVB) and human skin pigmentation patterns? In this light, students begin to see that skin coloration is based on where our closets ancestors lived: the closer to the equator, the more skin pigmentation they had (as a natural protection from damaging sun rays). Once students appreciate that natural variation, they can begin to question why skin pigmentation was erroneously connected to human capacity. My students leave my class knowing that we are in fact only one human species (otherwise we could not successfully breed and have viable offspring). Undoubtedly, there are tons of lessons in all content areas that can be developed, delivered and shared with our students – we just need to consider them as what they truly are: the future stewards of the earth.

What we do as educators is never trivial. In front of us each day are the future problem-solvers of the world and it is up to us to enable them to recognize their great potential. We have more power than we recognize, and we are either part of the problem or the solution.

A Better Approach to STEM - Interview Part II

We’re really proud of the work our colleague Larry Myatt has done at Manchester New Hampshire’s West High School. Despite a proud history in the Queen City, the school has struggled with declining achievement and one of the state’s highest drop-out rates. It has all the challenges that face many kindred urban schools and communities. Yet, of, late some truly bright spots have emerged. The school’s fledgling STEAM (STEM+) initiative was recently lauded in a University of New Hampshire evaluation link and West was recently awarded a Barr Foundation grant for initial redesign efforts. Link here. 

STEAM Ahead NH Engineering Lab

STEAM Ahead NH Engineering Lab

In an era of flat achievement and declining student engagement, Larry’s work with West High School’s STEAM initiative has shown what is possible --with committed teachers, leadership, resources, and importantly, different thinking about the systems, culture and practices. We wanted to talk with him about it.

Here is Part Two of that interview

--Wayne Ogden and Katrina Kennett

WO_KSK.jpg

WO- The last time we spoke you were talking about flat results for STEM programming in general. What did you mean by that?

LM- Well, let me say first that I appreciate STEM initiatives. They provide funding and energy when money is scarce and I especially like it because it tends to bring business and industry players to the table, and they can make things happen in ways that school districts, higher education and state departments of educations can’t. So, STEM for me holds a lot more promise than we currently expect from it and push for.

Having said that, I was struck by a detailed Wall Street Journal article a few year ago, and subsequent research that pointed out that after a decade or more of substantial STEM investment in schools, the number of students pursuing degrees- at the undergrad, masters and doctoral levels- had barely changed.  Still more men than women and still fewer candidates of color, but overall, no increased interest in entering fields where science and math are building blocks.

WO- What do you make of that?

LM- Well, to me, on a more superficial level, we portray STEM as for geeky kids building robots and taking all advanced classes. And that’s unfortunate. I actually asked several people who work nearby in Kendall Square, a global tech mecca, what they think of when they think of STEM, and that’s pretty much what they said. Pocket protectors and super heavy backpacks, mostly limited to high achievers.  But I think that the problems that dissuade students from science and math go far deeper than that. I think the roots unquestionably go back to the student experience in middle and high school, where we have all the data mentioned in part one of this interview – greater disinterest in school learning, perceptions that what we ask them to in school is not relevant or meaningful in the long run, more novelty and exciting ideas available outside of school -culminating in the fact that the longer students are in school, the less enjoyable it becomes. Deborah Meier had a wonderful essay on that some time ago, “Why Kids Don’t Want to Be Well-Educated”. That’s a plausible but overlooked explanation for the flat NAEP scores, just one among several other indicators of low engagement.

KK- You mentioned a New Hampshire STEM study as well.

LM- Yes, that students surveyed in 8th grade are turning away from science because of how they’ve experienced it thus far and how they see it being offered in high school.

KK- What is it, do you think, that turns kids off?

LM- Well, first of all, the way we’ve come to think about and organize curriculum has little to do with the ways that we actually learn, or care to learn, the way the brain and motivation co-exist and inter-play. We’ve developed huge lists of “standards” and materials that portray a smooth and steady path to “knowledge”. We ask teachers to dole out little bytes of content and skills each day as some kind of linear, step-by-step exercise and expect students to care about them and be diligent in memorizing them.  What we really know is that learning starts when learners encounter something they wish to learn. And the student voice data suggests that the topics chosen by teachers (and hardly ever by young people) are of diminishing interest, and are taught in un-engaging ways.

KK- The other thing you’ve been saying regularly is that STEM initiatives cannot survive the industrial architecture of schools. Can you explain?

LM- Sure. If you’re asked to spend 50 minutes reading some Romeo and Juliet, then dash off to Algebra for 50 minutes, then on to the Civil War, a 25-minute lunch, then the water cycle or photosynthesis,   topped off by 50 minutes of Spanish or gym or health class, how interested and excited would WE be if that was our diet day after day? A colleague described the traditional curriculum alignment as being like carbon monoxide- its puts us to sleep without us knowing or even thinking about it. Who that you meet in a store or at the gym or the workplace can tell us why its organized and pursued this way? No one! It’s much more of an impediment that we realize, and helps to explain the epidemic of student disinterest.

Furthermore, it’s an impediment to pursuing big ideas and topics, to curiosity, creativity and passion for learning. Ideas in school come in fragmented form and themes are short-lived, truncated, dispensable. Things like “PBL” and thematic instruction are limited in their impact by where we see them able to fit in and how much time we can give them before we have to move on. Marion Brady has critiqued the traditional curriculum alignment quite articulately, by the way.

Getting back to school, as my friend Tony Monfiletto says, we have to find ways to put the thrill back into learning. “Erase the lines” has become a mantra -the lines between classes and courses, between themes and topics, the lines between in school and out of school.

KK- do you have ideas on how to do that?

LM- Sure. Its how we’ve made this progress at the school and how other schools we work with are beginning to think about what happens in the classroom. We’re flipping where the standards fit until further down the road in project design, and not only hoping for but managing and structuring in ways for students to do rigorous work, but work they care about. Diversity is natural, its good, it can be harnessed for the purposes of challenging intellectual work (Newmann). Everyone is reading, writing, curating, presenting, researching -all the standards are there and at a rigorous level. We just don’t start by telling the students what they should care about. And using things like Learning Murals (see link) brings colleagues and especially students into the design process.

Manchester West HS STEAM-Ahead staff members prepare Learning Murals for presentation to their colleagues

Manchester West HS STEAM-Ahead staff members prepare Learning Murals for presentation to their colleagues

KK- It sounds like it requires a different kind of teaching.

LM- Yes, it’s a very different management schema than trying to move 20-30 kids down the road together in lock step but it finally flips the role of teacher from presenter, content expert, entertainer, chooser of topics and materials, to that of coach, connector, advocate, facilitator. Ultimately its more satisfying and more rewarding. That’s the change I mean when I talk about moving from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning. We evaluate successful teaching by focusing only on the adult as the agent and then some test scores down the road.

I prefer to assess quality learning by a focus on what and how students are doing, what they are passionate about and supported in pursuing. We’ve been overdue in making that distinction and supporting it with tools and routines for half a century now. We have those tools now, and a team of teachers working with teams of students can really begin to transcend some of the limitations imposed the traditional high school. Linda Chick at Manchester NH’s West High School STEAM Team says she now conducts “near-constant negotiations” with students and small teams, helping them to pursue the mysteries and passions they have, connections and extension, going deeper, to fuel projects that can last weeks and beyond. I love that word “mysteries” as Roger Martin posed it, the myriad different things that touch us and move us differently as individuals from childhood onward.  And again, now we have the tools and routines that help students learn to do that negotiation and pursuit with less and less provocation from adults and more confidence in their own learning. We can integrate technology regularly and smartly, with contextual uses, such as learning spreadsheet alongside water quality analysis or weather patterns, finally giving the term personalization some true meaning.

WO- How might that impact our thinking within the traditional “school architecture’ as you call it?

LM- Here’s one example. I recently asked a stellar group of thinkers that ERC convened to operationalize more robust school redesign and when I asked them how long a project should last, unanimously they answered, until the curiosity fades. Beautiful! That’s how it works for us and our mysteries. But that simple but brilliant thinking can’t survive when learning has to end with the bell, with the next topic, with the marking period, with the report card.

Another example is that if ninth-grade students are excited about and able to learn skills and content that might traditionally not be presented until “11th grade”, that’s going to mess with our rigid sense of scope and sequence –of who can learn what when. But what a great problem to have! What’s out there that only a 13 year old can learn, or only a 28 or 56 year old? This reliance on the old model of school is killing authentic interest in learning and we have been reluctant or unable, as innovation expert Clay Christensen said, to offer up new models of school.

WO- That’s a lot, but its powerful and positive. Any final thoughts about this?

LM- For sure. One is to bring higher education into these settings, sending new educators for year-long co-teaching with master teachers, moving the locus of “teacher training’ to the school. And not to do what they’ve always done in teacher development but to join in the new construct. Schools and teaching are going to change radically and this is the chance for the new generation of educators to get it right.

Next, my redesign Charrette colleagues reminded me forcefully that documentation is the best assessment. I knew that, of course, from Project Zero, from Reggio Emilia, from my teaching years, and my own children’s learning. But we lose sight of it in the torrent of more simplistic and mechanistic “instruments”. Archiving and curation, interviews, portfolios and presentations will show schools and communities how students are learning.

Fabrication Station

Fabrication Station

My last two: One, get the “A” for “arts” into STEM.  It’s the biggest piece my schools are missing right now. Student creations and performances of an artwork provide opportunities to clarify what students are (or aren’t) taking from STEM activities. They’re an on-ramp for learning. Designing, creating and interpretation offer high levels of critical thinking and help students to better understand concepts and ideas via a range of learning styles: visual-(learn through seeing), auditory-(learn through talking and listening), tactile -(learn through touch; psycho-motor) and kinesthetic (learn through doing and moving). Arts, technology and design should be integrated into all projects, supported by Humanities and integrated Math/Science as the curriculum pillars. It’s also a chance to finally get a math curriculum together that is meaningful and doesn’t turn students off.

Finally, we need the business community to dig in directly to schools, not through intermediaries. Their energy, brains and resources are critical, and they know by now that current education policies are unhelpful to developing their work force. We need them to help guide us, regularly, at the school level. Left to the traditional conveners, too often STEM investments are for more of the same, such as more AP courses for select students and teachers. Businesses make a difference. When I served at Brown University with Ted Sizer in the 1990’s, business folks were always at the table and investing in a big way, and they understood it would take research and re-design, multiple and diverse ways to re-think school. That was before they lined up with “think tank” policy makers for efforts such as Achieve and other reductive, top-down approaches to improving schools. We need to get them back at the table.

Businesses have a lot to gain from investing in STEAM. Communities as well. STEAM-Ahead NH is a great example of something that’s begun to grow in the ways I think are a model for the future. To me, this transformation is simply not that hard if we have the will. See link. I invite anyone who wants more and better from STEM investments to contact us. We can do better.

 

Dr. Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder