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

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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

 

A different brand of STEM brings new life, new hope to an urban high school

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. 

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.

--Wayne Ogden and Katrina Kennett

WO_KSK.jpg

 

WO- Larry, you knew West High School from an I3 grant effort several years ago. What’s happening now that people are shining a light on new, positive developments?

LM- There are some good achievement results and qualitative hints of growing confidence in an ability to change and grow. The secret sauce would begin with leadership at the building and teacher level, accompanied by both a team and leadership culture of willingness to let go of old practices and beliefs. Add to that an energetic fund-raiser and convener –Bob Baines of STEAM-AheadNH, the city’s former Mayor- and at the center, some great young people –the students- who are clearly responding to a more appealing and authentic kind of learning.

KK- How did it get started for you three years ago?

LM- Chris Motika had recently been named the new principal of West at the time STEAM-Ahead was looking for a home. He knew my work from the I3 grant and I knew him to be a thoughtful guy. Based on my prior experiences at the school, I wasn’t sure that promising work could take root in the building but I agreed to an initial session. 

KK- What convinced you to sign on?

LM- For one, I learned that at the outset Chris Motika had been adamant that the program be open to any and all 9th graders, not limited by grades or recommendations as so many STEM programs are. That caught my eye and was a sign of the right kind of against-the-grain leadership. Bob Baines, on the STEAM end of things, got it as well. So I agreed to a first 2-day session and I encountered an interesting mix of younger and mid-career teachers who were energetic, open-minded and anxious to be part of a highly-collaborative team. They were smart and interesting adults, the kind that kids respond to. Voila.

WO- What was the essence of your initial work?

LM- Exploring the cognitive dissonance on the team – how dissatisfied they were, are, with “traditional teaching” as defined by what’s it’s become over the last 15 years.  In conversation we shared a number of things we had all seen that didn’t work but kept reappearing on the menu for them to implement. We looked at exemplars of traditional practices versus more engaging inquiry learning. And I also asked a lot of questions about what they were looking for –as individuals- in a new professional experience that they could largely define. What was their skin in the game, as they say.

Key to those first two days was also to get a sense of how much support and latitude (i.e. trust) Chris could provide for their efforts - which turned out to be a good deal. Those “pioneer teachers” brought will and commitment, and a stout talent level, to make good on that trust. We began pretty quickly to agree to let go of things –as a team-  that we knew got poor results and to replace them with sound practices emerging from a different orientation. And of course pushing hard on high levels of teamwork and collaboration to support their new work was key –and the team welcomed it .

WO- This is where our leadership lodestar Bill Bryan would chime in that a high degree of adult learning and teamwork usually correlates to high performance. That the psychological contract is strong.

LM- Yep.  And this is a case of him being right again. Leadership at all levels was a key to the launch and in the first year, and when, in year three Chris left for a new position. Fortunately, new principal Rick Dichard is not only equally committed but sees STEAM as a harbinger of what the entire school might look like in a re-imagined form.                                              

WO- You’re not necessarily the “STEM” type, am I right?

LM- You sure are. I had to do some homework. But I knew from my teaching principal days that one key element would be making the shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning. People haven’t thought a great deal about why that’s a critical re-orientation. We tend to give only second thoughts to what students will DO, but we’re almost maniacal about the granular behaviors of teachers, as evidenced by our evaluation rubrics and procedures. I’ve worked hard, along with both of you, to redefine and support the spread of more engaging practices, activities that require a different mindset and some different skills from our current ideas of what it is to be a good front-of-the-classroom teacher.

KK- Any other thing you had to dig in to as far as STEM goes?

LM- For sure. I looked at great STEM projects that provoke and inspire lots of different explorations,  solutions, research, designs, models, etc. -not the pursuit of one pre-determined outcome, but generative, suggestive frameworks that present students with “mysteries”, to use Roger Martin’s terminology – questions and ideas that appeal, that make you curious to know more, explore more.

The other thing I researched was how STEM efforts were faring regionally and nationally. There’s been over a decade of solid investment in STEM, but it turns out that results are not so good – nationally or regionally. Last year’s New Hampshire Charitable Fund report on STEM efforts in the state was consonant with outcomes in many other states – they found that students are turned off by the way they experience math and science, far too many of them by the end of middle school. The Wall Street Journal reported on the flat numbers of those entering STEM careers at every level. I saw the problem as starting earlier than that, and not being so much about the kids but what the school -and math and science-- have become. Tightening up what we already do in STEM is not an answer.

See Technical Challenge graphic here.

KK- You’ve identified other studies that talk about why kids are less motivated as they enter high school, right?

LM- Yes. And so much of it is about sitting and listening. When I was working in Rhode Island there was a local study of student experience in urban high schools, and those two words –“sitting” and “listening” came up all the time. 90 % of students said they found their classes uninteresting and unengaging. Words that hardly every appeared were “doing” or “making”.

It’s important to note that the class of 2016 was our first all-NCLB/standards-and-testing cohort. And guess what? Kids are saying they don’t enjoy school as much. Link  My mission along with the West STEAM team began, and remains, to put the thrill back into learning. And we’re just getting into the groove. The teachers have been open-minded, willing to try new things and highly collaborative, really refreshing and energizing to work with, and Rick Dichard as well.

WO- You’ve also drawn a fairly major conclusion about STEM efforts, correct?

LM- Yes, and I think it helps to explain why STEM interest is flat – it’s that STEM  can’t thrive in a traditional, comprehensive high school environment.  The experience is too fragmented, the learning activities too flat, and the architecture and programming too out of sync with what we know about learning and motivation. There are other, far more promising things we could be doing with STEM programming. I actually think that STEM -with an added “a” for arts and technology-  could be the Trojan Horse for the school redesign we’ve been saying we’ve wanted for almost 50 years but, as Clayton Christensen said, we haven’t done much about.

WO- So, you’ve agreed to a “part two” of this interview. and we’ll talk about that more specifically next time. As well as some things that the program is still striving for, right?

LM- Right you are and thanks for having me!

 

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Dr. Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder

Stay tuned for our next e-newsletter-: Part Two - STEM as an engine for school redesign

Summer in New Mexico’s Progressive Small School

Santa Fe plaza

Santa Fe plaza

I spent a good deal of time this summer in two of our “new” states –New Hampshire and New Mexico. (More on NH in an upcoming post)

I’ve had the good fortune to work in schools over recent years in The Land of Enchantment. New Mexico faces some stiff economic challenges and a department of education that has not been friendly to new ideas and diverse approaches, but I continue to find schools and networks that studiously embrace all learners, reach out into the community and strive to learn from each other.

One of my first summer stops was Amy Biehl HS in Albuquerque, a school I had collaborated with in its early years. The school is located in the city’s old Federal Court House in a gorgeously restored setting. Humanities teacher Frank McCullough is now the school’s leader, and along with Dean of Students, Mark O’Gawa, I had a chance to work with their very skilled Student Support Team. Over a decade ago, the Amy Biehl SST offered an early model of how to bring social-emotional support out from behind the counseling curtain and share ideas and practices school-wide. We spent a full day taking stock of the team’s role in a very mature school, sorting through challenges and assets, and identifying milestones through some appreciative inquiry.

Amy Biehl HS Indaba Hall

Amy Biehl HS Indaba Hall

Next, my travels took me to Santa Fe to facilitate a leadership retreat for the Albuquerque Sign Language Academy (ASLA), an innovative, dual-language school open tuition-free to the community and region. ASLA is a great story, “the little school that could”. Sensing a lack of non-residential educational options for deaf and hard-of-hearing young people and their families, the school was created by parents, educators and collaborators less than a decade ago. The school now offers grades K-10, and approximately 60% of students qualify for special education services and 85% of students have a link to the deaf community. Under Rafe Martinez, ASLA’s Director, two partnerships have increased the school’s capacity and raised its profile --one with the University of New Mexico which welcomes new and practicing educators to learn and study at the school, and a second with the PEAR Institute which will guide wellness programming.  

 ASLA Executive Director Rafe Martinez and legislative collaborator Rick Martinez

 ASLA Executive Director Rafe Martinez and legislative collaborator Rick Martinez

The school’s own increase in student enrollment (a waiting list has grown), inquiries from other schools in the region, and their own ambition to provide state-of-the-art services to the community, signaled the need for the executive administrative team to look ahead to new leadership strategies and key upcoming milestones. I joined local consultant Everette Hill of the Social Innovation Strategies Group in guiding the team through a set of activities that will provide a road map for the upcoming year as they grow programs and partnerships and lead the faculty in concert. Facilities options, board development, developing a revised professional development calendar, and identifying key benchmarks and support required to get there all surfaced in the intense three-day retreat.

Early August brought me back to Albuquerque for on-going collaboration with the New Mexico Center for School Leadership. It’s “Leadership High Schools” network includes a focus on re-engaging older students who had left school but now wish to return and need an environment specifically designed for them. Based in part on the design of the New York City Young Adult Borough Centers, the Network’s Re-Engagement Schools provide an afternoon-early evening schedule, social workers and counselors, connections to growth industries and employers and hands-on learning in the areas they require to meet state graduation standards. Key to the mission is shaping the community’s understanding that different types of students require a diverse and substantial portfolio of educational options, and then designing forward.

 Albuquerque Sign Language Academy leadership team members, Leticia Archuleta (left) and Jennifer Blythe (right)

 Albuquerque Sign Language Academy leadership team members, Leticia Archuleta (left) and Jennifer Blythe (right)

School leaders and wellness pillar administrators from the network schools came together to assess the efficacy of current efforts and to begin a more intensive study of the needs of older students, implications for design and gathering promising practices. The Center’s doctoral Intern, Rachel White, presented the findings of her research in the current state of the network’s evening Re-Engagement programs. A new partnership with local youth development agency NMCAN will assist the Center and the schools in leveraging resources in support of re-engagement programming.

Rachel White presenting Re-Engagement Research                         

Rachel White presenting Re-Engagement Research                         

That same week the Leadership HS Network administrators and boards joined forces for a retreat to focus on policy development, good internal board practices, and support for school leaders. Held at the new Siembra Leadership High School, nearly thirty people from three schools gained some big picture take-away’s and promising practices before going into school-based teams to assess current efforts and upcoming opportunities for focus and growth.

 

 Leadership High School Network boards retreat

 Leadership High School Network boards retreat

My final NM summer outing was a day-long retreat with, and for, new amigos at the Media Arts Collaborative secondary school. The school seeks to prepare students for an education in the media arts at the university and community college level, as well helping students and families to understand the global role of media arts and how people’s lives are shaped by them. I was fortunate to meet Glenna Voight, the retiring Media Arts principal, at a CES conference last fall, and now count new leader Jonathan Dooley as a friend and colleague. I’ve also quickly grown fond of the school’s diverse, open-minded and accomplished staff.

 

 Media Arts Collaborative secondary school.

 Media Arts Collaborative secondary school.

Working with Media Arts’ middle and high school staff, the day was a mixed bag . We began by exploring concepts from learning science (most at odds with today’s linear learning, standards and testing regimen), exploring the not-so-hidden effects of industrial age schooling, and reviewing current national achievement data for context. We transitioned to hands-on project design through visual provocations of the kind I do in STEM schools, some re-imagining of teacher roles in that kind of inquiry-based learning motif, and finally, sharing personal milestones for the upcoming school year. An intense and rewarding day.

 

New Mexico has a number of small progressive schools proudly peeking out from under a layer of bureaucracy that has not resulted in achievement gains or social-emotional improvement over the past eight years. They’re holding their own conversations and moving forward smartly. They’re worth a visit, your interest and your support. Adelante, New Mexico. 

 

    

 

Albuquerque Convention Center Plaza

Albuquerque Convention Center Plaza

 

 

 

 

A School District That Sees the Whole Picture

Ken Facin poses a question in the Skype session

Ken Facin poses a question in the Skype session

I’ve been working with Superintendent Ken Facin and his Hoosick Falls NY team for several years now. We featured Ken in one of our ERC e-newsletters a few years ago as one of a small band of heroes seriously committed to wellness and social emotional development in schools, despite more than a decade of underfunding and relative de-emphasis in most school districts.

I first met Ken and his team in our home base of Cambridge when they were in town to attend a Harvard School of Education conference on instructional improvement. I walked into their hotel conference room to find test score charts and graphs taped up on 3 walls from floor to above my head. Despite the intense two days their team had experienced at the conference, focused on the minutiae of standards, progress monitoring, feedback on pacing outcomes, etc., we had an instant energy re-set when we began to talk about young people and how best to support their readiness to learn. Ken was quick to embrace the idea of social-emotional support as a prime achievement strategy and since then has been off and running. His district has steadily advanced in state and regional rankings, but more importantly there is a tangible sense of kindness and concern in the schools. He has put his mind to influencing both inside and beyond the schools to create a community that sees readiness to learn as the lever for almost everything else.

Hoosick Falls is a small rural district northeast of Albany, rich in tradition, but also experiencing many of the mental health and family challenges that come with low-income demographics. Add to that the academic pressures and myriad top-down mandates and policies that come with New York state’s heavy testing and teacher rating schema (one that seems to have shown little benefit, I must add) and one wonders at how Facin has so successfully nurtured the growth of a top-flight wellness team that has developed a high level of expertise and works seamlessly with school administrators. Over the past three years a focus on mindfulness has paved the way for a daily meditation session for everyone in the school and just ahead, planning with teachers for a restorative morning meeting for all students and staff in the middle and high school. It was this planning that brought me out to Hoosick Falls for a recent day-long session.

I was the presenter for the first of the day’s four phases, organized by Facin along with Dean of Students Mario Torres.  I focused my time on the foundations of building a culture of authentic relationships. I shared with the K-12 team of administrators, counselors and mental health professionals my contention that this kind of work, by its very nature, changes the “atomic structure” of schools, the fundamental relationships and “psychological contracts” between and among students and adults. I reminded the team that every day, each and every student is making a number of calculations about how much their teachers know and care for them, assessing how interested each adult is in their learning and well-being. When you strip away the academics, and along with them the power of the gradebook, the veneer of control, the compliance and teacher-pleasing orientation, it can be an unsettling, even raw experience for many teachers. Kids know right away when things are for real, as we know, and teachers are often already under the gun to cover far too much content and address test items.

Larry Myatt leading his session

Larry Myatt leading his session

I do a good deal of work helping schools tackle “classroom management” challenges and trying to salvage moribund or downright failing advisories. I learned as a school leader that when we attempt to introduce such ideas as advisory, mindfulness, or restorative practices, the success of those initiatives rests squarely on authentic relationships between adults and young people. Schools must provide the structures, opportunities for practice, language and modeling for students in order to learn that all good discipline is self-discipline. This is the “atomic level” work I talk about. Simply using a manual to learn a few group routines or convening kids in a circle does not go deep enough into exploring what adults and young people have a right to expect from each other. Adults must revisit, in supportive, collaborative settings, their personal commitments to the work and the impressions they convey each day, be they intentional or not. I left them with some big ideas to ponder, a number of readings, tools and activities to begin work with the teaching staff, who will also be invited into the planning of what the next steps will be.

I was followed by a presentation from Caitlin McCormack from the PEAR Institute, the Harvard School of Medicine and McLean Hospital initiative that supports schools and community organizations in understanding human developmental needs and employing a common language to communicate the strengths and challenges of children and youth.  I was pleased to be the matchmaker between the Hoosick Falls schools and PEAR, and over the past two years the collaboration has grown and provided a centerpiece for the work of the school’s leadership and wellness staffs. Caitlin is a Lead Facilitator for PEAR training and professional development programs and provides super helpful interpretation sessions for PEAR’s landmark Holistic Student Assessment. She shared group development theories and strategies with the Hoosick Falls team, walking them through one of the PEAR group approaches linked to HSA results in a fun, informative and inter-active session.

 

HFCSD Staff at Higher Ground Farm

HFCSD Staff at Higher Ground Farm

The last element of the morning was a Skype conference for the participants with Dr. Gil Noam, founder and director of The PEAR Institute and former editor-in-chief of the journal New Directions in Youth Development: Theory, Practice and Research. Dr. Noam has become well-known to the school’s team, hosting them in Boston and communicating regularly as their partnership grows. For nearly an hour, Dr. Noam fielded questions about theory and implementation and shared thoughts about the on-going roll-out of social-emotional programming in the schools.

True to form, Facin had yet another novel activity for the afternoon, a recent added expansion of the restorative programming which has helped the school to raise achievement levels, make the schools safer and more supportive environments for students and staff, and raise its profile in the region as a district on the move.  The team adjourned at midday to travel to the Higher Ground Farm where equine specialist Janet Botaish led the group through a version of the Hoosick Equine Connections Program. Janet’s program is affiliated with the Equine Assisted Growth and Learning Association (EAGALA) a leading international nonprofit association for professionals incorporating horses to address mental health and personal development needs.

Through their new partnership, the Hoosick Falls schools are developing a program that brings young people to the farm for activities designed to provide a peaceful, purposeful and therapeutic setting in which clients can experience change and growth, often more effectively and quickly than in traditional clinical and psycho-educational approaches. As Janet shared with us, the notion of working with horses is engaging, real time and hands-on. The experience is immediate and fully felt and I can testify that I was thinking of the activities and encounters with my new equine pals for several days.

Next up in Hoosick Falls is a 3-day Summer Retreat this coming July to advance the ideas of authentic relationship, a daily restorative ritual, and continued merging of the skill sets and perspectives of the wellness staff and the academic community. I’m looking forward to working with teachers and staff as we continue to restore to schools the idea that attending the whole child matters at each step along the upward path through the grades. And I’m looking forward to seeing what the next big ideas are from Ken!   

Dr. Larry Myatt, Co-Founder

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Finding a Foothold for STEAM Inquiry

Larry Myatt, ERC Co-Founder

The first time I heard mention of McLaughlin Middle School STEAM, I was part of a series of keynote remarks at a STEAM-Ahead event organized by Bob Baines, founder and Executive Director of STEAM-Ahead NH. It was held at Dyn, Corp. in Manchester, an early and passionate support of STEAM-Ahead. Here we were, assembled on the very cool work-floor meeting space of a major high-technology firm –community leaders, educators, policy makers and business and corporate representatives—easily a crowd of over a hundred. 

As part of the event, two McLaughlin students were asked to speak briefly about their learning on the school’s brand new STEAM team. Not only were these two 13-year olds poised and confident, they were able to speak in detailed, mature ways about their intellectual growth in a way I seldom hear (sadly) from middle-schoolers.

After the audience rewarded them warmly I went over and listened in as the students reconnected with their waiting teachers. I was impressed right away with the relationships among the small group and the very STEM-like debrief of form and content they conducted right away, informal but structured. “Something is going on over there”, I noted.

At that same event, the next group of students, from a STEAM team at Manchester’s West High School, not only talked about their project activities, they tasked the audience to engage on the spot in some table-based hands-on design challenges. Another home run with the crowd.

The kids I met there that day were not all the typical “best-and-the-brightest”, pre-screened into the programs, but, I was told, a very mixed ability groups of kids. Yet each one I met was capable of a level of “meta” thinking that told me these are capable, growing young people. I would have loved to have had my own kids in this kind of school setting.

Much to my delight, I got an email not too much later from Bob Baines, asking if I could accompany him to meet McLaughlin teachers and Principal Bill Krantz on my next visit to STEAM at West. The meeting was great. We exchanged perspectives and ideas on where we thought things stood and how they could develop. I could tell right away these teachers were game, had an appetite to grow and learn, and inquiry teaching and projects had rejuvenated and inspired them.

Baines brought key ingredients, a vision of connected programming in the city and incentive funding from the NH Department of Education grant and the local Bean Foundation, for release time and the needed high-touch coaching and professional development as the school planned for growing the STEAM program. The meeting resulted in a commitment for me to begin work there this past winter.

I’ve just finished a recent couple days there on an arc of deep conversation that the teachers engaged in quickly and intensely. As usual, we talk about the constraints of traditional school structure and flaws in the design, and how they mitigate against deep learning. We move on to productive practices, sharing what they notice about their students’ learning, what things feed them as teachers to endure the relentless pace, and milestone achievements they hope they can pursue. Wherever I travel, sharing ideas is most often cited as one of the highlights for teachers when we do our debriefs. So many teachers are hungry for a chance at serious, meaningful conversation that they don’t get often enough.

McLaughlin founding STEAM-er’s Callahan Goulet and Christina Stavenger brought a thoughtful and research-based DIY approach to early STEAM. They traveled and visited people doing similar work in and beyond STEAM-Ahead NH. They began to use their energy, collaboration and commitment to work differently with kids.

They opened up their classroom dividing walls; students sit in small teams facing each other, Chromebooks at the ready, orderly yet buzzing on the days I visit. Things are often hands-on here, connected to important issues in the world, and pursued in a team fashion that closely mimics the “21st century workplace environment we espouse but seldom replicate in most schools.

In our sessions we’ve worked to grow cognitive dissonance (and put it to best use), conducted charrettes to plan projects, mapped out big ideas and questions from their standards,  created and unpacked Learning Murals via our Visual Provocation Protocol. We created an early draft of a year-long array of projects and activities, smartly blended with direct instruction, drill and practice, lecture burst, etc., hallmarks of more traditional teaching. It’s a nice mix of pedagogy that invites different learning styles. Much of what they do is really good for learning, but to many it’s different and unfamiliar. It’s different for some students, and to teacher peers, and for some parents who want to see “teaching” that they recognize and consider good instruction from their school days. The STEAM teachers understand the reasons behind this range of opinions as accept it as part of trying to do business differently. Their job is to help more kids grow and be successful without putting traditional learners at risk, something far better done through inquiry teaching than by other means I find, and research suggests.

Our adult work is scholarly. I push. We talk a lot about the need to erase lines –the lines between subject matter and big ideas, the schedule and the pacing that move things along in a way that makes it hard for many kids to thrive as thinkers, as growing adolescents finding out what they may capable of. The STEAM teachers respond with thoughtful ideas and questions. To me, it’s what “PLC’s” (I dislike acronyms) could really be like. It’s the kind of intellectual work I recognize from being a teaching principal at Fenway High School, and the kind of intellectual work that experience, research and neuroscientists tell us is good for our brains and is the way more schools are going to do business.

I add here that I don’t like the acronym “PBL” either. Too easy to see it as an idea grafted loosely on to conventional teaching, as “dessert”. Instead, I like wrapping all these ideas up as inquiry learning, part of the overdue yet irresistible shift from the culture of teaching to a culture of learning. I see inquiry learning as an effort to get beyond the persistent mental model that one gains knowledge by “the presentation of established facts” -a mental model that portrays a false but appealingly smooth path to knowledge.  Whether it’s posing big questions, building and making, pursuing problems or wrestling down real-life scenarios, I see these as kindred brands of inquiry learning. These are the ways in which learning opportunities surface in the “real world”, quite different from those that are briefly granted on the academic conveyor belt, a set of sorting processes within a setting that remain intentionally apart from people and daily life.

But programs like STEAM need different conditions, more like the “real-world”. The track record of support for these efforts is poor in many districts and schools. Work of this kind can happen more routinely in affluent, independent settings, but in public schools it often bumps up against the predictable obstacles –history, culture, systems clash. (*For a great primer on these issues, see Charles Percy’s acute “So Much Reform”). Programming like STEAM is routinely unable to grow and thrive inside the traditional architecture of our secondary schools, sooner or later being sucked back into the traditional schedule, contract, instructional motif, culture and belief system. Add to that budget cuts, larger class sizes, and a teach-to-the-test mind-set and calendar that constrain deeper learning, and it’s not easy going for a seedling to emerge and plant itself firmly, be it Manchester or elsewhere.

I’m rooting for everyone at the McLaughlin. I see the STEAM program as good stuff for kids and teachers, connected to practices and perspectives that we sorely need given the poor results of our last 15 years of policies and mandates. If standards and testing was the right recipe, the private schools would have joined in long ago, right? The STEAM brand of teaching, just like that at their sister school, West High, can be a good fit for the high-achiever, but not only him/her, but also for the newly-emerging thinker who wants to take school more seriously than it takes him/her, for the student who likes to build and tinker rather than listen, and for the curious kids who like to ask what it all means. That’s why colleges and employers are after students who have some STEAM experience in their education. And it’s good for the teachers I see and work with--they get to plan, to grow, to take each other seriously as people and professionals. Here’s hoping the McLaughlin program can grow and prosper.

If you have more questions about what inquiry learning can look like , projects and achievement, etc. you can go to these Web links:

Positive brain development from hands-on learning:
http://news.stanford.edu/2015/07/06/symmetry-math-schwartz-070615/

Inquiry and projects in the private school world: https://www.hudsonlabschool.com/blog/2017/4/1/studies-demonstrating-the-benefits-of-project-based-learning

Inquiry learning with high-challenge schools and students: http://www.educationresourcesconsortium.org/news/2015/11/15/change-at-the-roots-level-anatomy-of-an-urban-school-renewal?rq=urban%20

Math in the middle years:
https://www.bie.org/object/document/pbl_in_middle_grades_mathematics

STEAM Ahead NH:  http://www.steamaheadnh.com/

 

Volume 1, ERC EdHistory 101 Project

Ellwood Cubberley (1868-1941)

Applying industrial management theory to school leadership was the signature idea of Ellwood Cubberley, giving rise to what we experience as modern school administration.

Cubberley was born in Andrews, Indiana, and was educated at the University of Indiana and Columbia University. After brief stints as a classroom teacher, college instructor and president of Vincennes University, Cubberley became superintendent of schools in San Diego-a position that influenced his long career as professor and dean of the School of Education at Stanford University.

At the outset of Cubberley's career, school administration had little or no theoretical or scientific basis. There were no formal textbooks from which to teach educational administration. Administrators were expected to learn solely from experience. Indeed, educational administration posts were routinely political plums, requiring little, if any, formal training in education.

Relying on new industrial management science theories, Cubberley designed an “administrative” system for schools, led by a professional class of superintendents and principals. His hierarchical model professionalized school leadership at that time and became the standard.As head of the Department of Education at Stanford, Cubberley trained cohorts of administrators in the “science of school management”.                       

To some, Cubberly is a controversial figure in the history of education. He has been criticized for his emphasis on efficiency and bureaucracy to solve complex educational problems. For example, Cubberley wrote: “We should give up the exceedingly democratic idea that all are equal and that our society is devoid of classes. The employee tends to remain an employee; the wage earner tends to remain a wage earner.”

In the 1934 edition of Ellwood P. Cubberley’s Public Education in the United States he is explicit - a statement occurs in a section of Public Education called "A New Lengthening of the Period of Dependence," in which he explains that the coming of the factory system, which has deprived children of the training and education that farm and village life once gave, has made extended childhood necessary. With the breakdown of home and village industries, the passing of chores, and the extinction of the apprenticeship system by large-scale production with its extreme division of labor, an army of workers has arisen who have little or no knowledge.Furthermore, modern industry needs such workers.”

9280-Ellwood_Cubberley_bio.jpg

According to Cubberley, with "much ridicule from the public press" the old book-subject curriculum was set aside, replaced by a change in purpose and "a new psychology of instruction which came to us from abroad." That reference to a new psychology refers to collectively-developing practices of European schooling particularly common to England, Germany, and France, three other major world coal-powers investing heavily in military and industrial science.

His influence extended far beyond the nature of training and certification of administrators. His writing was powerful and influential concerning what constituted the best situations and arrangements for learning from childhood into adulthood. Communities across the nation strived for decades, as a matter of public pride, to adopt the practices and systems that he espoused. 

For better or for worse, Cubberley’s influence on American schools has been deep and lasting. He is the father of professionalized school administration, and his beliefs regarding the acquired knowledge of the times and the ways to apply it to America’s citizenry influenced learners, parents, teachers and administrators through the Second World War and beyond.

Thanks to PBS School & the Odysseus Group

In NH’s White Mountains: STEM, Inquiry, and Technology—an Integrated Platform for School Change

Katrina Kennett, ERC Consulting Practitioner

Katrina Kennett, ERC Consulting Practitioner

Mike Berry is a man with a plan.

Although he has some constraints ---he’s pretty far from a lot of places, he’s limited in his pay scale, and other schools like to “borrow” his staff— he has shared a vision that is catching on. “More success for more kids” is his simple driver.

With support from his district administration, and with smart convening of local business and community members to explain and gain support for his ideas, Berry is bringing his North Country school to prominence and setting up to transform its design from the 19th to the 21st century.

White Mountains Regional High School is an exciting place to work. You can come here to grow as an educator. For me, it’s a return to my roots – I grew up in Concord NH --and it’s great to see this kind of work flourishing in the Granite State. We’ve had a decade-long run of master planning, testing and conventional thinking. Some people are betting on performance assessment, blended technology approaches, competency-based grading, or yet another (!) revival of mastery learning. None of these change the fundamental arrangements of school, arrangements that no longer serve us. As someone who plies her trade helping schools to plan super-thoughtfully and involve students in deep ways, it’s exciting to find this kind of work.

 

STEM as one launching pad

Among other things, Berry caught on to the promise of STEAM Ahead-NH and has invested in a new vertical STEM initiative coordinated by Mellissa Jellison. Next year, they will add a new grade cohort and, with the addition of an arts/design component, become STEAM.  Central to Jellison and her colleagues’ work is inquiry teaching and putting the “thrill” back into students’ daily experiences.  Mike is totally on board with that shift as a lever to achieve his mission of more success for more kids, and is using ERC tools to move it forward, flattening out leadership, and inviting others who are excited to help grow and contribute.

I made my way back to NH from Illinois when Mike Berry was looking for STEM professional development and connected with my colleague and ERC Co-Founder Larry Myatt.  Berry says that potential vendors for STEM p.d. came out of the woodwork, but in a conference call he and his people recognized Larry’s breadth of experience and proof points, and his “DIY” approach to renewing schools resonated with them. By DIY, we mean that we believe that schools don’t need the pre-packaged, highly prescriptive “how-to” manuals to be great, but that school people can believe in themselves, marshal their resources, and grow their own capacity to improve and flourish.

Mike Berry at Fall Forum

Mike Berry at Fall Forum

Upon arriving, Larry connected right away with staff, brought in some new “big ideas” and framing that resonated with Berry’s own philosophy.  Larry also helps to coach the administrative team on moving the changes forward.  Says Berry, “The mantra that we’ve taken from ERC is the need for shift from a culture of teaching to a culture of learning, and all that goes with that. We believe we can build it right here, and do what’s been almost impossible for high schools to do up to now – take a traditional model and transform it for students who’ll take over a world we adults can’t even understand.”

 

Teachers as Learners

My work with Berry has been in supporting his staff as they learn about technology and integrate it to support inquiry practices in their classrooms. In interactive, large-group workshops (in-person and remotely), I invite teachers to have fun being learners with new tools and platforms, even when it’s frustrating or confusing, as new technology can be. This means they do all the things we want students doing – working hands -on, discovering, struggling, and reflecting, then applying their experience and knowledge to their own ongoing work.

In my conversations with teachers as they learn with new tools, I keep bringing them back to three critical questions: What do you want your students to walk away knowing? What kinds of questions would you like your students to be asking?  What’s the “so what,’ and why is it important? 

Mellison Jellison and STEAM 9 students

Mellison Jellison and STEAM 9 students

Not a ‘one-and-done’ version of learning with technology, our sessions provide devoted time to look at a variety of tools for curating and archiving student work. And, I use research-based instructional strategies that bring together teachers’ learning over time. One of my favorite strategies is the use of EdCafes, (See link) which almost always raise the levels of energy and creativity in a collegial setting that transfers directly to work with students.

However, direct support of teachers isn’t enough to sustain meaningful school-wide change. My sessions need to be part of a larger, overall story of change within a culture of learning – instructional, cultural, intellectual (for both students and teachers), and developmental.
 

It’s big and it’s challenging, but that’s what it takes and that’s why I love this work. To help the instructional leaders work both on-the-ground and at the 10,000 foot level, I coach them to keep their sights on those three core questions as they work with faculty. This coaching involves assessing ongoing school PD rhythms and routines, helping folks to keep an eye on outcomes, and continuing to create authentic situations for teachers to present their ongoing practice. I see it as solid and intentional instructional design. White Mountains’ administrators and coaches have joined me in “thinking like a teacher” as they support the intellectual and creative growth of their staff. 

 

Down the Road

There are other moving parts to the White Mountains DIY plan. Ron Danault, a veteran computer instructor is thriving in an on-going MIT-designed coding seminar that helps him to teach programming by becoming a coder himself. That work is part of “TeachCode Academy”, a partnership among the Governor’s STEM task force, STEAM-Ahead NH,  the Manchester School District, UNH-Manchester, and Dyn Corporation. To me, Ron is a great example of a sharp teacher taking on new challenges.  Berry has also invited CTE people from culinary arts, horticulture, and pre-veterinary studies, among others, to join STEAM professional development activities delving into inquiry-teaching and being a part of project design and tuning. Myatt recently worked with the entire high school staff for a big picture exploration of instructional design of their own making and flavor, using an inquiry approach to build teacher and student curiosity and capacity.

In early December, Berry presented a portion of his plan at a national Coalition of Essential Schools conference in Providence, RI.  Joining him there for an intense three days of workshops, networking and progressive education history were Jellison, Ryan Patterson, science teacher with the STEAM team, and Jeanine LaBounty, who now supports teachers at the school in addition to her teaching. I was there to see Mike’s pitch and it reminded me why I’m excited about my work with WMRHS. They believe in themselves! They are invested in developing their own capacity to decide what and how to teach, how to turn more over to the students, and in each other. It’s a great story at a time when other schools think they have to buy blended learning platforms and color-coded diagnostics to make their schools better.

Larry addresses White Mountain staff

Larry addresses White Mountain staff

In the near future, Berry envisions more External Learning Opportunities (ELO’s) to connect students with their passions and with resources beyond the confines of the school. He sees opportunities for more plentiful and robust internships, coordinated by teacher Patsy Ainsworth.  Part of the big idea is to be intentional about bringing community members into the high school to work directly with students. He is also interested in networking with other ERC schools that are committed to projects and inquiry, becoming a regional “center of activity” – a place where people recognize that they can learn from the thoughtful things that are happening. Under consideration is hosting a summertime school development and re-design institute with instructional, technology, and leadership strands. I’m counting on being a part of that!

I’m rooting for these proud and independent educators and am pleased and proud of their commitment to Mike Berry’s words, making school a place of more success for more kids.

STEAM 9 classroom with Ryan Patterson coaching a forensics examination

STEAM 9 classroom with Ryan Patterson coaching a forensics examination

For more on this story – contact katrina@educationresourcesconsortium.org

 

 

Greetings and Happy New Year from ERC

All signs point to 2017 being an interesting year.

We’ve been asking our colleagues and friends in different parts of the nation about the mood in their communities and schools. Some of the concerns we heard weren’t surprising: anxiety over what we can expect from the incoming administration, and from the Congress; more debate on charter schools; how to meet the demand for services to struggling children and families. We also heard about trying to find more helpful, and more worthy, accountability approaches than school report cards (that’s been a refrain for a while now); how to honor the demand for personalization in standardized school environments; how to keep the excitement of learning in a time of standards and testing, etc.

In the face of these many issues some school people, good soldiers they are, will gear up for yet another proscribed run at success, likely guided by a master plan that emanated from a state department of education, a well-intentioned philanthropy with its own pet framework and money to lend , or a think tank associated with someone’s agenda.  Or some hybrid of all three. However, as we urged last fall, (see link) other folks are beginning to coalesce around a “DIY” mentality, feeling that this is a good time to break from the cycle of the last 15 years,  to think more transformationally, to believe in their own capacity and skills.

In keeping with our belief that there is no time like now for school folks to take matters into our own hands in 2017, we will be featuring stories of schools on the move, and adding some cogent topics as a part of EdHistory 101 Project – a new effort to revisit some key historical events and perspectives that continue to shape schooling in this country. We believe that knowing our history – the issues, beliefs,  and language of other times-  presents opportunities for us to reframe and reimagine.  

To accompany our EdHistory 101 Project we continue to offer coaching, expertise, strategies, speakers and facilitators and TREK (see link) resources for schools wanting to look at serious redesign.

If you’re curious and want to connect with us and others who want to have a different kind of conversation about the future of schools in your community, please contact us.

We wish you an energetic and rewarding New Year in your work with schools, communities, partners, parents and students.

 

See Wayne's New Year's resolution link here.

 

Larry Myatt and Wayne Ogden    

Co-Founders