Church, History, Education: What’s the relationship? #ISTE2015

I arrived in Philadelphia for the annual #iste2015 educational conference to facilitate a blended learning workshop. Having taught history earlier in my career, I always enjoy taking in the local history. On Sunday morning, I decided to attend church at Christ Church, known as the “the Nation’s Church” since it was built in 1744, seven of the signers of the Declaration of Independence are buried in the nearby burial grounds and it was the church attended by Benjamin Franklin, George Washington and Betsy Ross among others. The 9:00am Episcopalian service was attended by about 100 people and was officiated by the Rev. Susan Richardson.

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The Rev. Richardson began her sermon with “It’s been a hell of a week!” First, she talked about the tragic killing of 9 people at the Charleston Emanuel African American Methodist Episcopal church and the inspirational eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and singing of “Amazing Grace” by President Barack Obama. Next she discussed the senseless terrorist attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait and France. Then she discussed the decisions of the Supreme Court this past week. First, on Thursday, the decision of the court to “keep the Affordable Care Act on the table”so that millions of Americans would not suddenly lose their health care. Then, the historic decision on Friday that struck down state bans on same sex marriage. And then, in the Episcopal Church, they elect a “presiding Bishop” every nine years. Bishop Michael Curry was the first African American Bishop elected in the Episcopal Church and he is following the first female Bishop elected by an Anglican church.

She then turned our attention to the Bible reading of the day, which was the story of a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and touched the cloak of Jesus Christ and was then healed (Mark 5:21-43).  The Rev. Richardson then asked rhetorically, “so what is the connection between the events of the past week and this reading?” She went on to explain that we are all human and that we seek connectedness and relationships with others.

As an educator, Catholic, father and as a gay man, I could not have agreed with her message more. Life really is about being human, connecting to others and relationships. Good educational leaders know that relationships built with colleagues causes others to think and transform in new ways – especially in the field of educational technology, blended learning and online learning. Good teachers also know that the best way to impact student learning is by building relationships with each individual student, learning about the interests and abilities of each individual student and then challenging them where they are at.

The message of Rev. Susan Richardson in Christ Church in Philadelphia almost 250 years after its founding validates the progress that has been made in America. It also illustrates the importance of valuing each person and respecting their opinion, while at the same time valuing the discourse. It took many years before the Declaration of Independence was shared for the first time on July 4, 1774. The Declaration was written and debated and developed for many years before it was officially proclaimed. In order for that to happen, there was much compromise, connectedness and relationship building.

Even more important today, for American society, churches and schools to remain viable, our relationships with one another, how we are each human, our ability to connect with one another as well as respect one another for who we are and where we are each at – are important qualities that lead to a successful nation, successful churches and successful schools.

How can there be school districts in Ca that cannot access the Internet? #ccss #caedchat

I just find it hard to believe in this day and age that in California, there are school districts that do not have access to the Internet. Will all of the brain power and innovation and universities, surely a simple solution can be figured out. And, from another perspective, how is it that these school districts have not figured out how to make this happen for their students long before now?  And, wow, if this is one byproduct of Common Core testing – that all students in California have access to the Internet at school – then that is a nice unintentional consequence.

According to this article, some key quotes:

  • But upgrading the remaining 47 school sites – six to nine of which have no Internet at all – has proven problematic.
  • “The 47 school sites that remain are some of the most difficult to connect, often because of geographical barriers or just not having businesses with an interest in connecting those areas,” CDE spokeswoman Monique Ramos told committee members. “We are working on trying to find solution for those districts.”

Announcing a New Direction: ForwarDirections #collegeadmissions #nomoredropouts

My doctoral research five years ago was all about why students drop out of high school. I was surprised to learn that historically 70% of students complete high school with a diploma, and that statistic is less for African American and Latino males (50%). The decision to drop out of school is complex but it is a factor of being engaged in school (involved in clubs or sports or performing arts), how classes are taught, support systems in place, peer relationships, and the discipline policies in place. (My dissertation and research can be found here).

Many students make one mistake in high school and then end up expelled from school. The research shows that one of the many factors that can help students to be successful through their high school years is the presence of a caring adult. Now this adult can be a parent or teacher or counselor or church leader or scout leader. In much of the research, mentoring programs – those that pair at-risk students with adult mentors – are also successful in helping students to complete high school. The problem is that mentoring programs take time, money and human resources to be effective and are often difficult to become part of the ongoing funding and culture of the regular school program. For the students involved in school academics, clubs, sports or performing arts, they generally find that other caring adult in addition to their parents. But for the students who are not involved in these types of school activities, they are less likely to have access to those types of caring adults.

I have been wrestling with these thoughts over the past five years and wondering what type of system could better support all students. The first phase of providing a system towards this direction is the ForwarDirections College Career and Coaching Team. My colleague Carole Smoot and I have established ForwarDirections as a non-profit in California to develop a support network to guide students in the process of applying to college from their freshman year of high school through their freshman year of college.

FD-Logo_FinalOur first phase is a fee-based college and career system for students who choose to join us. We hope in the future to secure funding so that a number of students may be part of a scholarship program so we can serve a wider network of students. We also know that applying to college is largely a state-by-state process because of how high schools in different states interact with colleges and how each state has their own set of colleges. So, we are starting with our service to students in California, but hope we can expand our ideas into other states in the future. We have also been involved in securing a certificate in college admissions counseling so we can better understand the overall process, read the research and learn how to best support students in the complex process of career and college decision making.

We have spent the last year working with our first students and learned a lot about the support systems needed to support a small group of students from a distance using a variety of online tools. We believe the 21st century model of college and career counseling is one that is directed by student interests, guided by adult career coaches and provides a safe online environment where students can share ideas with one another.  Future posts will provide some of the research that has informed our direction.

In the meantime, if you’re interested in receiving our monthly newsletter, feel free to sign up and join us. And feel free to “Like” our Facebook page. We are both excited about this next part of our journey in supporting students.

Building a digital learning mindset, the moon belongs to everyone #dlday

The yearly celebration of Digital Learning Day causes all of us to think about what it really means to be a digital educator. I have written about the continuum from textbook enhanced to online teaching and learning, how blended learning intersects with the SAMR model and what blended learning is and is not. The real challenge is how does one change a mindset?

At first I thought it was about changing the culture. But after thinking more about this, it really comes down to changing a person’s mindset. Many of us who have worked in education have witnessed the purchase of large quantities of digital projectors or computers in our schools … only to see them collect dust in a closet or corner. So, to change a person’s mindset takes more than a bunch of devices in a classroom.

Many school districts have provided ongoing professional development (a better term is now “professional learning”) about how to integrate technology in the classroom. And then you walk into those classrooms and teachers have students using textbooks or paper based resources as part of their teaching and learning.

As I think about what changes a person’s mindset, I came across this recent interview with Colin Powell, former Secretary of State and the first African American in that position during the Bush administration. He was being interviewed about 50 Years since the Selma march, but at the end of the interview, he was asked about the email issues being encountered by Hillary Clinton. He did not respond to that question, but he did share something that helps to change people’s mindsets about the use of technology. He said, “In order to change the culture, to change the brainware, as I call it, I started using it [email] in order to get everybody to use it, so we could be a 21st century institution and not a 19th century…” 

The museum world is also struggling with the use of technology and I found this blogpost also speaks to how to change a mindset. Entitled “The moon belongs to everyone: embracing a digital mindset in museums“, Mike Murawski shared several important thoughts. If you simply replace the word “museum” with “school” or “education” it is all the same:

  • “As we focus more and more on digital and online experiences, are we sacrificing any of the human-centered elements that have been at the core of museum education for more than a century? If your museum lost power, how would that affect the learning experiences in the galleries and across programming?”
  • “this challenge is absolutely not about technology, which we are often guilty of fetishising as a solution to problems. It is first and foremost about audience and the ways in which digital technologies are changing their behaviours: at work, at home, on the move, learning, playing, questioning, socialising, sharing, communicating. Forever. – Jane Finnis”
  • “Technology should not govern the museums’ work. But in order to learn and understand how we can use new technologies and benefit from the opportunities they open up for us, we must explore and incorporate not just technologies themselves, but also changes in behaviour and expectations they prompt in users. We must think like users. – Jane Finnis”
  • “If museums are to remain relevant, vital and meaningful, then they must adapt to a changing society, which means not only recognizing and incorporating new digital tools for communication, but more importantly, recognizing the changing needs and aspirations of society as reflected in their communities of physical and virtual visitors” – Susana Smith Bautista, Museums in the Digital Age 

Let’s Not Test All Students Because 60 Can’t Connect #CCSS #DigitalLearning #sbac #pencilchat #edchat

A report in California suggests that to connect up to 60 students could cost as much as $2 million dollars per student. Since it is so expensive to connect these students, then perhaps we should not require any student in California to take the test.

In California we have adopted the Common Core Standards and is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC). In the past week, the state legislative analysts office (LAO), a non-political entity, issued a report to the state legislature and Governor suggesting that to have every student connected in California in order to take the computer based test could cost $2 million dollars per student (Mentioned within this entire report). Apparently there are 64 schools that do not have the right Internet bandwidth to administer the test based on trials last year. However, some of them were able to administer the test if they shut down the Internet only for testing during the testing period, which leaves 9 schools which serve 60 students that were not able to administer the computer / Internet based test. The LAO report suggests that these students could take the paper version of the test or that they could take the test one student at a time and even SBAC officials stated, “Smarter Balanced officials estimate that about 50 elementary-age students could be tested in the 12-week testing period if they were tested one at a time.”

Now, let’s step back a minute and imagine that 20 of those students are in one classroom and each one of them takes the test individually. Depending on the grade level, that would have to be some type of rotation into the one room with one computer and each student might take 3 days with one individual person to administer the test. What would the rest of the students be doing? Imagine a 12-week computer station rotation model built into the normal school day.

Now let’s imagine back to the early days of testing or even teaching. Can’t you just hear these words echoing in hallways of school buildings in history?

  • Every student does not have a pencil, so we can’t do the math problems today
  • Every student does not have a pen, so we can’t practice our cursive writing today
  • Every student does not have a textbook, so we can’t teach history today
  • Every student does not have a computer, so we should not teach with technology
  • Every student cannot connect to the Internet, so we should not teach students to go online
  • Every student cannot afford a hand held device, so we should not use them for learning
  • Every student cannot take the computer based test, so we should not administer the test

Surely (and especially in California), there must be a solution to connect these 60 students that costs less than $2 million per student.

And the reason we should connect every student in California should not be because of a test, but because it is an equity issue so that every student (and teacher) has access to incredible educational resources outside of the classroom.

Reflections on December #Ed initiatives #FutureReady #Investinus and #collegeopportunity

I wanted to take a minute to reflect on three different summits that were held by the The White House and Department of Ed in November and December 2014 that are all important to the future of education.

First, the #FutureReady Summit invited various K-12 school superintendents to the White House to listen and to share about ways to make all schools future ready (See recordings of the event here). Superintendents at that gathering signed their Future Ready pledges via handheld device, iPads or computers during the summit – it was cool to see the “just in time” technology map show the location of each person as they signed the Future Ready pledge. Superintendents, through their pledge agreed to:

  • Foster and lead a culture of digital learning within our schools
  • Help schools and families transition to high-speed connectivity
  • Empower educators through professional learning opportunities
  • Accelerate progress toward universal access for all students to quality devices
  • Provide access to quality digital content
  • Offer digital tools to help students and families reach higher (#collegeopportunity)
  • Mentor other districts and help them transition to digital learning

Now, there are regional future ready summits for 2015. Check the listings to find one in your neighborhood to continue the conversation.

Next came the Early Education Summit (#InvestinUs summit) which focused on the importance of early education. One of the facts shared during this summit was that “every $1 invested in early education today can save more than $8 in the future.” As part of this summit, various companies and organizations committed funding to support early education. This Early Education Fact Sheet shows how over $330 million was committed during the summit and $750 million in new federal grants are available for early education initiatives. Who could not be moved by this 6-year-old introducing the President of the United States as the opening of the Early Education Summit:

Then, at the other end of the public education spectrum came the White House College Opportunity Day of Action (#collegeopportunity). This summit brought together college presidents to share and talk about ways to empower more young people to attend college. As I think most people can agree and was emphasized during this summit, “The key to success in today’s economy is higher education, which is why expanding opportunity for more students to enroll and succeed in college, especially low-income and underrepresented students, is vital to building a strong middle class.” A list of actions by many state colleges and universities was shared during the summit. Also emphasized was the president’s “North star” goal that President’s “North Star” goal — that by 2020, America will once again have the highest proportion of college graduates in the world. First Lady Michelle Obama provides energy to this direction via the Reach Higher initiative.

Education is important at all levels. Research has shown this reportedly throughout history. It is good to see the White House sponsoring these gatherings to amplify the importance of investing in education at all levels.

#whatif #blendedlearning and happy new year

Education Secretary Arne Duncan sent out this tweet on January 1: “What if every district committed both to identifying what made their 5 best schools successful & providing those opps to all their students?

Let’s see what other “what ifs” would I like to offer?

  • What if all teachers who had access to technology used the technology to personalize learning for ever student?
  • What if all superintendents and principals and other educational leaders knew how to lead their schools so that every teacher continually improved, felt empowered and encouraged to innovate?
  • What if all students came to school ready to learn?
  • What if all parents knew how to best support their children in learning?
  • What if all families made enough money to feed and support their households?
  • What if all students attended college?
  • What if all students felt engaged and encouraged every day they attended school?
  • What if, across the U.S., we had 100% graduation rate?
  • What if there were no more high school drop outs?
  • What if all kids of color graduated from high school and attended college at the same rate as Asian and Anglo kids?
  • What if all kids who ended up in the juvenile court system were eventually successful in school?
  • What if all kids who are in the foster care system were adopted by families who provided them the kind of supports needed to be college and career ready instead of living much of their lives in group homes?

What would you add to this “Whatif” list? Check out the Twitter hashtag #whatif to view other ideas.

All of these “what ifs” are questions that have been asked by educators and researchers for years. Yet, each student is an individual with individual characteristics that ends up in the U.S. factory model school system. Some students thrive and some student do not. It is those students who do not thrive that we need to continue to innovate and empower teachers to reach so that the over all educational system is more successful for all students.

There is work to be done. Let us continue to identify those variables that most impact learning and empower teachers. Happy New Year!


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