On the ground learning at the foot of the great masters

During Thanksgiving Break my husband and I went to Spain. Barcelona and Madrid, to be exact. It was a glorious trip of a lifetime filled with wine, jamón, more wine and exuberant, heart-wrenching, fanciful as well as curious art. For eight days we toured one museum a day and on some days we toured two. I felt so lucky to be paired up with a man that loves a good museum as much as I do. It’s in our blood, we were taught to love museums and the masters of great art.

Outside el Prado. Madrid.

Outside el Prado en Madrid. Preparing to for a day of learning, focusing on el Greco, one of Spain’s greatest masters.

And everywhere we went there were school children out for a day of learning, sitting at the foot of great masters with their teachers explaining the symbolism, the history, the techniques of the great masters. Asking students over and over, “What do you see? What do you notice? What does this make you consider and think about?” 

One of my favorite stories told by my husband Jerry is his 6th grade trip to the museums of Chicago. Jerry was raised in Jackson, Michigan (a city not known for great museums) and back in the 70’s his 6th grade teacher decided that his students needed to go to Chicago to understand and appreciate great art, culture and learning. They raised money all year and they got tickets to take the train down to Chicago, stay in a hotel and for one entire week of the school year, the teacher, some parent chaperones and a class of twenty-six 6th graders were on the ground learning at the foot of great masters.

at la Reina Sofia, Spain's national museum of 20th-century art.

Reina Sofia, Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art.

I grew up in the Chicago suburbs. I’m completely spoiled when it comes to museums. Every year I would go with my class mates and on separate family occasions to the Art Institute, Field Museum of Natural History, Museum of Science and Industry, the Adler Planetarium, the Shedd Aquarium and sometimes the smaller lesser known museums like the Chicago History Museum or the DuSable Museum of African American History. I really thought everyone visited museums on a regular basis.

I was wrong.

Everyone doesn’t have access to museums. Great museums, truly great museums, are located near the fortunate few who live in large metropolitan areas. I learned this when I moved to New Mexico when I started teaching and I asked my students where they wanted to go on their 8th grade field trip. They said “the shopping mall” with unrestrained excitement and glee. I remember thinking, what kind of teacher would take her students to the shopping mall? But, when you live an hour and half away from Albuquerque and you don’t go to the mall every weekend and weeknight to hang out and know what it’s like to do that, the mall seems a special place.

So, you take the kids to the mall and you squeeze in a trip to the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science. And the following year, you take that group to Santa Fe for a trip to the mall and also New Mexico Museum of Art.  But, that was over twenty years ago when I started teaching.

Spending time in Spain during the holiday seeing hundreds of students visit the museums made me wonder about education in our country.

Studying surrealism at la Reina Sofia.

Studying surrealism at la Reina Sofia.

I know my last few years in the classroom my team mates and I were questioning our yearly trip to Denver to visit its museums. We didn’t know if we should take the time away from learning the curriculum that would be assessed on the state tests. I know many of my colleagues in education wrestle with these same questions today. “Maybe we can take one day,” we reason, “if we can find the money to pay for the buses and the entrance fees and the nurse who needs to come with, and the parents.”

It’s not easy planning field trips. It’s very, very, very complicated. Finding chaperones, organizing time schedules, orchestrating bus logistics, coordinating student medications and student accessibility needs. It can take weeks of planning for one day.

But what an important day. 

guernicaI studied Spanish for 6 years in school, from 7th to 12th grade I took it and in every textbook, in the section on Spanish culture, there would be a picture of Picasso’s Guernica.

It was hard to understand the significance of Guernica. There would be pictures of melting clocks and swirling dots of Salvidor Dali and Joan Miro and flowers and Frida with her big eyebrows in the textbook. But it was Guernica who would make Señora Arispe tear up. It was Guernica she said moved a country. None of us really understood the terror of Franco and how glorious the feeling was in Spain during the 80’s; finally free from dictatorship and inhumane government induced suffering.

But, for six years I learned that this work of art was important and so when I travelled to Spain and saw it huge and in person for the first time, with the maturity of an adult finally able to comprehend the suffering of the Spanish people through the world wars, their civil war, and their hundred year fight for democracy, I was struck with blinding gratefulness that I had been taught to appreciate and revere this work of art as an American teenager in the hope that one day, I would understand the lesson of humanity and the fragility of our collective presence on this earth.

I wonder now if anything I ever taught in the classroom made such an impression on my students. One that so when they grew up, they remembered learning that something was so important, that even if they didn’t fully understand the significance at the time, had an opportunity to do so as an adult.

Seeing the students in Spain sitting on the floor of great museums, learning from their teachers makes me wish we never stop to take the time to provide our students with the knowledge of critical works of cultural importance in museums, in textbooks, and in our classrooms. It’s important.

LHS DECA Award Winners

A Proposition for Expanded Entrepreneurial Experience

Don’t go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first. ~ Mark Twain

As I scroll through my Twitter and RSS feeds, a single day does not go by where I do not  see a headline about the enormous social and intellectual benefits of entrepreneurship in education.

The STEM movement’s emphasis on science, technology, engineering and mathematics has been a positive innovation for our field. The addition of “design thinking” to our educational mindset has resulted in increased opportunities for innovation and entrepreneurialism in our educational settings. Design thinking helps us process authentic problems for our students to solve, opportunities for creative thinking to evolve and productive collaboration in any subject matter content.

We have actively endeavored to integrate entrepreneurial thinking in many of our classrooms, but where are we giving students the opportunity to truly BE entrepreneurs?  That is the question I have been wrestling with as a P-12 education leader.

Can We Teach Students to Be Entrepreneurs?

Angus Chen explains Why the Typical Business School Class Can Never Teach You to Be an Entrepreneur. He says colleges and universities are facing what many would say is a potentially unsolvable problem. They’re trying to train the next crop of entrepreneurs through programs and coursework that just won’t be enough to really teach someone how to be an entrepreneur.

People like Victor Hwang, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist, claim there’s just no replacement for real world experience. The only way to become an entrepreneur is to go out and do it.

A recent Gallup poll suggests that many students in the U.S. have entrepreneurial aspirations and energy that could help drive future job creation in the country. Nearly 8 in 10 students (77%) in grades 5 through 12 say they want to be their own boss, 45% say they plan to start their own business, and 42% say they will invent something that changes the world.

Despite their energy and ambitions, the Gallup-HOPE Index findings suggest many students are not accessing the education and work experience they need to help achieve their goals. Few report getting the type of practical knowledge and experiences that they believe will be useful once they are in the workforce.

It’s time to intentionally provide our students opportunities to actively engage entrepreneurial experience and refine our current high school business and marketing classes to ensure what our students are learning is reflective of best business practice.

Using Lean Start Up Methodology in High School Entrepreneurship Courses

According to Harvard Business School’s Shikhar Ghosh, 75% of all business start-ups fail. Author Steve Blank for the Harvard Business Review thinks the old game of “hit and miss” may finally have a a new twist. He believes the Lean Start Up methodology is a game-changer and it is starting to turn conventional wisdom about entrepreneurialism on its head.

Recently an important countervailing force has emerged, one that can make the process of starting a company less risky. It’s a methodology called the “lean start-up,” and it favors experimentation over elaborate planning, customer feedback over intuition, and iterative design over traditional “big design up front” development. Although the methodology is just a few years old, its concepts—such as “minimum viable product” and “pivoting”—have quickly taken root in the start-up world, and business schools have already begun adapting their curricula to teach them.

According to Eric Ries, founder of the Lean Start Up methodology, “Startup success can be engineered by following the process, which means it can be learned, which means it can be taught.” The Lean Startup provides a scientific approach to creating and managing business startups and in order to get a desired product to customers’ hands faster.

Business leaders in the Chicago suburb of Barrington worked with the educator leaders in Barrington High School to develop a new course called Business Incubator Start Up. This course was purposefully developed to get students excited about becoming entrepreneurs. Students enrolled in the class will have the opportunity to create and fully develop their own product or service. Real-world entrepreneurs and business experts will serve as coaches and mentors guiding student teams through the process of ideation, market research, and business plan development.

Over the course of the year, student teams will learn about marketing, accounting, human resources, as well as the legal aspects of running a business to get them geared up for Pitch Week. Pitch Week helps to further fire the entrepreneurial spirit by putting student teams in front of actual investors to pitch their innovative idea and possibly win funding to turn their business plans into reality during the summer and following school year.

Watch this video describing Barrington’s approach to engaging their students in the authentic entrepreneurial learning:

Should We Provide Programs to Teach Students How to Be Entrepreneurs?

According to Startup Colorado, a regional consortium of entrepreneurs who share a vision of expanding entrepreneurship along the Front Range is shaping up to be a true entrepreneurial powerhouse. Sasha Galbraith warns in a recent article for Forbes Magazine, “Watch Out Silicon Valley! Colorado Primed to Emerge as the Next Hub of Innovation and Entrepreneurship.  Burt Helm describes in his INC. article How Boulder Became America’s Startup Capital.

Colorado universities have stepped up and revised their courses and departments to provide their students with top notch access to innovative business education programming. Many universities have developed partnerships with businesses to spark innovation and entrepreneurship, like Colorado State University’s Institute for Entrepreneurship which teamed up with Blue Ocean Enterprises to create Venture Fest and Blue Ocean Enterprises Challenge to ignite entrepreneurial spirits, attract and recognize the best new business ideas, and celebrate the Fort Collins and Colorado entrepreneurial ecosystem.

But, innovation and interest in entrepreneurial learning isn’t merely a fascination in the USA. Entrepreneurship education is increasingly promoted in Europe, according to a new report published by the European Commission. Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Wales and the Flemish part of Belgium have all outlined national strategies to promote entrepreneurship education, while Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain and Turkey have recently included it as part of their national lifelong learning, youth or growth strategies. Currently, 50% of European countries are involved in a process of national education reforms which include the strengthening of entrepreneurship education in their public school systems.

The time is now to critically review the opportunities available in our schools to ensure that students have access to top notch entrepreneurial learning experiences, ones that engage them with local mentors and subject matter experts, and give them the chance to take healthy learning risks while they are in the supportive environment of their schools and local communities.

Let’s give our students a chance to showcase their skills and talents on the entrepreneurial environment!

LHS DECA Award Winners

Loveland High School DECA Winners pose with their championship medals at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs


Next Generation Literacy Assessments – Are You Ready Middle Grades?

Over the past year, educators in Colorado have been fine tuning their curriculum and instruction to the new literacy standards published by the Common Core State Standards initiative (CCSS) which were adopted by our Colorado Department of Education. Academic specialists have identified 6 Pedagogical Shifts demanded by the Common Core State Standards in Literacy.

6 Pedagogical Shifts

Click on the image to enlarge.

These six shifts generalize the overall differences between our old set of learning expectations, and the new learning expectations for students.  The chart above was captured from EngageNY, a New York State side dedicated to assisting educators with the transition to the Common Core and the new Educator Effectiveness agenda.

Viewing the Common Core in PARCC’s Eyes

Now, we have another resource to align our schema, the Model Content Frameworks created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).  In August, our state department of education announced that we would use the next generation literacy and math assessments created by the PARCC consortia beginning most likely during the 2014-15 school year. The PARCC Model Content Frameworks provide an exceptional overview of what middle level students need to know, understand, and be able to do.

Try this:

Open the grade level document of your choice in either 6th, 7th or 8th grade. While reading, and underline passages within the PARCC Model Content Frameworks that indicate evidence for one or more of the six pedagogical shifts. For example, while reading the 6th Grade Model Content Frameworks, I underlined this portion of text, “The balance of student writing at this level is 70 percent analytical (35 percent argument and 35 percent to explain/inform) and 30 percent narrative, with a mix of on-demand and review-and-revision writing assignments.”  I believe this statement is an example of Shift 1, balancing informational and literary texts.

What do you notice about the learning expectations in the grade level you examined? Did you identify areas where increased text complexity is expected? Did you see evidence of the importance of academic vocabulary? Did you notice how students will need to use text based evidence to support their thinking?

Infusing Best Practices from the Literacy Design Collaborative

Several Colorado districts have been integrating the strategies developed by the Literacy Design Collaborative.  These strategies are posted on an emerging resource curated by ASCD called EduCore.  The funding for our training was acquired by the Colorado Legacy Foundation. In 2011, the Colorado Legacy Foundation won a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation grant to implement the Literacy Design Collaborative training in select districts to support their efforts in our state’s educator effectiveness agenda.

Watch this Video on Rethinking Literacy

Click on the image to go to the EduCore site to watch this video

The LDC work is many faceted

The scope of the LDC work is the Module.  A module is a specific unit of learning designed around targeted Common Core standards.  Teachers of English Language Arts, Social Studies, Science and Other Technical Subjects are taught how to center their instruction around an outcome expectation called a Performance Task.

The heart of the LDC Module is the Performance Task. The LDC has created a simple formula to assist teachers in designing strategically aligned performance tasks with the Common Core literacy standards, most especially in the areas of accessing grade level appropriate text and producing products of thinking/writing in the areas of argument, information, and narrative.  They have created a menu of Performance Task Templates that can be modified and used in multiple situations in all types of content areas.  Let’s look at the Argumentation Template Tasks to get an idea of what how the templates work. 

A Template Task for Argumentation

Click on the image to enlarge  The LDC Performance Template Tasks provide a structure so that teachers can easily create their own tasks aligned to different student learning expectations. Notice the blanks, those were intentionally created to allow flexibility for teacher design.  These template can be used in multiple situations in different content areas. The LDC has designed:

  • 10 different Template Tasks  to support the Argumentation expectations 
  • 15 different Template Tasks to support Explanatory/Informational expectations
  • 4 Template Tasks to support the Narrative expectations.

They have also created rubrics aligned with each of the three types of tasks: Argument, Explanatory/Informational, and Narrative.

To access all of the LDC Performance Template Tasks and Rubrics click here.
To watch videos to learn how to use the LDC Performance Template Tasks, click here.
To review sample teaching  Modules in Argumentation, click here.

Are you Ready for the Next Generation Assessments?

Likely, you are more ready than you thought.  But, to continue your preparation:

  1. Take some time to review the 6 Pedagogical Shifts and begin making the shift in your own teaching
  2. Review the LDC Template Tasks, and use them as a skeleton for your own student task development
  3. Seek out additional support from the multitude of sources online and experts in your own vicinity.
girls-code-student 2

eTextiles Project Increases STEM Access for Girls

Computer science in the United States is an overwhelmingly male discipline. Many of the the crucial factors in this gender imbalance are cultural; that is, the culture that has grown up around computer science has a variety of attributes that appeal more to males than females.

How can we introduce more girls to computer programming?

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the University of Colorado at Boulder, proposed a project to introduce computer programming through e-Textiles. Thompson School District is one of the educational institutions benefitting from this grant through the generosity and direction of the National Center for Women and Technology (NCWIT) and support from Intel, University of Colorado-Boulder and the National Science Foundation.

E-textiles, also known as electronic textiles, are fabrics that enable digital components, small computers, and electronics to be embedded in them. Many intelligent clothingsmart clothingwearable technology, and wearable computing projects involve the use of e-textiles.

Electronic textiles are distinct from wearable computing because emphasis is placed on the integration of fabrics with electronic elements like microcontrollers, sensors, and actuators. Furthermore, e-textiles need not be wearable. For example, e-Textiles are also found in craft-making, quilting, toys, and interior design.

Strengthening STEM in our Middle Schools

The Design Cycle 2

All five Thompson School District middle school Family and Consumer Studies teachers engaged in a two-day training to increase access to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) in their typically girl-dominated classrooms. Each will pilot the e-Textiles project with their students this fall.

This curriculum module will engage students in the engineering design cycle. Students will go through the different stages of this process: investigate, design, plan, create, and evaluate. They will learn the skills to produce two e-Textiles products: a bookmark and a stuffed “monster“.  Important learning concepts will be the electronic science behind the circuitry and computer components. Students will learn visual programming skills using the Arduino programming language in order to use LilyPad Arduino  toolkit.

Teachers as Learners

photo _Snapseed

Jami Robinson (Conrad Ball Middle School) creates a bookmark using the LilyPad Arduino e-Textile computer component

The e-Textiles Pilot Project allowed our Thompson teachers to be learners, too.  About 50% of our teacher participants had previous computer programming skills.  For the other half of the group, learning to code was a brand new skill. On the first day of the training, each teacher participant designed and produced a eTextile bookmark using felt, conductive thread, glue, LED lights, a laptop for programming and a LilyPad Arduino computer chip.

Each teacher used this as an opportunity to experience the design process as learners in their classrooms would.  On the second day of the training, the teachers created a “monster” following the process that their students would in their classrooms. They conceptualized a design, created the product, wrote the programming code to light up their monsters and add a musical component as well.

photo copy _Snapseed

Tara Olivas (Turner Middle School) designs her LilyPad Arduino bookmark

After each lesson, the teachers debriefed the learning process with NCWIT facilitator, Stephanie Weber, in order to conceptualize how the lesson would unfold in their classrooms with 6th, 7th and 8th grade students.

The Thompson teachers predict their students will really enjoy this project.  It will give them a chance to personalize their learning and express their individual, creative side. It will also give them an engaging context for integrating the use of computer programming and make connections to the world of computer engineering.  Hopefully, through this project more students will have access to STEM-focused career pathways. It’s vitally important for us to find opportunities to engage students and interest them in these areas.


photo 12.11.51 PM _Snapseed

Stephanie Richards (Walt Clark Middle School) shows her creativity in her light up bookmark.

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6,000 Students Participate in ‘Hour of Code’

Namaqua student engaging in an "Hour of Code" during Computer Science Education Week

Namaqua student engaging in an “Hour of Code” during Computer Science Education Week

Monday, December 9, more than 30,000 schools around the globe will dedicate at least one hour during this week to teach students computer programming coding skills during Computer Science Education Week.  Over 6,000 students in the Thompson school district will be participating!


“Computer programmers are in great demand by American businesses, across the tech sector, banking, entertainment, you name it. These are some of the highest-paying jobs, but there are not enough graduates to fill these opportunities.” Marco Rubio, Senator, Florida

Computer science is driving job growth and innovation throughout our economy. More than 50% of projected jobs in STEM fields are in computing occupations. Despite this, computer science education is a not a focus within the typical American K-12 education system. In fact, only 13 states and the District of Columbia allow rigorous and engaging computer science courses to satisfy a math or science requirement for graduation from high school. Colorado is not one of them. However in Thompson, we are working to increase access to this important skill.

Principals, teachers and technology facilitators across the Thompson School District are taking up the challenge to get their students involved in the national effort to raise computer programming awareness.  The following schools in Thompson are participating in an Hour of Code during Computer Science Education Week December 9-15:

  • B.F. Kitchen Elementary (200 students participating)
  • Berthoud Elementary School (300 students participating)
  • Big Thompson Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Bill Reed Middle School (700 students participating)
  • Centennial Elementary School (500 students participating)
  • Conrad Ball Middle School (651 students participating)
  • Cottonwood Plains Elementary (412 students participating)
  • Coyote Ridge Elementary School (400 students participating)
  • Ivy Stockwell Elementary (350 students participating)
  • Laurene Edmondson Elementary School (257 students participating)
  • Lincoln Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Loveland High School (100 students participating)
  • Mary Blair Elementary School (75 students participating)
  • Monroe Elementary (300 students participating)
  • Ponderosa Elementary (400 students participating)
  • Namaqua Elementary School (400 students participating)
  • Stansberry Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Turner Middle School (60 students participating)
  • Truscott Elementary (250 students participating)
  • Van Buren Elementary School (200 students participating)
  • Winona Elementary School (400 students participating)
Kindergarteners learning to code at Winona Elementary.

Kindergarteners learning to code at Winona Elementary.

Next Steps for Thompson

This year, K-5 Technology Facilitators are increasing their knowledge of computer programming and the developmentally appropriate activities elementary students can engage in to increase their ability to code.

Next year, all of Thompson elementary students in grade K-5 will engage in units of study to learn to code in age appropriate ways. This will be integrated into their Computer Literacy classes of which they are enrolled for two days a week throughout the year.  Additional skills students learn in Computer Literacy class include, but are not limited to keyboarding, word processing, multimedia production, and research.

Furthermore, at the secondary level, students electing to take Computer Literacy classes at the middle school and high school level will have additional courses to select to increase their access to computer programming.


New Colorado Science Standards Earn a “D”

D is for Disappointing.

This January, the Thomas Fordham Institute reviewed science standards in all 50 state.  The majority of states earned Ds or Fs with only 6 states and jurisdictions receiving A’s.

Colorado was rated right there in the middle of the pack with a D.

What is surprising to me is that the reviewers analyzed Colorado’s new academic standards released in December, 2009.   At first I thought, “Oh, they must have looked at the old ones.”  But, no – they did review the new ones.

The Colorado Review starts a little cocky, as the authors poke fun at what they believe is a “mistranslation” in the opening document of renowned French mathematician Henri Poincaré’s famous.aphorism: “On fait la science aver des faits, comme une mason aver des piers, maps une accumulation de faits n’est pas plus une science qu’un has de piers n’est une maison.”

And, they score the standards with a 3 out of 10 total points.

  • Content & Rigor 2.3
  • Scientific Inquiry & Methodology 7
  • Physical Science 3
  • Physics 0
  • Chemistry 0
  • Earth & Space Science 1
  •  Life Science 3
  • Clarity & Specificity 0.8

Basically, the low scores come from a lack of content rigor.

The material presented suffers from a serious lack of clarity, depth, and sufficient content. The standards have  a frustrating tendency to string together numerous properties without explanation.

If there was an area that was well received, it was the components of scientific inquiry and methodology.  Hurray!

Not knowing if the Fordham Institute is connected to the national movement to create Next Generation Science Standards, this report is either  extraordinarily well timed – or planned. Most folks in curriculum know that The National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Achieve have embarked upon a plan to develop the Next Generation Science Standards.  These standards are scheduled to be released in the Fall of 2012 and Colorado will likely use these standards to revise their new academic standards in science.

What does this mean if you are a school or district aligning your standards to the new Colorado Academic Standards? Well if you are like us we are spending time analyzing the Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas which as released by the National Research Council (NRC) in July 2011.  This framework identifies the key scientific ideas and practices all students should learn by the end of high school.  It will serve as the foundation for new K-12 science Next Generation Science standards.

Want to know more?  Watch this webinar on Making the Transition to Scientific and Engineering Practices: Visiting the Potential of the Next Generation Science Standards that was run on October 25, 2011 and is archived.


Obama Seeks to Cut NAEP – Change Benchmark to PISA

Is the latest move to cut  NAEP, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a key measure of U.S. student achievement just a little bit of out with the old and in with the new?  I don’t think so. This move is follows a consistent pattern articulated in the Obama vision of elevating education to global achievement standards.  Can you say Common Core? Our new math and English Language Arts standards aligned to global academic outcomes.

EdWeek reports that the $6 million NAEP cut will be replaced with a pilot program for states to benchmark the performance of our American 15-year-olds against the PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment.  The PISA compares students around the world on what is considered a more rigorous assessment than our NAEP or our current swath of state assessments.

States interested in being part of the pilot will need to “invest” some of their own funds to participate.  Just $600,000 will get a state a seat at the table.  I wonder if the Colorado legislature will sign up…


Because we didn’t buy textbooks

Book Worm BotThis time we did something different.

We entered our social studies curriculum adoption cycle and we made a departure from our past practice.  We decided to spend a year focusing on instructional pedagogy before we started looking at all the materials various publishers have to offer.

We immersed ourselves in learning about powerful pedagogy that stimulates student engagement, instruction that evokes critical thinking, and learning structures that support authentic problem solving and exploratory learning and deep understanding and excitement and passion and fun.

And when our state adopted new social studies standards we reviewed them with a critical eye and we still held off looking at materials and we thought about how we wanted to teach to impact student learning. And when we read the research and reviewed the literature, we decided to look at various materials from various publishers and we thought…we’d rather not buy textbooks this time. If we didn’t buy textbooks, we could do something different.

Because we didn’t buy textbooks

we were able to purchase digital tools that could engage students in active, connected learning.

Because we didn’t buy textbooks…

we were able to think about the world as our world geography curriculum and the plethora of information that is ready at our fingertips and a click away.

Because we didn’t buy textbooks…

we were able to think about possibilities that didn’t exist for us because we didn’t have the resources to learn like global citizens


So now….we don’t have text books and we will be sharing what we have instead – and – all the things we are doing to support learning in our classrooms with out them.


National Writing Project – Digital Tools for Change Collection

The National Writing Project (NWP) has created a fabulous resource where teaching ideas, reflections, and stories about writing in our digital, globally interconnected world have been collected and beautifully organized. That resource is a called  Digital IS

One particular section within Digital IS is dedicated to helping teachers understand how youth are communicating and how digital tools can be used to promote social, political, and economic change.  Within their collection site called “Digital Tools for Change” powerful resources are shared in which urban youth and their teachers create digital projects designed “to interrupt and challenge existing structures of domination, oppression, and control that have historically and systemically crippled their communities.”

Digital Youth Network

Bridging the world of school, home, and afterschool activities, the Digital Youth Network aims to engage middle school students and give them access and training in the use of new media literacy tools. DYN creates meaningful activities where students develop new media literacy and critical thinking skills while working towards accomplishing their project goals.  Topics include a 6th grade record label class, a 7th grade digital story telling class, and an 8th grade product design class.

The Council of Youth Research

This partnership between UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access and Los Angeles high school students, provides opportunities for students to actively engage in research for school and community change. Students collaborate with UCLA graduate students, professors, and teachers “to brainstorm, strategize, collect, analyze, and report data to key stakeholders to affect change.”   These student researchers have worked with Los Angeles Unified School District administrators and  Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on various projects and have  presented their findings at several educational conferences to highlight the issues plaguing urban education today.

Youth Roots

Located at Arise High School, Oakland, California, this outside-of-school program incorporates the use of  media production and literacy skills in order to create artistic expressions and cultural critiques.  Youth Roots members get authentic practice in in spoken word poetry, emceeing, music production, graphic design, digital photography, digital video, digital journalism (via podcasting, digital storytelling, and video production), and event production.


Reflections on Schmoker’s Focus with the Traveling Teacher

Focus by Mike Schmoker (ASCD)

Mike Schmoker’s new book Focus came in the mail on a beautiful Saturday morning.  It started off as nice lazy day with no pressing deeds needing to be done, so I started to skim through the pages of the new book and was hooked immediately.

The chapter on science inquiry caught my attention, as I’ve been thinking deeply about science due in part to the dramatic changes the new Colorado Science Standards are having on the sequencing of our district content, and my thinking and wondering about how to best support our curriculum alignment and instructional needs.

It was just prior to the book’s arrival that I was invited to meet with three high school science teachers at one of our local schools.  They weren’t concerned about the new content standards, per se – but the pedagogical components necessary to meet these new learning outcomes.  You see, the science process skills are completely embedded within the three science strands of physical, earth and life science.  Inquiry is the heart of the new state standards – and professional opportunities to support inquiry in their classrooms was their request.

Immediately I started thinking about how science teachers I know might connect with his ideas.  I wasn’t really sure if they would be simpatico.  So, I asked a good friend, prolific blogger (The Traveling Teacher), and science teacher colleague of mine Liz Swanson to tell me her thoughts.

First, I wanted to know about his thinking of hands-on activities.  We do a lot of hands-on activities in our district science classes. We use FOSS kits as a foundation in our elementary classrooms, our secondary teachers design numerous labs and investigations to support a wide variety of learning outcomes.


Cornstarch and Water by GoodNCrazy (CC)

So, do you agree with Schmoker and his beliefs about hands-on activities?

“I have to say that I agree with him whole-heartedly. [Schmoker’s] not saying that we shouldn’t do hands-on activities but he is saying we need to throw out the “cookie cutter” labs where the results are already known to the kids before they even start. These are not labs, they are just time filler activities. Labs need to be used strategically to discover a concept or observe something that is better observed first through visual means and then through text and discussion. I think he is just saying that science is really about answering questions and we need to use literacy practices and purpose-driven,  hands-on activities to really delve into the answers and in this way, kids can really be doing the “work” of scientists.

Tell me more… I know when we worked together this was a big part of the context of learning you worked to create in your classroom.  What does it mean to you to engage students in the real work of scientists?

“About 4 or 5 years ago, when I was doing … training, I kept hearing [our trainer] say that kids need to do the “work” of real scientists and I was having a really hard time understanding what she meant. I just couldn’t see how [this concept] applied and what the heck the real “work” of scientists was if it wasn’t just doing experiments. Then, I started thinking about myself as a scientist of teaching, and also, I started thinking about my dad…who is a scientist…he’s a doctor.  I thought about my dad and the real “work” that he does is mostly reading. He does spend a huge amount of his time (his words) “up to his elbows in stink and blood!” but really, every night of my life as a child, I saw my dad laying in bed, reading journals. Every vacation, he read journals or medical textbooks. And, every year, he goes to multiple conferences where he always wants to go alone so he can spend all of his free time reading and studying in preparation for the lectures and the practical work. My best friend’s dad is also a doctor, and her life experiences with this were exactly the same. Both of us had homes with stacks of medical reading materials all over.”

Science Fair Wins Ribbons by Oakley Originals

So, real scientists spend mountains of time reading as well as engaging in authentic science inquiry. The theme of reading critical text runs through the entire book.  How did this knowledge connect with your thinking about teaching?

“[D]uring a coaching session… it was literally like a sudden lightning bolt of understanding – I got it….the real “work” of scientists is processing information whether that be through writing, reading, speaking, listening, or experimenting. At that point, I threw out a lot of “labs” that I had been doing that were just leftover in my classroom when I got there and had been doing because they fit the topic but weren’t really “real inquiry” and I started to really think about how I could get kids to need to read and discuss to solve more real-life problems. This has been my little quest ever since.

You know, I never remember seeing the textbook out in your classroom.  What did you think of Schmoker’s praise for using the textbook to such a great degree?

“I was definitely struck by the textbook part though and it really got me thinking about how I can use the textbook in a more strategic way. Because, he’s right, in college, and in real life, we use textbook like text to really learn new information. I always dragged out my old chemistry books to show kids how much annotation I had done in order to learn and how much summarizing I’d done in the margins, but I definitely didn’t do enough of that with them being the readers…something to think about for sure! I hope I have good textbooks in Germany because in England, I had these textbooks that were matched to the national curriculum and so they didn’t go in depth into anything because the next year’s textbook had the same info at a deeper level. So annoying. You couldn’t actually “read” the book for information. It glossed over EVERYTHING! Like “cells” was just a double page spread…not very helpful for real reading. Stuff I taught in seventh grade in the US wasn’t taught until Year 10 & Year 11. It seemed like they saved the “real science” for the exam years.”

So, you wouldn’t advocate the level of “focus” you’ve seen in the UK science textbooks written for students.  What are your thoughts about Schoker’s overall message of “focus” then?

“[W]hen you hired me to teach two subjects at the same time, I really had to think about what was essential. Basically, it was you and a few conversations I had with [others]… where I basically felt like I was given permission to cut down my curriculum to the essentials and big ideas. That’s pretty much what I’d spent the last several years working on – with the Tiger team – being as strategic as possible in what we were going to teach. I think that’s why when the new standards came out…I was pretty psyched, because they made my job a lot easier – they did what I had already largely spent years working on!”

Thanks Liz!  Thanks for being a learning and helping me think through the message of this book through the lens of a great science teacher!!!

Now, I just need to find a math, a literacy, and a social studies teacher to help me think through the other content area….

Anyone want to read this book and chat with me :) ?