The WHY of Public Education

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on September 11, 2016

Palm holding card with the word WHYStart of the school year has been notable on Facebook as almost every parent with whom I’m acquainted has shared those infamous first day of school photos.

And as students and staff report back, organizations such as Phi Delta Kappa International, US News & World Reports, and even state departments of education are releasing data and reports that coincide with the start of the new year. The most notable one that has come my way to date has been the Phi Delta Kappa (PDK) article on perceptions held by the public regarding public education.

PDK’s 48th annual public poll entitled “Public Attitudes Toward the Public Schools,” measuring opinions about public education, lacked consensus over the main purpose of public education. 45% of its respondents, representing a random sample of more than 1500 adults covering all 50 states, believe public education is meant to prepare students academically. Another 26% feel the primary role should be to prepare students for citizenship, while another 25% feel the purpose is to prepare students for the workplace.

What I find most puzzling is the lack of explanation of preparing students for citizenship, but even more so that 26% of respondents felt this was the primary intent of education generation after generation. The survey went on to share more data about how students are performing, opinions on keeping schools open when failing, and general perspectives on what our schools are doing to meet the needs of their students. And before I digress too much, let’s take a moment and look at the list of tasks we expect from our teacher, let alone our public schools. We’re responsible for teaching all subjects, receive hefty criticism when students are obese and we aren’t doing enough with physical fitness. We cover sex education and driver’s education, and the list goes on.  I think this picture says it all:

Many words for teacher showing the varied roles a teacher plays

But back to the survey. There is clear confusion about what the purpose is of education, of public education. With the split data shared above, should we be doing our work differently? If only 45% feel we should be covering academics, then should we be doing less in a focus on academics?

When I think of conversations I have with parents about the use of technology, I get push back that a focus of tech to communicate and collaborate should be reduced. Granted, I always advocate for a balance. But yet…we have workplaces with a colossal reliance on technology, and if we focus on the 25% of parents who want us to prepare students for the workplace, then there really is a role for workplace preparedness, which includes technology.

I don’t expect the responses to change. A great deal of expectations are placed on the deliverables of our public education system. I predict that the confusion will also continue – much is expected of us. And much will continue to be expected. And the WHY won’t change.

But it may morph a bit. Stay tuned.

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Unconferences: Constructive time for the big kids

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on August 8, 2015

We’ve all been there. Conference after conference. Training after training. Receive the agenda ahead of time and peruse for breaks and down time. Is it lecture after lecture? And yes, I’ve hosted many of just those types of trainings with panel discussions, dynamic speakers (well, some not so much), and agendas that have packed in too much, leaving participants exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those experiences may become a thing of the past if the “unconference” movement continues to grow. For the sake of our own learning, let’s hope so!

The unconference gets underway.
The unconference gets underway.

I recently attended my first unconference, hosted by EdCampLeader and Remind101. What a relaxed day of learning, discussions, and brainstorming.

The approach is fairly simple. Get a group of people together, have no preassigned topics in mind, invite no keynotes, but do plan breaks and meals. Got it!

But wait! Attend a conference with no agenda? It works. It really does. Imagine joining productive conversations that go where you drive them. In an era of so much structure and hands ticking on a clock, you relax into the informality. You’re real with yourself and your needs while at a conference!

Edcamp attendees immersed in discussion.
Edcampers immersed in topic.

Our unconference was the EdCampLdr (aka Ed Camp Leader) held in San Francisco, thanks to Remind (aka Remind 101) co-hosting. We were one of 13+ locations in the nation simultaneously unconferencing their way through the day. Our day began with an overview of the rules:

  • Everyone participates in the brainstorming topics.
  • Topics are winnowed for similarity.
  • We follow the “Law of Two Feet”—i.e. if you are not learning or contributing to a talk or discussion it is your responsibility to find somewhere where you can contribute or learn.

The first round had us engage in 45 minute long conversations. The topic of the first breakout I joined was “Mindset.” Get ready…talk. Those who were present raised questions, shared their work, and ultimately expanded my thinking in a way that I’m not able to do at a conference. Here are just a few of the topics we covered:

  • Bringing data back from implementations to move to growth mindset iterations
  • Must provide time to reflect and revisit
  • How to use data to build growth mindset
  • Build framework as a school leader
  • What is the common vision of the student we are trying to build as a school?
  • Need to move teachers out of isolation and silos.
  • How do you build it in a school staff that is at a very high performing school?
  • Must create an ecosystem that supports team-taught classes?
  • How might we use strategies that we already have in place to build growth mindset
  • Check out instructional rounds
  • What kind of pressures do our staffs, students, families face?
  • Six seconds for social emotional needs
  • Assessment of Learning vs. for learning
  • How do we build mindfulness in all stakeholders?

Get the idea? The best part is that we were empowered to do more than share our expertise but also to look at how we can add, change, or support programs we have in place. While I gave a great deal, the focus on give and take certainly meant that I took more ideas than I gave today.

Happy edcampers!
Happy edcampers!

A day built around conferences. That is an unconference. That is EdCamp. Check it out and attend one.

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Print books are still da bomb!

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on June 16, 2015

With the expansion of technology and the social media world accessible to our youngest of generations, it’s no wonder Kindles, Nooks, and iBooks are growing in popularity. In our household, iPads have been the norm for years. But like the emerging trends of the 13–17 year olds in households and schools, our nine-year-old twins prefer…you guessed it…print books!

Girl on couch reading a book.

Recent statistics report that, despite being tech savvy, the 13-17 age group aren’t big e-book consumers. While 20% of teens report purchasing e-books, 25% of 30–44 year olds and 23% of 18–29 year olds buy digital copies.1 While younger readers are open to e-books as a format, the age group continues to express a preference for print that may seem to be at odds with their perceived level of digital savvy.

Are my twingles any different than their older counterparts? It’s doubtful. Several factors play a role in the preference of teens toward print publications, and they are similar to what my mini-me’s have in play.

First of all, their mother still prefers print, be it the traditional get-your-fingers-a-bit-dirty newspaper each morning, the paperback novel that welcomes a dog-ear, or the ability to share a book with a sibling, a friend, a parent. Or maybe it’s the giddy role model I provide when, traipsing around the country, I find a used bookstore full of treasures!

Secondly, the word of mouth power of print books or magazines is much greater than their electronic counterparts, as I recently witnessed with a group of little girls after a football tailgate party. “Oh, I loved that book,” exclaimed one of seven, when looking at a paperback copy of one of the recent Goddess Girls books strewn on a bedroom floor. “Me too!” exclaimed another. My twins watched, and I couldn’t help but ask, “Have you read one?” I would have been stunned if my dirty pant-kneed tomboys had said yes, as the others, clearly girlie girls, headed toward the makeup and music. Yet two days later, having picked up one copy at a used bookstore and coerced one of my daughters to read “just the first fifty pages,” the Little Blonde One admitted the rest were going on her list to Santa.

Finally, my daughters aren’t very visible on social media like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or blogs unless I’m closely supervising their use on my accounts. However, the teens out there benefit from the bandwagon effect that social media can create around reading resources, especially series. If an author can gather a following with just a couple of books, sales of more are soon to follow.

Guess a screen can’t replace everything.

_______________

1“Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover: Tech-Savvy Teens Remain Fans of Print Books.” Newswire. Nielsen, 9 Dec. 2014. Web. 16 June 2015. <http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/dont-judge-a-book-by-its-cover-tech-savvy-teens-remain-fans-of-print-books.html>.

 

 

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Coding: The fifth “C”

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on April 8, 2015

Let’s face it. When exposed to it, most students take to coding. I’ve observed this in class after class. Regardless of grade level, students love the creativity, the challenge, and the control they can have over coding. Maybe the appeal for some is tied to gaming, but still; can we just think about the benefits of coding and its ability to strengthen the skills of creativity and problem solving?

Teacher introducing coding to students in an elementary classroom
Introducing coding in an elementary classroom

Coding is a great way to make things happen. When programming, students can make a robot turn in circles, a dog dance across a screen, or a penguin traipse over a bridge. Creativity is about finding inventive and amazing ways to make things happen.

Coding does a great deal to teach the skills of discovery. Kids move from following directions to controlling those directions. Teachers who know how to tempt and activate interest in students start with a bit of directions, just enough to get students started, but not enough to help them finish an assignment. Skills and their development are important, not the end result. Liken it to coaching an athlete in the triple jump: you want them to know where to hit their plant foot on the board and how to project off the first landing, but the distance is less important in the beginning than the form.

Empowering students

Coding can also empower students. Coding can spin off into an interest in building programs, designing creative presentations, creating games, and more! The programming in coding becomes a form of expression, a way to communicate and hit yet another one of those “Four C’s” we profess as so important for the generation of kidlets in our classrooms.

Girls at computers working on a coding exercise
Girls code, too!

Students exploring their interests? Yes, another result of coding. In order to really build their knowledge, to explore creative license, students need to have the tools and permission to control their world. Creativity may be a mindset, but it is one built in coding. As I observed 2nd graders during their first coding lesson, their teacher pulled me aside. “See that boy right there? He’s been computer phobic for two years. Doesn’t like to interact with technology. Look at him now! He’s moving the dog through the maze and he’s jumping the rolling containers.” They can create, they can explore, they can even overcome challenges. Bring on the coding!

As the superintendent of a small, innovative and progressive school district, I believe we need to focus on the “Four C’s” and more—the fifth, coding! The jobs that will someday welcome today’s students will call on their ability to problem solve and think creatively. Here’s to creating a #FutureReady generation, whatever that future may hold.

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Infographics

Posted by Lisa Marie Gonzales on August 25, 2013

Infographic of Infographics
Infographic of Infographics Source: Zabisco

Have you been impressed as I have by the myriad of infographics on sites like Zite, Pinterest and even Facebook? Wow!  So many are impressive, and I assumed professional designers were hard at work designing them. Then I discovered dozens of sites that allow infographics to be made by your average every day administrator, teacher or student.

Not so new

Infographics are those splashy pictures that transform complex principles and data into easy-to-understand graphics. And believe it or not, there is some solid theory around the use of infographics. Go all the way back to 35,000-4,000 BC when cave drawings and other symbols and pictures were used to communicate ideas. Some of these might have looked decorative in nature, but the intent was to prepare training rituals for the young, report the results of daily work (how many deer were killed on the hunt), and other practical purposes. From there, letters emerged that formed language and then graphics. Let’s not forget the work of Leonardo daVinci who worked diligently to chart mathematical, astronomical, and geographical information.

Fast forward to modern technology and you can make your resume come to life in just a few minutes, but let’s not jump head too quickly.

Value

The world of social media, flashy websites, and new apps have pushed us into the information explosion, where some sort of pictorial representations are needed because text overload could do us all in. Think about when you pick up a newspaper (yes, for the sake of this discussion, pick up a newspaper!).  Where do your eyes gravitate?  Headlines?  Article text?  Pictures?  Graphics?  Cartoons?

Research on infographics says that text-and-graphic combinations better transfer meaning than either text or pictures alone.  The combination allows our brains to process information more quickly and are retain it in the long term. Infographics are also great for right and left brain coordination.

Create your own

Ready to try making some infographics of your own to use with with colleagues and students?  Here are some sites I recommend.

Start with Visualize.me, particularly if you have a LinkedIn account. The tool is still in beta, but I have huge expectations for this site as an easy go-to for pictorial representation of a traditional resume.

Simile Widgets (http://www.simile-widgets.org/) is an open source tool you can use to design different types of data visualizations from exhibits to time plots.

Many of us know Tagxedo, but might not consider word clouds to be true infographics.  Yet what’s nice about Tagxedo is its easy of use and the ability to manipulate data into your selected shapes and easily save in different formats and sizes.

Finally, just for fun, Intel’s What About Me? can be used to access your Facebook profile and identify the percentages of time spent posting about certain topics.  Here’s the result from my own Facebook data!

Lisa's
My “What about me?” Infographic
Click image for larger view.

 

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