All STEM’d Up!

Posted by Skip Johnson on November 17, 2013

All STEM'd Up with man on motorcycle at left(to the tune of Elvis’ All Shook Up)

A well we done our plan
What’s right with us?
We’re working really hard and creatin’ no fuss
Our peers say we’re actin’ wild and smug
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our plans aren’t shaky and our minds aren’t weak
We are standin’, standin’ on our own two feet
We can thank ourselves to have such luck
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Please don’t figure to read our minds
We might look shook up but we are feelin’ fine
When we present those lessons we love best
Our students so engage, it scares us to death

When we touch their minds, it’s a chill we got
Now let’s study a volcano that’s hot-hot-hot
We are proud to say this is our loving cup
We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!

Our tongues are steady when we need to speak
Our insides are excited as a circuit that is tweaked
There is no cure for this STEM gold mine
We’re gonna keep this system ’cause it’s so fine

We’re a determined clan
We’re all STEM’d Up!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
Mm mm oh, oh, yeah, yeah!
We’re all STEM’d Up!

Yes, at El Crystal Elementary School we are ALL STEM’d UP! On Wednesday, November 7, 2012, the governing board made El Crystal the first STEM Magnet School in the San Bruno Park School District,.  The next morning, we were full “STEM” ahead.  The 9 teachers and I have accomplished a lot since then:

  • Wrote the STEM Curriculum for grades Kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Participated in three weeks of self-determined professional development.
  • Conducted four informational meetings for families from other schools in our district.
  • Generated an informational brochure that we distributed throughout our area.
  • Achieved two $20,000.00 grants.
  • Worked closely with the STEM Center at the San Mateo County Office of Education to fine tune our curriculum.
  • Gave three presentations to the governing board to share our progress.
  • Invited to share our program at the Orange County Office of Education.
  • Arranged a partnership through a  Memorandum of Understanding with Notre Dame de Namur University in Belmont, California to provide us with academic support in science and math focused on creating a student-centered learning environment.
  • Created a partnership with Walmart, whose eCommerce headquarters are in San Bruno.
  • Created a partnership with Facebook who replaced twenty-two of our computers that were stolen.
  • Established an advisory committee composed of parents, community members and representatives from Intel, Facebook, Walmart, and Gilead Sciences.
  • Remodeled our media center to accommodate STEM activities.

Earlier this month, we took time out to reflect upon our progress to date:

What is going well?

  • Student engagement in learning has visibly increased.
  • Students are demonstrating a positive attitude towards all aspects of the school including behavior and attendance to learning.
  • Teacher collaboration in grade alike and across grades has been a very positive outcome of STEM.
  • There is a tremendous increase in hands-on learning activities at all grade levels.
  • Teachers believe they are creating a more student-centered learning environment.
  • Overall, staff believes they are achieving deeper levels or understanding and learning with their students.
  • In most classes, parents are eagerly helping with needed supplies for all types of STEM activities
  • Parents report that they are pleased with our new program; that their children come home excited about the daily activities in their classrooms; and that they really like the teaching staff 

What needs to improve?

  • Generally, parents from families that have transferred into our program from outside our attendance area display higher levels of participation than those for whom this is their home school.
  • We have discovered that implementing STEM activities takes much more time than anticipated (not that this can be changed).

What to do differently if we had a fresh start?

  • Not write any curriculum for science until the Next Generation Standards were posted in their final form.
  • Spend the first six weeks of the year assessing the levels of the students and their abilities to handle increased STEM activities.
  • Concentrate on putting more procedures into place such as learning how to function in small, collaborative groups.
  • Get to know all the students better before implementing the STEM curriculum even if it meant delaying STEM activities until October.
  • Teach students how to have collaborative conversations and how to behave and function in collaborative groups.
  • Implementing STEM activities in the three lower grades has been more difficult than the two upper grades. Plan for that through practice.
  • Establish the partnership with Notre Dame de Namur earlier. It would have been helpful to have their sage advice when we had our first professional development activities during the last two weeks of June 2013.
  • Figure out a way to allow for more collaboration time for staff members for planning purposes.
  • Provide constructive feedback by observing each other teach STEM activities.
  • Right now most activities are on a trial and error basis. Staff is coming to grips with that level of anxiety.

Principal’s perspective

From my perspective as principal, our implementation of our STEM program, for the most part is going smoothly. My thoughts and observations:

  • I have never seen teachers so hard-working and dedicated to making a program successful.
  • Collaboration is at an all-time high.
  • As principal, I need to get into classrooms more and observe and validate STEM efforts.
  • This program is clearly worth the effort due to observable increases in student engagement and enthusiasm.
  • This is going to take about three years to perfect.
  • The collaboration with Notre Dame is well worth the investment in time and finance.
  • The relationships I built with parents and community members to gather support for our program has improved not only our school culture but my relationship with the school community.
  • The staff and I agree that given the opportunity, we would do this over again.
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One-to-Anything: Being Technologically Faithful

Posted by Jim Yeager on August 29, 2012

The letters NEW on springsA friend of mine called this week to see what I thought about my new Nexus 7 tablet.  My quick answer? “I love it!”  When we started talking about the Nexus 7 in schools, I gave a little more thoughtful reply:  “Would I trade my 200 iPads for 500 Nexus 7s?  Yes, in a second.”

The problem with my enthusiasm is that I am always ready to trade my previous favorite for next year’s new and better idea. In fact, it may not even be a year before Apple makes their own 7-inch iPad.  (They won’t dare call it an Ipad will they?)   What if the next Kindle offers a student-friendly device at an even more attractive price?  School leaders who make hardware purchases based solely on the “coolness” of the hardware may experience a severe case of buyer’s remorse.

When our fickle nature concerning educational technology hardware shows itself, I call it being “technologically unfaithful.”  We have a relationship with an attractive device.  We swear loyalty to.  Yet our faithfulness lasts only until the next cool innovation turns our heads.

What does this mean for technology leaders—and those administrators who write the checks to buy the stuff those leaders recommend?  It means that we have to refocus on student skills rather than hardware.

The Common Core Standards will require students to do what they know.  The National Educational Technology Standards for Students place the emphasis squarely on skills.  The new assessments we are so concerned about will not be device specific, nor require students to utilize a collection of apps to prove competence.  The new core curriculum will ask students to collaborate, think critically, and be creative.  Such skills are well served by technology, but not dependent on specific tools.

My new suggestion for the schools I work with is to adopt a “one-to-anything” approach.  Utilizing Web 2.0 tools, cloud-based resources, and a varied selection of hardware solutions, we can help students learn and practice common technology skills on whatever hardware they encounter.  For example, at Two Rivers School District we have wired labs, laptop labs, mobile netbook labs, Chromebook labs, and iPad labs.  Next, we’ll add a Nexus 7 lab.

The point is to focus on student skills that will enable our students to create, evaluate, and collaborate, regardless of the hardware they encounter. Our goal is technology-skilled students who will be able to use technology tools to perform relevant tasks, not operate specific devices.  After all, the next greatest thing is right around the corner.

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Keys to Implementing Common Core Standards

Posted by James Scoolis on July 9, 2012

The movement to Common Core Standards represents a change in how students are taught.  It promotes thinking and problem solving over memorization and item knowledge.  It provides students with skills and strategies that they can use throughout their lives.  It is good for kids.   As a school or district leader you have a lot of influence on how successful this implementation will be.  Here are five important things every administrator should know and do.

Establish a clear vision for instruction.

In Change Forces: Probing the Depths of Educational Reform, Michael Fullan writes,

Working on vision means examining and reexamining, and making explicit to ourselves why we came into teaching. Asking, “What difference am I trying to make personally?” is a good place to start…I cannot stress enough that personal purpose and vision are the starting agenda. It comes from within. It gives meaning to work.

Communicate your vision consistently in writing and in person to anyone who will listen—teachers, parents and students.   Communicate to your school community that adopting Common Core Standards  is a change that will build on the school or district strengths.  Your commitment comes from a desire to capitalize on teacher strengths rather than repair teacher weaknesses.  Find and compliment teachers’ areas of expertise.  Implementing the Common Core will require long-term commitment.  Support teachers with professional development and collaboration time.  Make sure you actually do what you say you are going to do.

Do not get caught up in the details of each standard.

Keep your eye on the big picture.  I am reminded of a statement about standards that I heard when the term standards first became common place in education.

“We have upped our standards. Now up yours.”

Improving or even establishing standards by themselves will not improve instruction.  Improving instruction will improve instruction; use the Common Core Standards as guides and talking points, but focus on the process of teaching.

Focus instruction on process not content.

One of the keys to the common core standards is a recognition that we cannot teach all students everything they need to know.  We can teach them how to use problem solving tools to find out what they need to know.   Access to information—on the Internet for example—is a key component of this effort.  Technology is a tool, not an end in itself.  Students should also be encouraged  to solve real world problems and communicate their thinking in blogs and websites, collaborating with peers and colleagues.

Build capacity.

Leadership is strongest when it is given and shared.  The best organizations and schools grow leaders and, in doing so, develop people. One person cannot implement the new standards.  It will take the collective effort of everyone working together. Growing leaders is a conscious act. Developing and spreading leaders throughout the school is not an accident.

Leaders grow leaders by sharing decision-making, creating an environment in which trying new ideas is the norm, and by creating a culture of continuous improvement.  Rely on in-house expertise for professional development.  Support collaboration.  Start with the willing and support them with materials and professional development opportunities.  Set them up as mentors and observe how they do.  You will probably find that some teachers are natural at being teacher leaders and others are not.  Writer’s workshop guru Lucy Calkins writes,

In general, I tend to find that the people who push to the front of the line, saying, “Oh, I would definitely be wonderful in a leadership role. I know so much!” tend not to be well accepted by their peers, and those who instead say, “I don’t feel ready for such a role, I still have so much to learn,” will fare better.

 

Demonstrate your willingness to be a public learner.

Start a blog, be a collaborative partner, learn how to give a common assessment, learn through common reading of professional books.  Explain to parents in writing and in person what students are learning and how they are learning it.  When others see you taking risks and doing what they are being asked to do, they will be much more likely to do so as well.

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“What path innovation?”

Posted by Butch Owens on October 12, 2010

Are common standards and national tests the panacea for our nation’s woes?  Some seem to think so, but I’m not so sure.    Just last April I had the opportunity to hear Yong Zhao, author of Catching up or Leading the Way,  speak at our annual Leadership 3.0 Symposium.   He argues that while for years, politicians and the public have been looking for what is wrong with American education by constantly comparing the test scores of American students to those of students in such places as Russia, Japan, Singapore, and China, test scores don’t measure how well a country itself is doing. One striking example is how far America is ahead of all other countries in the number of patents issued; China, by contrast, is ahead in toy production.

The irony is that while we are busy trying to catch up with countries that have better test scores, those very countries are trying to emulate our educational system—or at least the one we used to have.  China, Korea, Japan and Singapore, for example, all have national initiatives to move their educational systems toward more local control, more autonomy, less emphasis on test scores determining a student’s or school’s future, and greater choices for the individual.  These are traditional characteristics of our system which have contributed to our success in turning out well rounded and innovative citizens.  And all of the latest literature argues that the ability to innovate is what we need in the future.

How would you judge an effective school?  Here are some top criteria on my list:

  • The number of  varied opportunities a student has beyond the core academics
  • The degree that students enjoy their school and feel they are important
  • Teacher behaviors that convey the expectation that all students can learn
  • Opportunities for students to progress at their own rate
  • Strong art and music programs and curricular activities that connect students to school

When you look back on your school days, is it the test scores that really motivated you to excel, or all of the opportunities you had to be an individual and find your own purpose and passion?

Take away those things that have enabled our system to produce the inventors and innovators of today and what will be left?  At best, a technically capable American engineer competing for the same job as an equally capable engineer from India who will do the job for $7500 a year.  A better alternative is an educational system that creates an American engineer with not only the technical skills but the imagination, innovation and creativity to design the new ideas that will need the $7500 a year engineer in India to help develop.

In an earlier post I wrote about what students really need to know and learn in school in this 21st century and ended with  the comment, “If it’s easy to test, it’s easy to digitize, and if it’s easy to digitize it can be done easily by a computer.”  What we really want are well rounded, innovative students prepared for a lifetime as productive, innovative citizens.  Will common standards and national tests ensure that outcome?

As you ponder that question, listen to Harry Chapin’s “Flowers Are Red“; how common do we want our standards to be?

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