Sunday, January 27, 2013

EduCon 2.5, Day 3

I skipped the panel on "What Does the Entrepreneurial Spirit Mean for Schools?". Entrepreneurship has been a big focus of the conference, but it doesn't really resonate with me. It could be a private/public disconnect, but I don't see entrepreneurship as the big thing lacking from education.

My first conversation today was with some kids from SLA. Since the school's completely project-based and standards-based, I asked some kids about homework when I overheard them talking about it. Where does homework fit into the grade? It doesn't. Does that mean that they don't do it? No. SLA does a great job of making homework worth doing and with bringing kids into the process, so that they actually want to do the homework, knowing that it will help them along the way towards becoming proficient with the core goals of the courses. Having ownership of the process a little bit - there are decisions to be made about where to spend the majority of your time, when more practice is needed and when it isn't, etc. - is really important in there process of making kids able to manage their own learning, which they will definitely need to do in college and for the rest of their lives. Even without a stick or carrot of a grade, kids can see the value of work outside of class, but it does take some concerted effort and dialogue about it.

My first scheduled conversation today was "Structuring Inquiry," with Chris Lehmann (head of SLA).
The conversation will continue later at #educoninquiry

First focus: how do we set the conditions for inquiry?

Small group discussion: what do we mean when we say 'inquiry'?

Ideas from the group and from the large group discussion following:

  • Encouraged curiosity
  • cycle of 'wonder, experiment, learn'
  • Empowering students to actually determine things for themselves, not having them dependent on authority (books, internet, teacher) to answer/model
  • Leveraging student curiosity
  • Balancing student interests vs. teacher guidance
  • 80/20 'tinker time', a la Google employees - somebody said yesterday that there's a school doing this for both students and faculty
  • How do you assess inquiry?
  • Does there have to be _one answer? Someone chimes in that the word 'question' is loaded, in that it implies an answer exists. Problem/dilemma/etc. instead?
  • Inquiry based on confusion vs. inquiry based on wanting to understand something at an even deeper level
  • Recursive process: prototyping and revision!
  • Actually taking part in the types of thought practiced by historians, mathematicians, scientists, etc., instead of learning about what they do. This is a big modeling advantage - doing science vs. hearing about science
  • Inquiry means living in an uncomfortable place where the issues are real and difficult and the answers aren't simple
  • Kids don't always know how to ask good questions, because schools often teach them not too. It's important for schools to teach the process of inquiry, even more than content
  • SLA's framework: Inquiry, Research, Collaboration, Presentation, Reflection; this is for classes, professional development, etc. - he says that it's an interesting way to make debates and discussions less rigid and more flexible
  • When it's going right, the students and teacher are on the same journey. There is a lot to be said for taking some time to explore something that the teacher doesn't know about, so that you can be an example of real inquiry
  • Doing it from the top-down is difficult, but when kids get hooked on it, they might start to demand it from the bottom up.
  • Demonstrating the value of inquiry can be an issue in a test-obsessed public school situation, but it's important to fight that fight
  • There's an innate tension between AP curricula (many of them, at least) and inquiry. It's important to be "one school" - to be philosophically consistent in every aspect of the school
  • "If you want easy, put the desks in rows. If you want meaningful, there are things that you'll have to grapple with."
  • Tension between messy and neat and tidy - inquiry's a bit messy by design, but didactic instruction is a false efficiency
  • Inquiry can be equalizing - weaker students can be better risk-takers in lots of situations
  • Inquiry builds community
  • Inquiry vs. recipe-based instruction is the important part - project-based classes aren't the magic bullet if they're not applied well
  • Scaffolding's important, and it's the art of the process. Inquiry isn't the same as turning kids loose to find their bliss and drinking some coffee. It's a lot of work and it'll probably look different every time
  • Links: and
  • Scaffolds: giving enough to prime the pump without being prescriptive
  • Here's a telling thing: there are over a hundred teachers in here, hotly debating inquiry and being very high-level in their animated discussions. A student just spoke up and gave her perspective, totally without prompting and totally confidently.
  • Inquiry makes more difficult: covering content, planning, and assessment
  • His view: you can't really get an objective measure of what kids know - certainly not test scores. He also sees grades as mixing up effort ("because sweat matters") and achievement, as opposed to a traditional SBG view of having removing everything but achievement from the grade
  • When you go to a school where there are lots of folks doing inquiry, blogging, etc., things change a bit - you're not the only show in town anymore, but you're in a space where colleagues understand the demands of flexibility, innovation, engagement, etc.
  • What do college students say after leaving SLA? These kids get engaged with professors (even ones that are traditional), do better with research, assignments, and tests in college. His argument is that the classrooms in colleges are traditional, but the tasks that they're asked to do aren't, so that this training transfers well
  • Being the only person in the building do it: benefit from uniqueness, scaffold to take kids from the ground floor up towards more open inquiry over the course of the year, focus on pieces of inquiry at a time (play the JV game before the varsity game)
  • People use the tests, college, etc. as excuses not to start doing inquiry, but is the traditional approach really working now? Is it producing what we really want in kids?
  • Algebra II is the most difficult year to do authentic inquiry/projects, but earlier grades (especially elementary) are the easiest and most profitable places to do it.
  • Final really big question: what else will change if your pedagogy becomes inquiry-driven? Example: discipline (you just taught the students how to question :) )
  • Related question to ask: what's the worst-case scenario of your best idea/intention?
Next session: "Where Are All of the Beautiful Learning Spaces?" with Jennifer Chan (@jennzia), and Andrew Campbell (@acampbell99)

Some high-level talk about what spaces say to us, implications of structures ("All visitors must report to site office"), and what the spaces say ("don't run, think, learn, yell"). 

Their tumblr:

Some discussion questions:
  • What qualities would make a learning space a 'must see' destination?
  • Does the current learning space you use reflect and support your pedagogy?
  • What are the tensions between your ideals and cultural/social expectations?
I'm more conscious of the fact that other folks are more focused on architectural details of spaces than I am. In my lab renovation, I wanted to focus on function: no fixed furniture, whiteboards, etc., but there's more there, too. I'd love for all of my walls to be whiteboards, or even all of the halls! My focus, though, is on what these things do to the learning process. 

Interesting discussion here about security and the unintended bad consequences from trying to fortify and protect schools: "let's stop pretending that our students are any more in danger at school than at the bus stop, in the store, on the playground, etc." 

Next session: "Honoring our Learning Philosophy Through our Learning Reports: Is it About Learning and Progress or is it About Grades?" with Megan Howard (@mwhoward) and Jill Gough (@jgough)

We're introducing ourselves - there's a senior here from a different Philly high school. I don't think that I've seen a student attending an ed conference before...

We took 15 minutes to go around and look at different report cards from four independent lower schools and to leave Post-it note comments. Some interesting things:
  • One of these is 20 pages long, another 11, the others 3 and 5 pages long.
  • I really liked one in which students each wrote comments/reflections for each subject. What would that moment be like when you have to write "I didn't really try this term in Spanish, so I struggled"? I think that it would be a good one.
  • The shorter comments with denser displays seemed to communicate more than the super-verbose ones, which tended to have lots of boiler-plate
Great discussion here on grading and reporting - sorry - I didn't write much down!

The discussion continues on #RCSatl !

The conference that sounds like a monster truck rally (EduCon - Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!) comes to a close. Good conversations and good times - don't come if you're not into participating!


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