Sunday, November 21, 2010

Middle Class Amendment

This excerpt is part of David Bly's address at MAAP's Administrative Workshop on Nov. 12, 2010. You can see his web site for info.

I am interested in your thoughts, as the middle class in our country is rapidly decreasing.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remove Sports From High Schools

picture from Evelien Heijselaar, from article posted on The Queen's Journal
If you have been following any of the sports hysteria that has swallowed our country, maybe you have had a chance to read about Cam Newton (Auburn's current quarterback) and the Sports Illustrated article by former agent Josh Luchs. As a parent of a ninth grader and someone who is highly influenced by media and commercials, he and I have many interesting conversations about the influence the sports has on our culture. When looking at how much Jordan gear he has amassed or seeing him browsing Bauer's hockey site for the latest and greatest gear, you realize just how much our sports culture translates to making money.

There is a lot of controversy around the amateur status of college athletes. Personally, as much as universities are making off of these "athlete students," I think athletes should be paid. If we start paying college athletes, this is only going to further corrupt high school programs. Our culture has gone sports crazy. It is funny how sports controversies like this, much like steroids in baseball, eventually have these revelations that we all knew were taking place the whole time... Why? because they are apart of the culture of American athletics.

What am I getting at? We need to get sports programs out of high schools.  I am not saying get rid of sports, I am saying, they need to be pushed into a community program. Reading this old Minnesota Public Radio story "Are High School Sports a Luxury?" I want to answer a couple of the common objections: 

  1. Argument - High schools sports are a part of the community fabric. This may be true, but this does not mean that sports could be run on a community level. If community pride can only be developed by sports in the town, your community has a much bigger problem on its hands. In the Twin Cities, were I reside, the recruiting and student transfers has gotten out of control. What sense of a community is there when students continue to switch schools who never grew up in that area? Have a community run program would more locally focus activities, which in turn, would actually inspire community & neighborhood pride.  Rural schools often consolidate for athletic reasons, which is really about consolidation about trying to create better sports teams.
  2. Argument - High school sports teaches students good lessons outside of the classroom. While I don't disagree with this, I also think that having high schools and athletics tied so closely together has a major effect on school culture. Top athletes are the top of the social ladder in our schools. This begins to reinforce the perception that being an athlete trumps developing both personal and academic skills of this developing youth. Schools often say they won't "be parents" for youth, yet they have no trouble helping and insisting that athletes continue to develop their  athletic skills. If schools don't have a problems developing athletes, why then should they not be responsible for developing the "whole child" of all students?"
  3. Argument - Eliminating high school athletics (although I don't want to eliminate, but rather get them into a different sector) would have an impact on student fitness. I disagree with this claim as well. Such a small percentage of students, especially at the larger schools, have a chance to participate. If we took a more intermural approach, which would be better run in a community program, more students would get to participate. This would be better worth the money being spent. As someone smartly posted on the MPR article referenced above, schools cannot complain about funding and then go and build new sports stadiums with the latest scoreboard technology. Seems a bit of a contradiction or at the very least, misplaced priorities. I would still personally like to see how much of per pupil funding goes towards athletics. Since we are talking about public schools, if you look at the budget, you should be able to ascertain this information.
  4. Argument - High School sports generate money for school districts. This is in fact true, but the money generated is much higher in affluent districts, like the suburbs. The suburbs already have a built in advantage money wise, since schools are funded in MN using property tax (higher value properties means more funding). Again, a community organization could use the revenue generated by these sporting events to fund itself as a nonprofit.
These are a few of the arguments that I feel could be dispelled or remedied. The bottom line is, students should not be choosing a school based on on athletics. If a kid wants to go to a school that doesn't offer sports, they should still be able to participate, since their parents pay taxes. Schools should focus on child development and improving student academic skills, rather than be mall schools, trying to amass state championships (i.e. Eden Prairie). This does not serve students well, whether they are athletes or not.

Lastly, which will assuredly be unpopular, teachers should not go into teaching to be a coach. While I know that there are coaches who do amazing things with students, teaching life lessons beyond the field or court, teachers need to be hired outside of considering what sports they coach. I cannot be any more blunt than that. I am generalizing, but some high school coaches need to take a stab at existing outside of the high school environment and live in the real world. Adults should not try to continue to exist in this realm of high school athletics forever, just because they were a good athlete. Unless a coach is there to make the athletes he/she is coaching better people holistically, they should hang it up. Winning championships should not be the focus of high school athletics.

While I am not naive to think that the possibility of athletics leaving high schools will happen anytime soon (since the MN State High School League would cry "murder"), I think that economics is going to require us to come up with creative solutions. Many communities would be better served planning for how they can move sports into a community run program now, rather than having to make the decision of "what to cut" in the near future. These cuts are rarely equitable and "what's best for the community."

I welcome your comments, in a respectful way. I am personally trying to throw "crazy ideas" out there more hoping to spark some discussion and thought on education. The way things have always been is not serving our students or our communities well. I am looking for equitable solutions, rather than to continue to use public dollars to fund disparity among our youth.

I leave you with this... If parents/teachers/community members spent even half as much time developing a passion for learning in kids, as they do in developing kids to be athletes (in which only .03% go on to play pro-basketball), maybe we would actually have better communities...

What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to leave comments.

Thanks,
Aaron

Monday, November 08, 2010

Got Something for Ya

I have been busy for the past couple of weeks getting reading for a video project on the EdVisions Schools Design Essentials, which you can follow by following our YouTube channel by clicking here. These first videos are from Doug Thomas (Executive Director) and Ron Newell (now retired, but formerly the Program and Evaluation Coordinator).










I do owe a special thanks for my former co-worker Gigi Dobosenski and her husband Matt. He helped us pick out some great equipment and also gave me a crash course in lighting. This project has truly been "Learning by Doing!"

Aaron

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Digitizing the EdVisions Design Essentials

I am moving on to a new project for the remainder of this year, which will have me digitizing the EdVisions Design Essentials. This will include supporting documents and interviews with school staff, students and parents.


Our hope is to open source what we have learned and inspire others to make changes that are necessary to improve schools for both teachers and students. 


See a full list of the Design Essentials below:


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Education Innovating - Give Teachers More

Friends,
please check out a new blog: Education Innovating (Getting Beyond Traditional School) by the policy think tank Education Evolving. They have a long list of policy papers and educational insights on their website. You can also read their last paper entitled: Innovation Based Systemic Reform. I have referenced this group several times in the past, but wanted to point out their newest work.

One of my favorite lines from the current climate around attitudes towards teachers is: If you want to blame them for all of the systemic problems of schools, at least give them the opportunity to control and make decisions (which they currently have very little).  This new teacher role starts first and foremost with having control, input, decisions making power and knowledge about how school budgets and finances work. This is the starting point for the Teacher Professional Practice (TPP).

There have been a few posts that you can check out from the past that I recommend, based on their congruance with my current job and advocacy beliefs around schools:
  • Jim's post (advisor at MN New Country School, my first teaching job) on how teachers and staff make the budget and finance decisions site based.
  • Gigi's Post, who works at my former school EdVisions Off Campus (online, project based school)
  • Doug's post around the formation of EdVisions Schools (my employer) and EdVisions Cooperative (MN teacher cooperative)
  • Joe Graba's post around "improving teacher retention by making it a better job."
  • Lynn Norgren post from Minneapolis Federation of Teachers talks about ownership possibilities inside the Minneapolis School District
  • Carrie Bakken's from Avalon School gives insight to the Department of Education around teacher ownership
There is many more posts that are of interest, but I wanted to highlight a few. The winds of possibility are blowing for teachers to have more ownership in their work. With ownership, comes increased responsibility. With responsibility, should come advocacy and monitoring of education policy. 

Enjoy the last few weeks of summer,

Aaron

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Project Foundry Unconference in Milwaukee



Hi folks,

just finished day 1 of the
Project Foundry Unconference. This year marks the 2nd annual event. It is a great time, with like minded educators who come together to talk progressive education and how it melds with the software Project Foundry.

Our keynote speaker today (for the 2nd year in a row) was Peter Pappas. You can check him out at: http://www.peterpappas.blogs.com. He has some great things to say about the practice on
reflection, relevance and rigor. Once we deconstructed these words, the groups got a good idea about how these terms are thrown around in education circles, but we fail to define what they actually mean.

Overall, it was a successful day. Lots of friends here, coming together to help make what we all do better (using
Project Foundry).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jamie showing off his ipad

Published with Blogger-droid v1.3.6

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

3 Documentaries On My "Must See" List This Summer

There are three movies, around American education that should make things very interesting. While there have been many books written about the "one size fits all" factory model that I see as outdated, I am personally hoping that the movies get people to think more about our lack of innovation and systemic problems going on in schools.

To be clear, I don't blame teachers, but believe they should be some of the loudest advocates for change. I realize that I am young and still have much to learn, but one of my goals and passions in life is to see schools be better places for kids and teachers (as well as others)... more motivating, more engaging, more hopeful environments.

I embedded some of the trailers for these movies which all should be out this summer. I will try to follow up with thoughts later, but would also love to hear your reactions... along with any other documentaries that may be coming out around education.

Aaron







Friday, June 04, 2010

End Of the School Year Reflection

Whenever the end of the school year hits, there is something in my body that signals relief. Call it classical conditioning, but summer is never really hear until the school year ends. Sadly, like last summer, since I am not teaching at a school, summer will be a very busy time for me.

A few things cause me to reflect as the summer season moves in:
  1. Cain completed his first year (8th grade) at a MNCS which help provide him a new sense of self. While he still has a lot to work on (as we all do), as a parent I am happy to see him be less stressed out about school. The new environment held true to everything I hoped it would. His engagement and hope (measured by the Hope Survey) definitely increased. I wonder if they will let me see the anonymous data? ;-)
  2. I have been working on a new found lifestyle when it comes to food. On Sunday, it will be 9 weeks since I have eaten meat or drank milk (I can't say I am dairy free because I have eaten pizza a few times). While I am not yet pushing my new lifestyle on others, reading books like: Fast Food Nation, Omnivores Dilemma & Skinny Bastard (which ended up being more about what you should eat) and movies such as Food, Inc. & Super Size Me prodded me to try to make some changes. Honestly, I miss meat a little, but not nearly as much as I thought. Cutting out meat gets me to eat more vegetables and also contribute less to the synthetic industrial food chain. I highly recommend rice milk or soy milk to replace milk. I am losing weight, feeling better physically and mentally... and I am not even on a diet. Lastly, I have found out that buying food that is decent is not nearly as expensive an endeavor as I assumed.  I do drive a little further now (shopping mostly at Trader Joe's and Food Coops), but it is well worth it. Tofu isn't that bad either, if prepared right. I am still working on the cooking it myself methodology.
  3. Broden and Cain finished school. Broden is now a 2nd grader and Cain will enter 9th next year. I am getting old quick which I will have a reminder of next week.
To all you students out there, remember, just because it is summer doesn't mean that you should take a break from learning. I want to learn until the day I die, but I have to admit, I take breaks too. 

Until next time,
Aaron

Monday, May 24, 2010

Educational Whirlwind Tour in Milwaukee

I haven't had a chance to catch up with my blog, which I am trying to stay more on top of now. Last week was really busy and exciting.

I flew out on a very early flight last Wednesday to spend the day with Shane Krukowski of Project Foundry. Project Foundry has been a vital tool in both of the student driven, project based schools that I taught at (MNCS and EOC). Shane hosted a co-worker of mine and I for a day of Project Foundry enlightenment. We went through topics like: project proposals, approval options of projects/seminars, time logs/journals, result forms, project assessments, tasks, individualized learning plans, learning targets & standards, periodic assessments and reports & transcripts. We also caught up about some of the new releases that are due out before school starts again in the fall. I am definitely planning on attending the Project Foundry Unconference at the end of July, were there will be lots of like minded constructivists sharing best practices of this amazing 21st Century software.

On Wednesday night, I had the pleasure to attend a meeting with the group TransCenter for Youth, who were proposing to open a new school. The most powerful portion of the testimony came from students, who discussed how they had lost hope in their previous schools. All of the students are in schools that are around 100 students and they discussed how the size of the school lends itself to a more close knit, positive environment. The students were inspiring and reminded me why I get so excited to create better learning environments that better serve the needs of students (personal and academic). As tired as I was from a 5:40 a.m. flight that morning, my mind was racing about how inspirational the student stories were.

Thursday, another co-worker of mine flew in to attend the Great Lakes Constructivist Consortium's 2nd Annual Unconference. The event was held at the Kern Center, on the campus of Milwaukee School of Engineering. This event had both students displaying & presenting their work, along with adult sessions, were we presented on The Hope Survey.

On Friday, EdVisions Cooperative had our 3rd Annual Project Fair.  We had two high schools and two elementary schools in attendance. I have to hand it to the younger students, they really surprised with me the depth of their work. Two of my favorite projects from the younger students were: 1) The effects of microwaves on water, which was a series of experiments with water. The plants that were given water that had been heated up in the microwave died. 2) My favorite student, Jacob did a project on peanuts. Who knew there was so much information to learn about this staple food? His presentation concluded with making peanut butter balls, but I missed out on the taste.

It was a crazy couple of days. I slept on the plane for the first time (minus my trip to Tokyo which was sleeping pill induced) ever. It was a short nap, since it is only about a 40 minute flight. 

Hope you enjoyed the update. As always, feel free to touch base.

Best,

Aaron

My dinner Wednesday night (Pear Salad)... magnificent!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Hope Survey

After some strategic planning a few weeks back, my new position has me selling/doing outreach on The Hope Survey 75% of my time. This is work that I am really excited about, since it brings relevance and data driven decision practices to the school environment on more than just "how to get students to do better on tests."

My organization, Edvisions Schools, is submitting our second I3 grant on this work. The Hope Survey began more than five years ago when we were approached by Mark Van Ryzin, who was working on his PhD at the University of Minnesota in Education Psychology. Mark Van Ryzin is someone I have immense respect for, since I feel like he is actually working on things that matter to kids: motivation, relevance, mentor figures and so on. After five years of data, we are now able to definitively say that raising student hope correlates to raising student achievement.

The following is from a recent write up by Mark Van Ryzin: "The Hope Surveys measure autonomy, belongingness and competence, along with their resulting engagement in learning and their dispositional orientations towards achievement (i.e. their "hope"). Matched with student achievement scores, the resulting data can provide a detailed picture of the school climate and its effects on student performance. The Hope Surveys do this in a manner that protects student confidentiality yet still can measure student performance over time. The surveys require very little time, which means that they will not significantly impact instruction."

The Hope Surveys have been proven to help schools:
  • Understand the school culture and how it supports adolescent needs
  • Link school culture to dispositional hope, which is correlated to post high school success
  • Discover ways to engage students to raise achievement
  • Improve teacher effectiveness by providing appropriate interventions that raise engagement and hope
Here are some recent documents for your viewing pleasure (pdf's):
So the variables work like this:
  1. Autonomy, Belonginess, Goal Orientation & Academic Press (student perceptions of these) lead to --->
  2. Engagement - which refers to the student's behavior and attitudes in school (means students are both "behaviorally engaged" and "emotionally engaged" in school)... leads to --->
  3. Hope - (psychological health) which reflects individual's perception regarding their ability to clearly conceptualize their goals & to develop the specific strategies to reach theses goals (i.e., pathway thinking), and initiate and sustain the activities in support of those strategies(i.e., agency thinking)... which leads to --->
  4. Academic Achievement - I argue that schools should be held "accountable" for raising student hope ;-)
I invite any feedback on this information. I am looking for schools, networks of schools and states who would like use our survey. Does your school have have hope?

Aaron
aaron@edvisionsschools.org
507 248-3738 ext. 7

Monday, May 10, 2010

Early Registration Discount for Summer Institute Ends May 12

For those who plan on attending the 10th Annual Summer Institute, you need to register by May 12th to get the early registration deadline (the early registration deadline has already passed for Hawaii).
 
We are really excited to have Deborah Meier, a giant in the small schools world, who will be joining us as our keynote speaker at our MN Institute in Henderson.

For registration info, check out the following spots:

Great Lakes Constructivist Consortium's Unconference

I am happy to be heading to Milwaukee in a couple of weeks to attend the GLCC's Exhibition and Unconference on May 20 in Milwaukee. You can check out registration and a schedule by clicking here.

If you live in Minnesota, such as I do, you can take a flight into Milwaukee same day (fly in/fly out) for about $115, which sure beats driving.

I will be there with my co-worker Mary Menne presenting on the Hope Survey and The EdVisions Model.

Let me know if you will be in attendance. It would be great to talk shop. ;-)

Friday, May 07, 2010

Innovation-based System Reform: Getting Beyond Traditional School

If you know me, I am big fan of the group Education Evolving. Recently, they published their latest paper (click here to view) regarding a familiar plea that public education move to a "two bet strategy." This two bet strategy would allow for more innovative approaches to education 21st Century students than the current "teacher as expert" model that we assume is our best bet to raise productive citizens in society. If you are interested in education policy, I think you will find it as a good read and one that trumpets what America's education system really needs, a large scale system change from the current one bet strategy. 

If you don't believe me, believe my son Cain. Last year in a typical large, suburban, impersonal junior high, he grew complete frustrated with school. This started to effect his self esteem and definitely impacted his motivation to learn. This year (after he agreed to the experiment), he has spent the year at Minnesota New Country School, commuting down from the Twin Cities with me. He has rediscovered the joy of learning and is definitely improving his academic achievement. If he would have continued to stay in the "one size fits all" environment, as his dad I was afraid to see what would happen as he continued to disengage with school. He and I talk more than ever about learning and his future, because I am a real partner is his learning.

I am going to try and contribute more on here. I have to to admit that the facebook and twitter world we live in has me giving out short thoughts. As always, feel free to share your thoughts.

Aaron