Monday, December 19, 2011

Kindergarteners Do Work That Matters

Colorful candy constitutes beautiful roofing.  Pieces of chocolate serve as an inviting walkway to the front door.  As gorgeous as the house is, the learning and joy associated with kindergarten students’ work on the gingerbread house is even more impressive.
Students in Mrs. Murawski’s kindergarten class at Magruder Elementary School knew that their work mattered.  One reason they fully committed themselves to carefully designing and constructing the gingerbread house was because they are donating the house to a local senior citizen’s home to bring joy during this holiday season.
At the start of the construction project, Mrs. Murawski convened her students for a design team meeting.  Each student chose to serve on a committee which planned one aspect of the job.  For example, the landscaping committee planned the layout and creation of the yard while the roof committee developed ideas for the top of the house.  These five year old children learned a lot about team work.  Mrs. Murawski commented that one of the biggest challenge for students was "working with a committee of students, making decisions together and realizing that you have to compromise.  As they came together with their research information and began to share the ideas with each other they realized that they may indeed like what they saw in their classmate's research booklet."
Each committee created a blueprint for their aspect of the job and then the class created a master plan linking the work of the separate project teams.  The father of one of the students, who works in the construction business, visited the class to explain blueprints, provide advice, and talk about his career in construction. 
This student stands below the Master Plans.
Although the gingerbread house was prominently displayed near the entrance of the classroom when I visited, signs of the complexity of the project were clear.  Several students showed me the project timeline and explained that listing the steps of the project helped them complete it.  One student proudly held up the blueprint for the front of the house that he helped create.  Another student showed off the master plans.  Click on the icon below to listen to a third student explain how he felt after completing the construction project.
I am incredibly impressed with the strong work ethic displayed by Mrs. Murawski’s students.  Their effort and the quality of their work, however, stems largely from the fact that Mrs. Murawski gave them work that mattered.  Students made choices regarding what work they would do and how they would do it.  They had the opportunity to be creative and to be problem solvers.   They knew they were making a product that others would value.  Hats off to Mrs. Murawski for providing her students work that matters because this project also made a difference for students in terms of the development of important skills and knowledge.  The construction of the gingerbread house was a sweet experience for all involved!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Learning in the Shift Age (welcome remarks at Virginia ASCD Conference)

I want to ask educators in Virginia to think back for a moment to August.  Do you remember what we were dealing with in August?  Hurricanes.  Earthquakes.  A Fire in the dismal swamp (which is finally out, by the way).  I found myself thinking of a music group from the 70s and 80s.
Although Earth Wind and Fire was a great group, the challenges of August were not great.  What were we doing when the challenges hit?  We were getting ready to start the school year.  And our efforts barely, if at all stopped: we just dealt with the challenges.  As teachers, principals, superintendents, as educators, we are expected to deal with any challenge that comes our way. 
Today David Houle, coauthor of ShiftEd, is going to challenge us to deal with change.  He says we are entering a shift age in which we can master the opportunities provided by global connectivity.  He talks about the emphasis on choice, customization, and flexibility and he challenges us to transform schools in response to these changes.
Houle and coauthor Jeff Cobb write,
Embracing and rapidly managing change is fundamental to the consciousness of the Shift Age.  The speed of change has accelerated so much that it is now environmental: we live in an environment of change . . . The old phrase “standing on solid ground” no longer has merit.  If an individual believes she is standing on solid ground and has a clear, certain view of the world, it is now a given that whether it be six months, nine months, or a year from now that person is going to suddenly realize the world has changed while she was busy being certain.
Karen Washington, a first-year principal in the school district in which I work, had an experience in August that relates to this notion of not standing on solid ground. She was facilitating her first heavy duty instructional conversation with her staff when the earthquake hit.  Do you know what she did?  She kept right on--talking, asking questions, listening.  She didn’t miss a beat.  She admitted later that she actually didn’t even notice the earthquake.
When she told me this, it reminded me of another group, REM and their song in which they sing of "the end of the world as we know it.”

Click on the videos below to check out these brief excerpts of the music video.

It wasn't the end of the world in August, but there was an earthquake, and Karen Washington was totally fine.  Will we be totally fine with the end of the world as we know it--with the shift age that David Houle is about to describe?  I am optimistic that you will each be fine because you are here at this conference because of your commitment to learning.  And our professional learning will be a key to thriving in the shift age.  With the shift age we have opportunities for learning that did not exist previously.  A superintendent who wrote an essay that is part of the ShiftEd book spoke of her sense that there will be few boundaries of space time or place for learning in the shift age.
One example of learning that is not limited by time or place is the conversation that occurred during the last few days via Twitter regarding ShiftEd.  Teachers, principals, and superintendents planning to attend the VASCD conference started the conversation and others who would not be attending soon joined.  Comments were posted at all times of day from people throughout and outside of Virginia.

It is this type of limitless learning that will help us deal with the Shift Age and the earthquakes, hurricanes, and fires of the future.   So, let us get started!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shift Ed Calls for K-12 Transformation

Here are some key points set forth by David Houle (@evolutionshift) and Jeff Cobb in Shift Ed: A Call to Action for Transforming K-12 Education.  Each key point is set forth in fewer than 144 characters.  I wrote them in this format so that I could share some of them via Twitter in an online discussion of ShiftEd in the days leading up to Virginia ASCD Annual Conference, which starts today.   At the invitation of Ann Etchison (@ann1622) and @VASCD, I will be providing welcoming remarks at today’s conference, prior to David Houle’s General Session keynote address. 

Here is a link to the Shift Ed web site:
Shift to #teaching 21st century skills unlikely in current K-12 ed system says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
K-12 ed system more of a containment area than place to prep kids 4 21st century says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
widespread disagreement re: K-12 but we need unified vision says @evolutionshift how achieved? #vascd11 #shfited
Stop tinkering w/ ed system & curriculum-instead look at what it needs 2 become says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
How has ed responded to new tech world? It hasn’t says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
We compartmentalize tech driven change so traditional teaching is untouched says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
In 2 many schools #edtech is little more than an add-on says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Next 20 years are the Shift Age when we master opportunities of global connectiveness says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Schools must move beyond being purveyors of info says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
@evolutionshift Is connectedness a force separate from “flow to global” or just its cause? #vascd11 #shifted
Connectivity-global culture-power 2 individuals are key 2 Shift Age says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted #edchat
Choice-customization-flexibility explode in shift age says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Constructivism cited in #shifted is not new-but in time of emphasis on individual is the world finally ready 4 cnstrctvsm? @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Should we confine kids w/i 4 walls for set time to be fed set content? asks @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Most of current #edreform is reactionary
Need to shift 2 thinking about #learning experiences not ed systems says supt woodward in #shifted @evolutionshift #vascd11
We need to be creators of #learning experiences says supt woodward in #shifted @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
There should b few boundaries of time space place 4 #learning says supt woodward in #shifted @evolutionshift #vascd11
Students will gradually assume responsibility 4 #learning says supt woodward in #shifted @evolutionshift #vascd11
How much freedom should students have 2 decide when where how 2 connect 4 #learning asks @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
What are skills needed 4 #learning in social networks asks @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
we need to customize means of #learning-should we also customize outcomes @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
Are schools only or even mostly physical places? Asks @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
What do you think of the common core? @evolutionshift
Schools must become better at shape shifting to meet new demands says @evolutionshift #vascd11 #shifted
#shifted web site has additional resources