Friday, March 21, 2014

Duke goes down! What lesson do we learn?

Duke - mighty Duke - got beat by Mercer today.

Coach K - the household name, Olympic gold medal winning coach, 4-time national championship winning coach - out in the first round.

A 14 seed beat a 3 seed. A huge upset! Not the biggest of all time. Seven times a 15 seed has beaten a 2 seed.

But Duke - mighty Duke - beaten by a team that very few people know.

Is there a lesson for schools?

Perhaps it is this: The inevitable isn't always inevitable.

In schools we fight against some seemingly intractable problems. In our district achievement gaps continue to confound us. We have made closing achievement gaps a district goal. We have spent time, money, attention on trying to identify ways to close achievement gaps. Yet they persist.

As a result it is tempting to make excuses. Those kids who aren't achieving - well those are our special education kids, those are our ESL kids. Those tests that measure growth and achievement - they don't really work very well for our kids.

Yet if I am the parent of any student in my district, I send my child to your school because I believe that you can help. If you can't right away, I believe that you will find a way. As a parent, I do not want to hear that my child can't achieve because he has special needs or because his first language is not English.

No, when I send my child to your school I trust that you can help.

As a parent I understand that I have a part to play. I need to read to my child. I need to make sure they are cared for and nurtured. I need to establish routines. I have an important role to play.

But I send them to school to learn. Don't tell me that my child can't learn or that it is really hard.

If Duke vs. Mercer teaches us anything, maybe it is the lesson that "can't" or "won't" - as in can't win or won't win or can't learn or won't learn - should not be part of our vocabulary.

Instead, we should say - we will find a way. Nothing is impossible!

Friday, March 14, 2014

You have to be kidding!

Blogging with 1st graders?

You have to be kidding!

1st graders need to learn the basics. They need to learn how to write with a pencil. They need to learn how to spell. They need to learn like I did.

But do they really?

The children that we have in our classrooms were born into a world where computers are not a new and scary thing. These students understand the power that technology brings to their lives.

Certainly, these students need to know how to read, write, and think. But blogging provides a tool that can engage them in deep and powerful ways.

Today at MACUL, two first grade teachers from Deerfield Elementary in Novi - Sherry Griesinger and Lindsay Pintar - spoke passionately about how their students - in first grade - were blogging.

Real audiences. Real content. Real writing.

Blogging with 1st graders is not only possible but should be happening!

Monday, March 3, 2014

The (limited) power of analytics

Data is in vogue. 

Athletics has begun to use data - changing how we believe we can create success in athletics. Moneyball - using data to make decisions about baseball players - was an early example. First it was a book and then a movie. (Starring Brad Pitt no less!) 

MIT Sloan - Sports Analytics Conference

a conference dedicated to analyzing sports - from analyzing over a million pitches to see how umpires change how they call balls and strikes to predicting how a pitcher will do in the next inning.

But just because we can get all of this data, does it mean it is good for us to make every decision based on data?

Some are beginning to question whether we are becoming "digitally obese." 

"Technology will absolutely stay on its exponential course and make information wider, deeper, and faster. Unless we find a way to deal with this constant tsunami of possibilities, we may ultimately all become digitally obese. . ."

The same phenomenon is happening in education. 

We have more information. We have faster information. 

But do we have the right information?

We can track a student's growth and his/her achievement every year they have been in school. Correspondingly, we believe we can use that to measure the impact a teacher has had - the added-value of the teacher.

But is that really what we are doing? Does the data really show us what we think it shows us?

I believe that parents send their children to our schools so that they will learn. Those of us who are in schools need to be able to show that a student's life has been enriched in our schools. We need to be able to show that a student has learned. 

We need to do this because we are not babysitters. Our job in education is not to keep students out of trouble or to keep them "busy" while their parents are at work. 

Our job is to educate.

We now have state tests, national tests, and benchmarked assessments. We have scaled scores, percentile ranks, and projected growth metrics.

But do we have what we need to sit with a parent and describe the change that has happened in a student's life? Does the data do the job for us? 

Or is there something missing when all we rely on is data?

I think that data has its place. But the real power of schools is not just to give a parent a "number." No - the real power in schools is to be able to have a conversation about the change that has occurred in a student. Are they engaged? Are they interested in school? Do they get excited about learning? Can they apply what they know to their life outside of school? Are we seeing them develop a passion about ideas?

There is power in numbers.

But the real power of school cannot be captured in just a number. No the real power of school is displayed by students and teachers who love to learn.