Inside the following post is a letter expressing my gratitude and love for the school I will be leaving at the end of this week. It is addressed to my colleagues, peers, students, and the community who have meant so much to me the last seven years.
Inside this post you’ll find a plea from a few students who are currently in the project-based learning program I helped to start at my school. With the transition I’m making next year and having difficulty finding teachers who are willing to go the PBL route, the program will change drastically, including the continued moratorium of the junior level of the offered course. (You may recall that we didn’t have the junior level this year either in hopes of revamping it; well, that hasn’t quite happened.) The plea inside was sent to me in an email last night; the students intend to send it to anyone who is willing to listen. I thought I might try and amplify their voices. I share this also because it so well captures why I know what I’ve done for the last four years is right. Names and places have been removed for the protection of everyone. Continue reading
No one really enjoys taking tests even if they happen to be really good at taking them. To celebrate the arrival of spring and it just being naturally wonderful outside today, I decided to let the kiddos take their midterm outside in the sunshine or in the shade of the building. They loved it of course, and it was actually easier to watch them take the test out there than it is in my classroom (which has no windows mind you). While we had to battle a bug or two and listen to a very happy bird chirp fairly incessantly, the experience was nothing short of delightful for me and them. I’ll end this little post by simply saying it’s nice to break out of the ‘prison’ from time to time even when doing something as fettering as taking a test.
The education crisis in America is a myth.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t serious reform that needs to happen in various districts and states, but the cold, hard reality is that nothing the federal government hands down to the states will ever be a cure all for individual systems’ woes. Another reality is that there are groups making money hand over fist from a crisis that has been manufactured by misleading data, media outlets, and policy makers. A glimmer of truth can be gleaned from an article in the New York Times, which you can read here. Published just yesterday, the article sheds light on how countries such as China are actually looking to our American classrooms for guidance on how to teach and prepare students past primary school, specifically in the sciences.
The article asserts that China’s educators are looking to our classrooms to model our hands-on approach to learning science. The article also explains to readers the highest stakes test Chinese students take and why many parents are sending their children to America for high school. What’s the problem China officials are seeing? Their students can memorize the facts, but they don’t know how they apply to the real world, and they are unprepared to think critically. Sound familiar?
Education can be a problem anywhere, but to state what I’ve said before, we shouldn’t be trying to keep up with other countries’ test scores; rather, we should be leap frogging them in innovation. How do we do that? Continue to push students to think critically, work in dynamic teams, and foster the soft skills so desperately needed in a global market!
What a whirlwind six weeks! My first round of doctoral classes are done–physically anyway. I have one last assignment that I’m currently drafting, but for all intents and purposes this semester is in the books. What have I learned? Good question.
Going back to school to get my doctorate was an easy choice because I’ve known its what I wanted to do since I was fifteen years old. (I’m an odd bird in that respect, I think.) I remember distinctly that I was both excited and nervous to start the program. Would I be good enough? Can I manage my time? Am I honestly smart enough to pursue this degree? What I found out this semester is what I believe to be a ‘yes’ to all three of those questions, but it’s early, and I’m a good year and half, two years away from the dissertation. In the meantime, what I really discovered from this summer is a re-energized spirit to take into my classroom this year along with several great ideas. My head is swimming with new possibilities and practices! What have I learned this semester? Everything. (Excuse the hyperbole, but I seriously feel like I’ve been drinking from the fire hose.)
Below are some rough sketches of what I’d like to do in both by PBL classroom as well as my more traditional classrooms:
- Use service-learning projects to develop a bigger and more important audience for my students and to foster more civic engagement.
- Create an honest, dialogic classroom where students really command the conversation and develop co-knowledge.
- Use a conference-style panel to change up project presentations. (Think ISTE or NCTE)
- Using journaling more pragmatically to help set up future writing instruction and assignments.
- Really discuss writing, its purpose, and its domains with my students.
- Use Socratic methods during project proposal inceptions and approval. (Large circle think-alouds and questioning to develop a project’s purpose.)
- Use dialog among students as a pre-writing method. (Create specific roles for the discussion, but students become co-authors of knowledge before a writing assignment)
There is a great deal more than this of course rattling around in my head, but these are some highlights. The best part is–they’re all fairly easy to implement this year without breaking my back as an educator. What do you think? Could you see yourself using any of this in your classroom? Feel free to reach out to me if you want to dialog about any of these ideas more. (Twitter: @theprofjones)