Wednesday, February 22, 2017

'Why?' Questions to Reform Education

I just finished reading A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, and it really made me think about how I use questions with our school community to solicit feedback about how we can do things better. Berger's "Why? What Now? How?" process makes sense and validates what Simon Sinek explains in "The Golden Circle" that knowing why we do something give us purpose to do what we do. Both Berger and Sinek provide examples of people or companies that started with why? to provide products or services that may not have existed a few years ago. Coincidentally, I visited with Ian Kitajima at Oceanit last week, and their innovation company lives this idea of asking why?questions and seeking solutions to problems.

Today, I read an article about Finland's educational success. It was written in 2011, but the "lessons" shared by Pasi Dahlberg are still applicable today in 2017. In fact, perhaps they are even more relevant.

I was hoping that the Berger book would include a chapter on "Questioning for Education" but it only included a chapter on "Questioning for Business" and "Questioning for Life." So as I reflected on the present or upcoming transitions at the national and state level and the changes I have seen in my nearly 44 years as an educator, I want to pose these why? questions for education. I don't have the answers, but I believe that these are questions we might explore if we want to make the kinds of changes that are necessary to prepare our children to inherit a world where they can make a difference. Here are some of my why? questions:
  • Why are schools so "traditional" and why is it so hard to change?
  • Why aren't we looking at different models to build and/or upgrade our schools to the 21st century (e.g. business or university partnerships)? 
  • Why can't developers build schools for the areas they are developing?
  • Why do we need standardized report cards to tell us how a student is doing in school? What do grades really tell us about a student? 
  • Why do we need standardized tests? What do these tests really tell us that we didn't already know about a student?
  • Why do we have grade level standards? What would be a better way of collecting evidences of student progress - where they started and where they are now - as opposed to where we say they need to be by the end of a grade level?
  • If we value innovation and diversity, why are we so intent on standardizing education?
  • Why do we keep talking about school reform? When will we stop talking and do something amazing that will keep our teachers excited about teaching and our kids excited about learning?
  • Why aren't educators valued in the United States as they are in other countries?
And my most important why? question is:  If we say that the 'children are our future,' why aren't we willing to invest in that future?

Saturday, February 11, 2017

It's More than a Place to Borrow Books 2017

About 4 years ago, I wrote a blog after attending the annual conference for the Hawaii Association of School Librarians. At that time, we were in the process of planning for a $33.2 million construction project, courtesy of the Department of Defense and the State of Hawaii which included building a new library media resource center. Throughout the project, I wrote a blog to document what was happening. In October 2016, our project was completed; the last phase to be done was the library media resource and student center.

I just read the blog by John Spencer, "We Need Libraries More than Ever" and decided it was time to update this blog post.

As schools explore ways to save money, many are choosing to eliminate the librarian position and to focus on technology rather than purchasing books.  A prevailing thought is that libraries are outdated and that purchasing books is a waste of money when it is so easy to get information via the Internet.  I disagree; schools need libraries and librarians.

Our library is a vibrant place, filled with eager students who love to choose a "just right" book to borrow.  But our library is more than just a place to listen to stories and learn how to find a book.  Our library is a media resource center where students learn to access information about topics of interest, to use different technology and Web 2.0 tools to collaborate with their classmates, to communicate and share information not just within our school but globally as well, and to nurture a love of books and literacy.

I have had discussions about how school librarians need to change the way they provide services to teachers and students if they want to survive.  This can be a challenging process.  When we hired our librarian twelve years ago, she and I had lengthy discussions about our vision for the library.  We wanted teachers to be present for the lesson so they could follow-up in their classroom. The librarian needed to be a collaborator with the grade level teachers as they planned instruction based on big ideas and essential questions.  We needed a vast collection of books - both fiction and non-fiction - and we wanted the books to be borrowed, not sitting on the shelf.  Rather than having a set library time each week, we wanted classes to sign up depending on the purpose for the visit. Because researching requires more time, classes could sign up more than once a week if necessary. As technology and Web 2.0 tools became more available, the librarian would model the use of these tools in instruction so students and teachers could access and share information virtually as well as through traditional projects.  It was challenging to change the mindset of teachers regarding the role of the library and the librarian, but today, our librarian is seen as an essential resource at our school.

There are those who claim that students can get whatever information they want electronically so libraries and print material are no longer necessary. I disagree. Just because information is readily available electronically does not mean that students know how to choose the right resource, how to determine what is real and what is fake, how to skim and scan to find answers, how to take notes and organize them in a meaningful way, and how to summarize and share that information with others. That is something a librarian can help with.

Our librarian plans school-wide activities and invites our families and the community to get involved. Book Fairs are fun, family events; she coordinates activities like the Cardboard Challenge, Hour of Code, Global Read Aloud, Nene discussions, Lunch Time Pop-Ups where students teach other students, and most recently, video game design. Check out our library website to see all that she offers to our school community.

Much discussion and thought went into planning and designing our library media resource center, and our goal was to create a place that can grow and change to meet the literacy and information needs of our students and teachers now and in the future. Our students love our new library! We have flexible furniture that can accommodate several classes doing different things. There are construction toys and a paper roller coaster that students continue to add to. The other day, a high school principal said the physics students at his school are required to construct something similar. When we designed the library, the State added a teacher workroom; our librarian turned it into an Exploratopia; it's a favorite place for students to go to during recess, lunchtime, and after school. Classes have used the area to design and build simple machines or to create habitats as part of their social studies research. Many schools have added a Makerspace; our Exploratopia empowers learners to explore, discover, create, and share. 

Finally, I believe that every child needs to experience sharing a book with a special adult.  I remember those moments with my own sons or grandsons, reading some of our favorite books together, laughing, crying, or just sharing that special time together.  As a teacher, that was one of my students' favorite time of the day -- story time.  I believe that being exposed to all kinds of books -- fiction and nonfiction -- nurtures a love for reading which translates to greater success in school and in life. That's another reason why we need school libraries.

It would be a shame if school librarians suffered the same fate as businesses like Borders or Blockbuster which did not realize the need to change to meet the challenges of a changing world until it was too late. Let's work to make sure that does not happen with school librarians.

Our library has high ceilings, vibrant colors, flexible furniture, and lots of space for students as well as faculty meetings and professional development.
Students love adding on to the paper roller coaster. What a wonderful way to learn physics concepts such as gravity, friction, kinetic energy, and acceleration!
Third graders used the design process to create simple machines in the Exploratopia. It was great to hear the discussion and to observe the students collaborating on their projects.
Third graders helped kindergarten buddies to complete coding activities. These library shelves double as benches. 
Second grade classes studied different habitats. Students used the Exploratopia to work on their individual dioramas. This class researched animals in the Arctic habitat, and they were able to share what they learned with the other second grade classes. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why Don't I Blog More?

I read George Couros' blog, "Why aren't you blogging more?" and again, I felt a bit guilty about not blogging more regularly. The truth is that even if I have an idea, unless I get started on the blog, chances are that it won't get done. I do feel guilty when days and weeks go by without me blogging, but it's not easy.

This blog will be very random based on recent thoughts and reflections that I was thinking about blogging but never did. Here goes!

  • We have been exploring and discovering about project-based learning since last school year. Yet teachers still have questions. I've pondered why the same questions keep popping up like "What is PBL?" or "How can we fit PBL into our schedule when we have the standards to teach?" or "How can PBL work with younger students?" or "How can I, as a teacher, keep track if students are all doing different projects?" As I thought about how our PBL team has rolled things out, primarily during Wednesday extended day meetings, I think I realize the problem. Spreading out the PD has meant that we are always reviewing or answering the same questions especially when we have new teachers who have not received PBL training. Teachers have not bought into the driving question, "Why PBL?" We have lots of work to do. As one of our teachers shared last week, "Is PBL a mindshift or a process?" I think it's a mindshift." I agree, but making that shift isn't easy. That is our challenge.
  • It is important for our staff to stay fit and healthy so we are presently in our second annual Wellness and Fitness Challenge. After last year's Challenge, we made some changes this year. Last year, participation was optional; this year, everyone is on a team. Last year, the challenge was for 4 weeks; this year, our challenge is for the entire third quarter. We've encouraged team members to write down their goals and to encourage each other to achieve their daily and weekly goals. This year, I'm keeping a daily journal, and it's helped tremendously to keep me on-track. Teachers keep data on their students, but I think it would be more powerful for students to keep their own data on their progress towards their goals 
  • Funding for education will never be adequate. I am presently serving on the Committee on Weights (COW) to determine the formula to fund schools under Weighted Student Formula. Although everyone says they support public education, no one wants to raise taxes or find other sources of revenue such as a lottery. Unless we can increase the pot, the members of the COW will do our best to ensure that funding for schools is based on a fair formula. It frustrates me that the public says they support education, but no one has an idea on how to provide our Department with adequate funding. If the public wants our students to have a well-rounded education, we need to provide art, music, physical education, drama, and STEM teachers. Our students deserve it, but we can't provide that without adequate funding.
  • I am concerned about the state of our nation. Our State depends on federal funding; without those funds, we will struggle to provide services for students who need it the most - our disadvantaged and those with special needs. 

Okay, that's it for now!