Tag Archives: iowa

Dreaming bigger for Iowa education

RETHINK

Lately I’ve been trying to dream a little bigger about Iowa schools. Feel free to map this onto your own state or province…

Background

Bottom line

What if…

  1. every Urban Education Network of Iowa district had an ‘alternative’ high school for low-achieving students that focused on creative inquiry, collaborative problem-solving, and community contribution instead of worksheet packets and self-paced online courses? (some may already)
  2. each regional Area Education Agency had the capacity to help its districts create project-based learning ‘incubators?’ (kind of like Iowa BIG in Cedar Rapids)
  3. the Iowa Department of Education worked with the School Administrators of Iowa, the Iowa Association of School Boards, the Iowa State Education Association, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Chambers of Commerce, the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and others to help superintendents, school boards, communities, and postsecondary institutions envision a more transformative learning future for students?
  4. given our tremendous grassroots movement toward 1:1 computing environments – 200+ out of 331 districts (and counting!) – Iowa was the first state in the country (other than maybe Maine) to place its instructional technology emphasis on enhanced learning and teaching, not just access?
  5. like in many private schools and Rhode Island, high school seniors had to complete a deep, complex, multidisciplinary capstone requirement in order to graduate?
  6. every high school student in Iowa had the opportunity to do a credit-earning, community-based internship before graduation?
  7. there was statewide pressure from school districts on educator preparation programs to be more relevant?
  8. one or more Iowa universities worked with external partners to design and deliver a ‘Future Ready’ leadership graduate certificate that would give teacher leaders and administrators the skills necessary to foster 21st century learning environments?
  9. we utilized hands-on, engaging STEM activities more often in core math and science courses, not just in electives or extracurricular programs?
  10. Iowa Learning Online dramatically expanded its offerings to include electives such as Agricultural Engineering, Design Thinking, Sustainable Development, Digital Marketing, or Computer Programming and students not only could get high school or university course credit but also microcredentials that could be used for employment?
  11. our various statewide education summits were targeted, focused opportunities for us to work together and craft solutions, not just sit and listen?
  12. we trained district curriculum leaders in various blended learning models?
  13. we had regional exemplar schools across the state like Waukee APEX, the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology in Virginia, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, or the urban National Academy Foundation schools, with an emphasis on intentional dissemination partnerships to spread best practices to other schools?
  14. we scaled competency-based education to the next level (like in some other states) rather than it idling in the pilot stage?
  15. like some states and districts, we created open access textbooks and taught teachers how to curate open educational resources (OER), thus freeing up textbook monies for other purposes?
  16. we did a much better job of raising the (inter)national visibility of Iowa’s amazing educational initiatives through better utilization of social media channels, online communities, and digital branding and marketing strategies?
  17. the Governor’s Office, the Iowa Department of Education, the Iowa Business Council, the Iowa Farm Bureau, and other partners collaboratively approached a major education foundation, corporation, or government grant program and said, “We’re deadly serious about thinking REALLY big here. Help us make it happen?”

Each of these would be big. Many of these together would be amazing… What do you think? What would you add to (or remove from) this list?

Robot alligators

Lego Alligator

I spent this morning at the Maker Tech Camp at Edwards Elementary here in Ames. Teresa Green is an innovative teacher who received a grant from the district last year to purchase various ‘maker’ resources. Since then she has been busy putting them and her students to work!

Today’s activity for the 2nd and 3rd graders was to build a Lego alligator and have it chomp down when it sensed a finger or pencil in its mouth. The students had to build the alligator – including the motion sensor – and then figure out how to use the Lego WeDo software to code it correctly. The Team Neutrino First Robotics student helpers from Ames High were of great assistance. My favorite kid quote from today was

We sent a message to the alligator and then the alligator said ‘Oh, I can do that!’

Other camp activities this week appeared to include making LED bookmarks, learning circuitry by playing with Makey Makey and other electronics, creating objects with the 3D printer, and goofing around with robots. Teresa and I talked about a lot of different things while I was there, including how to sell others on the educational value of this kind of learning, how to be less directive and enable the kids to explore more, and what ‘maker days’ have looked like at other elementary schools across Iowa. Teresa also shared with me that the Science Center of Iowa is hosting ‘maker chats’ on Twitter every other Tuesday evening this summer at 7pm CST using the #iamakerchat hashtag.

This is always good stuff. More of this, please.

Innovation, 3D roller coasters, and questioning the status quo

Change Post Its

Below are my notes from Day 1 of our Northwest Iowa TICL conference

Tony Vincent, Learning In Hand@tonyvincent

Question the Status Quo

  • Entrepreneurs are curious, creative, and fearless about experimentation – Hal Gregersen
  • Showing us a series of ‘life hacks’ to help us think outside the box
  • What does innovation mean to you? (using the Post-It Plus app to display audience responses)
    • Sometimes innovation means you have to stay within a box and think creatively
  • MyScript Calculator and PhotoMath
  • Use ‘-teacherspayteachers’ to exclude that site from your Google searches for teaching resources
  • Other places to search for resources include Pinterest, Diigo, Slideshare, YouTube, Twitter, etc.
  • Eric Schmidt – “the best way we’ve found to foster [innovation] at Google is to create an environment where ideas can collide in new and interesting ways, and the good ones are given resources to grow”
  • Plickers is an innovative tool created by an educator
  • Limitations can lead to innovations (e.g., using the address app to make our own dictionary / word wall)
  • Using Amazon book reviews with 5th grade students
  • Inklewriter allows students to make ‘choose your own adventure’ stories
  • Obvious to You, Amazing to Others video (Derek Sivers)

Oculus Rift 02

Dane Barner, StuCamp, @MrBarnerWCMS
 
Sustainable Innovation: Creating a Space for Innovation to Happen
  • No Box Thinking chat, #nbchat
  • Is lack of change just implementation fidelity?
  • Me: If you say to a teaching staff that we’re going to try a bunch of stuff and expect most of it to fail, they’ll look at you like you’re crazy
  • Dane: Innovation is change with purpose. Innovation is not something that we do, it’s something that happens.
  • Adam Bellow: Innovation occurs at the intersection of fear and bravery
  • Dane: Innovation requires an innovative mindset, the removal of restrictions, the right people, and failure as an option
  • Rachelle Mau: Fossilized mindset = they have concrete in their shoes and they’re buying concrete for others…
  • Dane: growth mindset = doing things you haven’t done before, innovative mindset = thinking in ways you haven’t before (and accept them)
  • Two core beliefs in schools: just tell me what to do, and there is a right answer (I just have to figure out what it is) – for both student and adult learners
  • What does it say about us as educators that we tenaciously hang on to what we know doesn’t work?
  • The curse of the three Ss – sports, schedule, and staffing
  • How do the people around you affect your ability to be innovative?
  • Dane: Dreamers and grounders
  • Failure is an event not a destination
  • Learning to walk: After falling, have you ever seen a baby say, “That’s it, I’m a crawler!”

Iowa State University FLEx trailer, Pete Evans, @petemevans #ISUFLEx

  • I experienced a virtual roller coaster wearing Oculus Rift (very cool!)
  • Also present: 3D printer, Little Bits, and more!

That’s not a given

Discard an axiom

I loved hearing Will Richardson say at the Iowa Association of School Boards conference last November that ‘curriculum is a strategy.’

Because he’s right. Standards are a strategy. Bell schedules are a strategy. Bubble-sheet testing of low-level recall is a strategy. School calendars, grade levels, siloed content areas, instructional methods, grading systems, discipline policies, and sit-and-get, one-and-done professional development sessions are all strategies. All of them. None of them are given. None of them are essential, handed-down-on-a-stone-tablet components of schooling. They are all voluntarily-employed strategies that can be modified. Or deleted.

If we’re going to change learning experiences for students, we have to stop thinking of legacy strategies as givens. We have to put things back on the table for consideration. We have to move from ‘yes, but’ to ‘why not?’ and ‘how can we?’

Or we can stay stagnant, content to tweak around the edges of mediocrity.

[practice saying with me… “You know, that’s not a given. We could change that.”]

Image credit: Oblique strategies, Bastiaan Terhorst

How does losing 1,000+ teaching positions make Iowa schools better?

#PinkApril30

Patrick Kearney said:

I had a Republican legislator [in Iowa] reference me saying that I was “wrong” in my writing on school funding. Yet, after saying I was “wrong” he admitted that Republican legislators are using large amounts of tax dollars (80% of next year’s state revenues) for corporate property tax relief. He wrote that the state simply couldn’t afford more than a 1.25% increase in K-12 school funding, yet state budget experts say that we have $717 million in state reserves and don’t even need to touch our state surplus in order to support education spending and still balance the budget. He said he didn’t have any problems with teachers, but it sure seemed crazy that those darned teacher unions were asking for 4% salary increases (although Iowa teachers make at least $5,000 less than the national average). He admitted that the 1.25% growth included money from the governor’s Teacher Leadership Compensation plan that was never intended to be included in SSA (what used to be allowable growth). I was perplexed as to what I have said that is wrong. I’m not even saying Republican legislators are “wrong”, I’m simply saying that I disagree with their priorities. I disagree that losing over 1,000 teaching positions in Iowa make Iowa schools better. I disagree that our money is better spent on corporate tax loop holes and corporate property tax relief than on education.

via https://patrickjkearney.wordpress.com/2015/04/29/april-30-2015-in-iowa

Image credit: ISEA

If you’re an Iowan, wear pink tomorrow

Pink slips tweet

Tomorrow is #PinkApril30, so named because of the unfilled teaching positions and educator pink slips that Iowa school districts will have next year because their operational funding won’t be enough to keep up with inflation despite our state’s strong economy and full reserves. It’s been an extremely disappointing year as we’ve watched our House propose to cut funding from both our public schools and our public universities. We’re already underfunded compared to most states and we know that investments in our youth are critical for current and future success, yet we are disinvesting in our children and instead finding new ways to reduce state revenue. It looks like we’re trying to be Kansas (sorry, Kansans).

Will wearing pink do anything to break apart our legislators’ intransigence? Will wearing pink do anything to force our policymakers to compromise? Will wearing pink do anything to give our schools what they need to keep the lights on and the buses running? No, probably not, but it might at least make you feel a little solidarity with the rest of us who are so dang frustrated…

Said No Iowan Ever

Notes from the 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Iowa Governor Terry Branstad

Here are my notes from today’s 2015 Iowa STEM Summit

Welcome, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • STEM should be a catalyst for active learning
  • Launching a STEM Council Seal of Approval for programs (e.g. Exploring Iowa Archaeology)
  • Over 5,100 applications were submitted for STEM Scale-Up Grants
  • Numerous STEM externships are available for teachers
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Sioux Center High School
  • Peek Into a STEM Classroom: Davenport West High School
    • Design a lunar space station

Opening Address, Kwizera Imani

  • Used to live in Kigoma, Tanzania
  • Family fled genocide and was chosen by the U.N. to move to the U.S.
  • Learned enough English to transition into regular classes in 8th grade, finished all high school coursework by 11th grade, now taking 5 AP classes as a senior
  • Will attend Iowa State U. this fall, majoring in Aerospace Engineering
  • In 9th grade, participated in an aviation program at the Des Moines International Airport

Iowa’s STEM Teaching Endorsement Partnership – Higher Education Plan, Jeff Weld & Kris Kilibarda

  • What does best practice for integrative STEM pedagogy look like?
  • How do endorsement seekers get engineering experience if the university doesn’t have an engineering program?
  • Can we graduate preservice teachers that come out of the gate with interdisciplinary STEM competencies?
  • Is ‘STEM pedagogy’ just layering applied PBL and inquiry lenses onto STEM subject areas?
  • There are many questions about these endorsements that still need to be answered

Lunch and STEM Education Awards for Inspired Teaching, Gov. Terry Branstad & Chris Nelson

STEM in Iowa’s Re-Envisioned Economic Development Roadmap (2014 Battelle Report), Kathryn Kunert & Carrie Rankin

Northwest Iowa STEM Region Breakout Session, Molly Faber & Mary Trent

  • Created a STEM and Scale-Up Introduction short course on AEA PD Online (explains each scale-up grant in ways that are easier, more accessible for teachers)
  • Wish this wasn’t locked down behind AEA PD Online (with quizzes!) instead of being openly accessible via a blog, web site, wiki, etc.
  • Breakout group questions
    • What’s going well in the NW region?
      • Outreach that Mary’s doing – PD for teachers – STEM day for 6th graders – there’s a lot of outreach occurring right now that is creating awareness
      • We also are seeing more business partnerships, co-sponsorships
      • Scale-up grant impacts have been favorable – are using them well in our district
      • World Food Prize – lots of supportive communities – we believe in making this happen
      • First Lego League – still getting emails about what’s going on – possible grants that are coming up – great communication
      • Girls Scouts – all girl Lego leagues, Engineering is Elementary – girls are empowered – Flying Monkeys prosthetic device patent!
      • Belie-Blank – Spencer CSD is doing math-science extracurricular with 6-8 graders
      • Prairie Lakes AEA – seeing lots of depth with Defined STEM
      • Sioux City CSD – opening a K-5 STEM specialty school in Fall 2015
    • What would we like to see more of in the NW region? What’s missing? What/who/where is the solution?
      • How do we assess student growth / development? Our current assessments aren’t up to the task.
      • Teacher preparation – higher ed isn’t giving us what we need – it could be better
        • Higher ed should be ahead of us, not behind us
      • We need more volunteers / mentors
      • Transportation is an issue – have to get a bus to get home
      • A continued focus on extracurricular instead of curricular – need to get this stuff into core classes, not just after school
      • Ongoing PD for teachers is an ongoing need
  • Rock Valley CSD – student-run manufacturing business?
  • Local college of education just touted this past fall that they had a smartboard that preservice teachers could learn on!
  • Can DE help us align all of these initiatives (e.g., STEM, Teacher Leadership, MTSS) together in better ways?
  • We need to do a better job of attaching learning standards to our STEM activities – we want to see learning progression occurring

STEM Education Award for Inspired Teaching Awardees (Panel), Kacia Cain, Lisa Chizek, Jason Franzenburg, Allison Gregg, Shelly Vanyo, Mike Wedge

  • SV – I no longer think of our space as a classroom – instead, we’re an innovative learning center – no textbooks, we’re a community that solves problems using every resource available to us (including others elsewhere)
  • LC – I try to model learning from mistakes
  • KC – I bring scientists into my classes a lot, but not as talking heads in front of kids – they help with projects – I identify where I could use an extra set of hands, brains, etc. – my kids then send a mass thank you note! – 
  • Jeff Herzberg – why aren’t we giving $20K+ award to a school, not just individual exceptional faculty? – a group of teachers and administrators working together to make this happen?
  • Embrace the chaos, embrace messy learning
  • As a parent of an elementary student, my son has had no science this year – his principal says it’s because of the increased emphasis on reading and math [UGH!]
  • SV – I create opportunities for myself to give up control – I create dramatic chances for other teachers to ‘help me out’ – teachers were getting upset so I had a semester where I pretended that I wasn’t doing SBG – parents are our biggest advocates – I send brown bag experiments home with students to do with parents – homework: teach parents and have them email me what they learned
  • What have administrators done to infect others with your STEM awesomeness? 
    • LC – I lead an annual STEM excellence fair and bring other teachers, community members in that way
    • KC – all of the people at Central Campus are experts in their areas so I had to be sure that I was on my game from Day 1
    • JF – teacher leadership program – we’re doing PBL training for all teachers – I assumed they already knew and were doing it, had to start over and go slower
    • AG – admins just let me set up a science club and I talked a colleague into joining me
  • Differentiation is often easier during hands-on performance tasks – have to listen, keep eyes and ears open to see/hear what they’re doing

Promoting STEM Careers From a School Counselor’s Point of View (Panel)

  • On average, Iowa counselors serve 429 students each
  • Counselors are uniquely trained in career theory and career development and uniquely positioned to bring various resources together to bear for the whole child – when you have 800-900 students, it’s physically impossible to do this, however
  • Most counselors have 60+ graduate hours – that’s a lot of expertise to waste serving on bus duty
  • At no time in my administrative licensure training did I receive guidance on how to most effectively use my counselor
    • Could say this about any role, not just counselors?
  • Local chambers of commerce and economic development organizations are nice resources for career / workforce information, speakers, data, etc.

Closing Remarks, Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds & Mary Andringa

  • A book for everyone who made it to the end of the day, courtesy of DMACC

[As is typical for these statewide summits, the day was heavy on sit-and-get with extremely little interaction… As I’ve said before, can’t we figure out some way to tap into the collective wisdom, expertise, and experience of the 500+ people here?!]

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics

Storm cell

It’s been a tough year to feel positive about Iowa education politics. For example…

Our governor wants Iowa schools to return to the top of the NAEP rankings and reclaim their ‘world class’ status but is endorsing a 1.25% budgetary increase that doesn’t even keep up with inflation (while requesting a 9% increase for his own office). As a result, most schools will have to cut people just to keep the lights on and the buses running. We can expect teacher layoffs, crowded classrooms, and other disinvestments in the needs of students, despite a solid state economy and a healthy reserve. We may fall as low as 40th in per-pupil spending. So much for being a state that allegedly cares about education.

Our outdated school start date legislation clearly fails to meet the needs of schools (336 out of 338 school districts asked for a waiver last year) but suddenly is being tightly enforced. Our state department of education says that it believes in principles of ‘local control’ but then this year notified districts that it no longer would automatically grant school start date waivers and that essentially every reason they might give for an earlier start date will not be considered legitimate. The school start date consternation is apparently being driven by the tourism industry. Educational needs are being given short shrift.

Of course we’re seeing lots of posturing from both sides of the political aisle (e.g., polarizing comments, Twitter wars, and ‘public’ hearings in rooms that are too small for the public to attend). And we’re seeing some really goofy stuff occurring during what should be important discussions and debates.

We’ve got a superintendent who’s decided he must break the law just to meet the needs of his district’s students. He’s being condemned by some legislators, despite the fact that they themselves break the law year after year when it comes to meeting deadlines for setting school spending authority.

Last week we were notified that our state department of education has now chewed up and spit out its second talented director in less than two years. We’ve got a misbegotten student retention law that’s about to go into effect. Our state assessments don’t align with our state standards. Budgets for our regional educational agencies – which provide essential services to our districts – keep getting reduced. And we’re starting to see proposed legislative attacks on teacher unions that are inconsistent with our rhetoric that we honor and develop teachers. I don’t know if we’re one of ‘those states’ yet when it comes to education but it sure seems like we’re getting closer.

After last year’s legislative session I said to several folks that I was glad it was quiet and positive compared to years past. Apparently last year was just the calm before the storm… [sigh]

Image credit: Storm cell, Tom Gill

Nostalgic for factual recall

The memorize cassette

Two quotes from today’s article in The Des Moines Register, Iowa Poll: Common Core not so radioactive for Iowans:

Ah, the good old days

When Iowa Poll respondents opposed to Common Core standards were asked about their objections, some lamented the shift from traditional teaching methods such as rote memorization of facts and formulas to a focus on more critical thinking.

Because we’ve learned nothing about teaching math in 50 years

Civil engineer Jack Burnham Jr., a 40-year-old independent voter, also has a “very negative” view. “I’ve got a math primer from the 1960s,” he said. “That math worked just fine.”

Shifting the public’s conceptions about learning and teaching is an ongoing, uphill battle…

Image credit: the memorize cassette, Robert Oxford

Iowa school start dates and Photoshop

Just having some fun… Feel free to use as desired!

Schools start late

Our liberties we prize

Tourists unite

A vote for the state fair

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