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Shouldn't PD be more like kindergarten too?

Last week I did a two-day workshop at an international conference. Two days is a long time to keep people engaged, especially teachers. Heck, I've found it tough to keep educators on-task and involved during hour-long breakout sessions! 

Yet I felt better about these two days than I have after many shorter sessions. One big factor of course was having a very dedicated, smart, and outspoken group to work with. These folks genuinely wanted to solve problems and improve the learning experiences for the students in their respective schools. I wondered at time if I even needed to be there!


But I also continue to modify my approach to teaching teachers. At the outset, I admitted that my definition of a good teacher is one who can present problems and questions in such way that the learners are compelled to solve them for themselves. And that is exactly what I tried to do. I planned a 10% teacher (me) talk; a 90% activity/student talk ratio.

And it worked.

Too often we simply don't practice what we preach when it comes to working with adults. I wrote the column below in January of 2013, suggesting that classroom teachers could learn a thing or two from kindergarten teachers about student engagement.

You know what - it ain't bad advice for those who teach the teacher either.


It is easy to see that part of this problem is that the more time in school, the more disconnected it gets from how we learn. This is where Connected Learning really strikes home for me. As Mimi Ito states in a recent Huffington Post piece, “Connected learning is when you’re pursuing knowledge and expertise around something you care deeply about, and you’re supported by friends and institutions who share and recognize this common passion or purpose.” Ryan Bretag,  Metania blog

The drop in student engagement for each year students are in school is our monumental, collective national failure. There are several things that might help to explain why this is happening -- ranging from our overzealous focus on standardized testing and curricula to our lack of experiential and project-based learning pathways for students -- not to mention the lack of pathways for students who will not and do not want to go on to college. Brandon Busteed, Executive Director of Gallup Education.

Do these findings suprise anyone? In my own experience and from listening to my own children, this is an accurate graph. The only change I'd make would be to extend the engagement drop through the first two years of college before the direction moves upward again when general education requirements are met.

As both Bretag and Busteed suggest above, some correlations between engagment, relevance, and project-based learning can be easily and correctly drawn. I've been fussing about the need for concrete ways to improve projects since, oh, about 1999. And it's obvious nobody has been listening and now look what's happened. Maybe another approach?

Perhaps our elementary collegues know something about engagement that secondary teachers don't? With apologies to Robert Fulghum. It's been more than a couple years since I attended kindergarten, but I remember it as three of the best years of my life (old joke). Anyway...

Everything I know about engagement I learned in kindergarten

In kindergarten you get

  1. Show and tell. You got to do something or bring something and then tell others about it. Secondary skill attainment measurement needs to be less about testing and more about show and tell performance-based assessment. Oh, and listening to other students is a lot more involving than listening to the old person in the room.
  2. Choices. As a little kid you often got to choose - your library book, your reading buddy, your activity, the subject of your drawing. People tend to choose things that interest them and interesting things are engaging. How often do we let older students choose?
  3. Play. Elementary teachers can make a game out of almost anything - and make just about every task feel like play. The older we get, the less we get to play and more we have to work. Just why is that? Gamification is a fancy term for putting play back into the curriculum. Look it up.
  4. Naps. Most adolescents I know are tired - and not because they've been up all night texting. (Well, maybe that's part of it.) We've long known that teens do better when school starts later in the morning. Tired people have a tough time staying engaged.
  5. To go outside. The best learning takes place in the "real world" not in the classroom. Whether it is studying bugs and leaves in first grade, marching with the band in junior high, or doing service learning as seniors, we all are more interested when it is the real world with which we are dealing.
  6. Colors. A blank sheet of construction paper and some crayolas have always let young learners be creative. Creativity is inherently engaging. What's the high school classroom's equivilant to scissors and paste? 
  7. To do it together. Reading groups. Play groups. Science groups. It's better with other kids. Social learners are engaged learners.
  8. Reading for enjoyment. Our elementary teachers and librarians want us to practice reading so much they let us read what we like! Do our secondary teachers want us to write so much, know so much, experiment so much, and solve problems so much that we get to do it for enjoyment?
  9. Learning that's important. Nobody needs to convince a little kid that learning to read, to add and subtract, or to know about firemen is important. And that you should pay attention when being taught these things. Calculus, world history, the Romantic poets, the atomic structure of non-metals, not so much. If you can't convince me what you are teaching should be important to me, teach something that is.
  10. Care. OK, this should have been the first one. I really believe a lot little kids are engaged because they know someone cares that they are. Yeah, the littlies are cute and cuddly and all that, but the gangly, awkward, homely teens need to know adults care too. When someone else is paying attention to you, you pay more attention yourself.

There you are - 10 simple steps to keep the engagement level from tanking.

 Orignal post: January 22, 2013


Complexity of modern life 

I counted.

I have one in the bathroom. One in the car. One in each bedroom. Three in the kitchen - wall, microwave, coffee maker. One on each of my electronic devices. And while I use each of them, most are a royal PIA twice a year. When Daylight Savings Time begins or ends.

Resetting the digital clocks is more complicated than it should be - at least a couple. My bedside alarm clock and my car's clock both require me to pull out the manual and read instructions. (Here is another rant about clocks and their complexity.) A couple others I can push enough buttons to finally get the change I need made.

Granted, my iPad, computer, and phone all auto-correct for DST. That's a good start. But I would someday love to see the day when all devices are manual-free, completely intuitive. 

And yes, I know this falls under the first world problem category.


BFTP: Memo to old white dudes (political)

If you don't want to read anything politcal from the Blue Skunk, just skip right over this one. It's a re-post from Canadian Doug Jamison's Geezer Online with a few personal reflections added below. While this was written 5 years ago, somehow it resonates with me more today than it even did then. If you care about the world you leave your grandchildren, read on...

Don't say you weren't warned. But it is just too good not to share...

Memo to old white dudes

Hey, you've accomplished a lot. Provided for your family, made sure the kids got an education, paid your taxes, kept your nose clean, and socked away enough for a decent retirement.

You were the guys everyone depended on to get it done, without fussing and without expecting anyone to make a big deal over it.

But I am tired of hearing you growling that we ought to eliminate social programs for single moms, kids living in crime-ridden neighbourhoods, jobless teens, impoverished seniors, newly arrived refugees, and others who are struggling to make a life in difficult circumstances.

Please stop sending me those vitriolic eMail messages that continuously circulate around the internet, usually ending with "If you don't pass this on, you are part of the problem."

Please stop saying, "If we could make it, why can't they," as though 2012 is like 1972.

I happen to know, because I am one of you, that our generation enjoyed the most amazing run of good luck ever seen in modern times.

Most of us grew up with two parents, and our moms were homemakers. Our streets and playgrounds were safe. In high school, we were not surrounded by drugs, gangs, and weapons.

We were provided with access to affordable higher education. Upon graduation, most of us could choose from several jobs.

Our working years coincided with a period of enormous economic growth and prosperity. There were no wars, so our careers were not interrupted by military service, or death. It was also a period of hitherto unknown mobility, so we could live and work wherever we wanted.

We lived in a stable, relatively classless, democratic country, filled with widespread optimism about its own future.  Our [Canadian] healthcare system ensured that we would never go bankrupt due to illness or accident. If we were smart and worked hard, the opportunities were almost limitless.

Hell, who couldn't make it in that environment? As someone said to me recently, "We won the lottery!"

So, you guys need to lighten up because, frankly, you're coming across as a bunch of crybabies.

Canadians like to think of themselves as the good guys, fair-minded, civilized. But this mean streak has taken root, and seems to be thriving. Or maybe it's just that I hang out with a lot of old white guys, and the rest of society isn't talking this way.

In most societies, elders are focused on being good stewards, ensuring that future generations enjoy the best possible future. Here it seems mostly about lower taxes and making people pay for their mistakes.

Look, I know all old white men don't think this way. I also know there are no silver bullets that will solve all the problems of 21st century society, and that many folks bear much of the responsibility for their predicaments. Not staying in school, getting pregnant too young, failing to save enough for retirement are all dumb moves.

But letting those lives continue to spiral down without offering a hand up will come back to bite us in the longer run with more crime, more jails, more police, higher unemployment levels, more homeless people and panhandlers on our streets, more drugs in our schoolyards, and general erosion of our quality of life.

So, whether you're doing it for humanitarian reasons, or to ensure a decent future for your grandchildren, you need to be part of the solution. 
Mr. Jamison's last line struck a chord with me - the bit about ensuring a decent future for one's grandchildren. Grandchildren are what politics should really be about. Here are two of mine:

These, as you can probably tell, are pretty lucky boys. Clean, well-fed, healthy, and secure. They have a loving family and are getting a good education. Family values include responsibility and hard work and caring for others. Odds are they will be successful in whatever economy and society we leave for them.

But one never knows. Someday of these guys or someone they care about might need help. An illness. A job layoff. A bad business choice. I always think that in the same-sex marriage discussion that I have no horse in that race. But one day I might. Who knows? I want to make sure there is the proverbial "safety net" set and social policies in place by our government. Just in case.

I want these boys living without the aid of government assistance but knowing it is there. I'd like them to get an education at a price that doesn't wind up being like a mortage without the house at age 22. I'd like us to stop spending as a government more than we take in. I want everyone to be given incentives to work and for everyone, including the rich and not-so-rich, to pay back into society for the benefits they recieve. I think we should look hard at how spend our health dollars, especially on old goats like me. 

I was struck by this observation by conservative columnist David Brooks, in his column "Thurston Romney Howell" NY Times, September 17, 2012

...Romney knows nothing about ambition and motivation. The formula he sketches is this: People who are forced to make it on their own have drive. People who receive benefits have dependency.

But, of course, no middle-class parent acts as if this is true. Middle-class parents don’t deprive their children of benefits so they can learn to struggle on their own. They shower benefits on their children to give them more opportunities — so they can play travel sports, go on foreign trips and develop more skills.

People are motivated when they feel competent. They are motivated when they have more opportunities. Ambition is fired by possibility, not by deprivation, as a tour through the world’s poorest regions makes clear.

We all need to be a little less selfish, as the Geezer, suggests. If for no other reason. our own grandchildren will be happier and more successful in a society in which everyone is successful and happy.
And I approve of his message.