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Monday
May122008

Philosophy in bricks and mortar

dmmedia.jpg

Entrance to the Dakota Meadows Middle School Media Center 

Buildings reflect the values of those who design them. They are, so to speak, philosophy made visible in bricks and mortar.

When the Mankato Schools built its last new building, Dakota Meadows Middle School, in the early 90s, the project team was led by a remarkable educator - principal Jane Schuck. Thanks to her vision, the school had two overriding design principles - the "middle school concept" and "technology-infusion," Those principles are visible yet today in the building's design and program. It remains, in my experience, still the most innovative school building in Minnesota.

What principles will be on display in our new elementary building? I know two, for sure. First, this will be a "green" building. In selling the referendum, we promised that we would work for LEED certification, making sure the project is as environmentally friendly and energy efficient as possible. I am excited about this. Second, there will be increased attention paid to safety. For the first time in our district, the building design process will need to consider things like "lock downs." One of the most remarked-upon ideas from our recent visit to other schools was a entry door configuration that required all visitors to pass through the school office before gaining access to the rest of the building. Sigh...

But what about the educational philosophy behind our new building? Cowed by AYP and other NCLB threats, will our entire building be designed "to raise standardized test scores," as one of the team has already suggested? If so, what would a building like that look like?

From current practices, there seem to be many things the building would not need:

  • a gymnasium, art room, music room
  • certainly no playgrounds
  • probably no library media center
  • science classrooms only if science scores start to "count" on state tests
  • no stages, no auditoriums, no large group venues of any kind
  • no technology beyond computers for drill and practice in math and reading and, of course, testing

Probably small, cube-shaped classrooms with straight rows of desks all facing the front of the room would be just the ticket for extended reading and math "practice." (No thinking outside the box, for heaven's sake.) Lots of space for special education. Minimal distractions. Maximum efficiency of movement for less time off the tasks of direct reading and math instruction.

Until citizens in a single voice stand up and shout, "Being educated is about more than doing well on tests!"  test-performance-schools that both educators and kids will detest will be built.

What would your "high-test" school look like? 

 _______________________

Update May 13 - just released from our DO:

blgguideprin.jpg 

 Nary a word about test scores.

Monday
May122008

AASL Standards - don't lose your right to grumble

OK, school library media specialists who had issues regarding the new AASL Student Standards. Here is your chance to have your voice heard:

The AASL Learning Standards Indicators and Assessment Task Force invites you to review and critique the first draft of Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action at
http://www.ala.org/ala/aasl/aaslproftools/standardsinaction/standardsinaction.cfm

After releasing Standards for the 21st Century Learner in October 2007, AASL charged the task force "to develop a document to expand and support the new learning standards" with "indicators, benchmarks, model examples, and assessments." Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action provides support for school library media specialists and other educators in teaching the essential learning skills defined in Standards for the 21st Century Learner. It presents  Examples for putting Standard 1: Inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge, into practice in Benchmark Grades 2, 5, 8, 10 and 12+.

nowhining.jpegThis is the first draft of Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action. It will be revised based on input from AASL members.  A second draft, expected to be posted for comment in September 2008, will include Benchmarks and Action Examples for Standards 2, 3 and 4. You are encouraged to thoroughly examine and critique the contents of this document. Please email your comments to StandardsInAction@ala.org, with "Comments" in the subject line, before June 6, 2008.

If you are attending the ALA Annual Conference in Anaheim, plan to attend the Open Forum on Saturday, June 28 at 9am to provide your input to the task force members in person.

You are also invited to contribute to Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action by completing the blank template included in thedraft with your own sample tasks and assessments. Examples you provide will be considered for inclusion in the final publication of Standards for the 21st Century Learner in Action. Please email your completed template(s) to StandardsInAction@ala.org, with "Sample Tasks" in the subject line.

We encourage you to forward this invitation to your school library colleagues and to distribute it widely through your state and local school library listservs and blogs.

We look forward to reading your comments!

AASL Learning Standards Indicators & Assessment Task Force:
  • Katherine Lowe, Chair, Massachusetts School Library Association
  • Cassandra G. Barnett, Fayetteville High School Library, AR
  • Melissa P. Johnston, Silver City Elementary, Cumming, GA
  • Barbara K. Stripling, New York City Department of Education
  • Dr. Violet H. Harada, University of Hawaii
  • Frances Glick, Baltimore County Public Schools, Maryland
Here's the deal... If you don't take the time to read and comment on this first draft, YOU LOSE ALL YOUR WHINING RIGHTS about the standards. This task force is comprised of the very best thinkers our field has to offer, but none of them, as far as I know, are mind-readers.

 
Go for it...

 

Saturday
May102008

Adaptable spaces

Kristin Fontichiaro, <http://blog.schoollibrarymedia.com/> the library media specialist at Beverly School in Birmingham, Michigan and author of the books Active Learning through Drama, Podcasting, and Puppetry and Podcasting at School left this thoughtful comment to last Friday's blog post:

Hi, Doug -- I'm curious to know if your new buildings will have classrooms that are larger than in the past. With so much focus on collaborative work, it would be fabulous if classrooms had a bit more physical space than they did 50 years ago to permit lots of flexible groupings. More space, plus chairs that stack and tables or desks that roll into various configurations can help create learning spaces that can adapt as learning trends and best practices change.   

I'd also recommend lots of room for teacher storage. There is often so little room in traditional classrooms for teachers to store the myriads of STUFF, from the Kleenex families bring in on the first day of school to the digestive system model. Wouldn't it be great if classrooms could have lots of storage so those items are kept discreetly out of the way? This could be in the classroom or an extra storage space outside of the room. (Or build an extra classroom that can be used now for storage and for teaching later if the population grows.) If we could minimize the physical clutter in our students' learning spaces, would we also minimize the mental clutter?

What about bathroom space? Is there money for a bathroom or two in each room? Teachers tend to feel that in-class bathrooms minimize interruptions and that hallway bathrooms encourage more chaos. At the same time, fewer bathrooms = fewer custodial hours!)

What kinds of large group instruction spaces are available? Are there other "specialty" rooms where one set of equipment could be purchased and used by multiple classes? (e.g., a single room dedicated to science instead of giving each classrooms a little bit of stuff)? A theatrical space for live performances or video work? A quiet space for podcasting or audio recordings? An outdoor classroom both for instruction and for those students who love to read, write, and draw during recess? A large area set aside for recycling bins in the cafeteria and/or hallways? A few extra classrooms to allow for further growth in the future (or maybe two classrooms without a wall in-between that can be used for large group instruction, kinesthetic learning, or drama activities now and converted to two classrooms in the future)? What about lobby space for parent conversations in the morning? Art walls instead of cork strips for "professional" displaying of student art? Soundproofed offices next to large gathering spots?

Gosh, it's fun to think about the possibilities.

It is indeed interesting to think about the possibilities.

Quite frankly, the classrooms themselves that I saw on our recent tour looked no bigger or much different that any typical classroom from the past 100 years - 900 square feet, square or nearly so.  The kindergarten rooms at 1200 square feet, some with their own bathrooms (and itty bitty toilets) resembled what you are describing above.

It seems there are three things most teachers want their wall space to be used for in elementary classrooms - storage cabinets, windows and white board/bulletin board space. However, no matter how the classroom was designed and wall uses apportioned, none of the teachers were happy! Or so it seemed.

While the classrooms exhibited little of the flexibility you describe, Kristin, a common design was to have elementary rooms as a "cluster" with each grouping of 3-5 classrooms sharing a larger common area that served larger groups, had multiple uses, usually had some special education space, and sometimes included a special purpose room like a science classroom.

A popular feature of the common area shared by these clusters was a space for several computers that formed a mini-lab. I have mixed feelings about this. By moving the computers outside the classroom walls, aren't we continuing to send the message that learning happens in the classroom and computer use is something different? (Our middle school has a counter under the windows in each of its classrooms to accommodate up to a dozen classroom computers, and that was the model I had been thinking of suggesting.)

classroomcounter.jpg
Computer "counter" at Dakota Meadows Middle School, Mankato MN. Note wiring and raceway under counter.
Old picture - yes, we do have newer computers than this.

But then we also saw a lot of laptops being used - both in the classroom and in the clusters' common spaces. And I expect this will be the most common model of computer deployment in schools that can't afford or or unwilling to implement a 1:1 initiative. I can certainly see every cluster in our new school having a COW (Computers on Wheels) full of ASUS Eees or new small, -$500  HP or Dell laptops. An easy transition to a 1:1 program?

How does the design of the classroom influence the design of the media center?

Why do we still belive cubes are the best shape for classrooms? Haven't educators heard the term "think outside the box?"

How do I keep our district from building a brand new 1950s school?