Friday, April 29, 2011

What Can General Motors' Failure and a Funky Car Plant Teach us about Ed Reform?

Many of the ideas and information about this post come from a "This American Life" show originally aired on March 23, 2010. Here is a link to that show.


What happened to the General Motors company? A car company that was once the "top-dog" in terms of the American car company, filed for the largest industrial bankruptcy ever. It was a rather gradual slide that had much to do with quality (or lack thereof) and an unwillingness to change. There were people within the company that sensed the necessity of change and one plant made that change tangible to much success. But the rest of the company did not buy into this change and the bankruptcy laid bare this costly reality. As I summarize the story of those within GM that worked for change, check out some of the parallels to ed reform.

In the 1980s, GM realized it had problems with many of the plants and factory lines that contributed to the poor quality of its cars. For example, at the Freemont, CA plant, workers filed a high number of grievances, drank openly, could buy drugs, and even admitted to having sex on the job. Rick Madrid said, "I brought a thermostat of screwdrivers to work everyday." It was the outcome of a well paid workforce (especially relative to education) who felt tied to their jobs even as the work was monotonous, boring, and unfulfilling. Regardless of the high pay, the workers were seriously unmotivated.

In 1982, GM closed the Freemont factory down. In 1984 the plant was set to re-open. The new plant, named NUMMI, would be a joint venture between Toyota and GM. Toyota was going to show GM workers how to make reliable small cars and Toyota hoped to learn the American system and workers to grow its American market. As many of the same workers were hired back, they expected things to continue as the status quo. This would not be the case. Toyota flew the NUMMI plant workers back to Japan to help scaffold the changes that would take place. What the American worker saw was a completely different way of producing cars.

CC flickr picture posted by Peter Robinett

Japanese plant workers were expected to ask for help. Americans, on the other hand, were often yelled at if they asked for help because it would slow down the line. Japanese workers were routinely asked for their opinions on how to make things better and for what tools they needed. Workers were expected to come up with new ideas. Management and the workers were a team where conversation and learning led the way to high quality. This way of working was epitomized with the radical notion that at anytime a Japanese worker could stop the line to ask questions or spend more time on an area. This was all under the Japanese concept of "kaizen" or continuous improvement.

The Americans were stunned by this. Their system was one were quantity was pushed, not quality. It was thought that you could go back and deal with quality after you had pushed it through the line. This just led to stockpiles of cars that were not functional. The #1 rule of the GM system was that you could not stop the line. Workers were not to be trusted with this power because it was thought they didn't want to work and would slow down the process.

Armed with this new way of building cars, the American workers were changed. The NUMMI plant workers were overjoyed and felt a new sense of confidence as they started to control the process. Working collaboratively as a team led to a radically different notion of work itself. Managers and workers had a different relationship and these radical changes transformed the plant. The NUMMI plant in Freemont produced cars of high quality, as the number of defects was low compared to other plants. The workers were proud of the cars they produced and the plant saved money and produced almost perfect quality ratings.

The mangers of NUMMI hoped that their new system of producing cars would spread across all of GM. This never happened. People, especially managers saw the new system as a threat. At a plant in Van Nuys, one worker complained that "seniority" was being thrown away because everybody worked together and was expected to know all the different jobs. Mangers didn't like it because their bonuses were tied to how many cars they produced (regardless of defects) and this slowed down the process for quality purposes. They also didn't want to give up their separate parking lot and cafeteria. People claimed that "teamwork" just led to division and insubordination.

The "bigwigs" of GM were also half-interested in the changes that needed to take place. Although NUMMI employees hoped to spread the message of teamwork across the company, there was no buy-in from the top levels. Other programs were more important and no real plans were made to change the line for other plants. A bigger systemic change of culture was needed to support individual plants that were trying to change the ways of production. The top was not willing to implement the radical changes of NUMMI even if it led to radical success.

By the 1990s GM was struggling and by the 2000s everybody new change was needed. As more managers had been exposed to NUMMI and its notions of worker autonomy and teamwork, the culture started to change. Ironically, as GM was going bankrupt it was probably a better company than it had ever been. It was just too late. As one commentator said,"If it takes you 30 years to figure something out you are going to get run over." In the opinion of some of the workers, managers, and contributors that helped make the story, earlier change would have saved GM.

CC flickr picture by John Lloyd


GM pulled out of NUMMI and it became strictly a Toyota plant. In 2010 the plant closed indefinitely. Rick Madrid (the aforementioned man who used to bring screwdrivers to work) commented, "I am truly sad to see NUMMI go. NUMMI changed my life from being depressed and bored to be better." Another worker who worked 17 years without a vacation day said he still looks at the cars the plant produced and feels a sense of pride.

So what are the parallels to this funky plant, GM, and ed reform...I will let you decide.

What Can General Motors' Failure and a Funky Car Plant Teach us about Ed Reform?

Many of the ideas and information about this post come from a "This American Life" show originally aired on March 23, 2010. Here is a link to that show.


What happened to the General Motors company? A car company that was once the "top-dog" in terms of the American car company, filed for the largest industrial bankruptcy ever. It was a rather gradual slide that had much to do with quality (or lack thereof) and an unwillingness to change. There were people within the company that sensed the necessity of change and one plant made that change tangible to much success. But the rest of the company did not buy into this change and the bankruptcy laid bare this costly reality. As I summarize the story of those within GM that worked for change, check out some of the parallels to ed reform.

In the 1980s, GM realized it had problems with many of the plants and factory lines that contributed to the poor quality of its cars. For example, at the Freemont, CA plant, workers filed a high number of grievances, drank openly, could buy drugs, and even admitted to having sex on the job. Rick Madrid said, "I brought a thermostat of screwdrivers to work everyday." It was the outcome of a well paid workforce (especially relative to education) who felt tied to their jobs even as the work was monotonous, boring, and unfulfilling. Regardless of the high pay, the workers were seriously unmotivated.

In 1982, GM closed the Freemont factory down. In 1984 the plant was set to re-open. The new plant, named NUMMI, would be a joint venture between Toyota and GM. Toyota was going to show GM workers how to make reliable small cars and Toyota hoped to learn the American system and workers to grow its American market. As many of the same workers were hired back, they expected things to continue as the status quo. This would not be the case. Toyota flew the NUMMI plant workers back to Japan to help scaffold the changes that would take place. What the American worker saw was a completely different way of producing cars.

CC flickr picture posted by Peter Robinett

Japanese plant workers were expected to ask for help. Americans, on the other hand, were often yelled at if they asked for help because it would slow down the line. Japanese workers were routinely asked for their opinions on how to make things better and for what tools they needed. Workers were expected to come up with new ideas. Management and the workers were a team where conversation and learning led the way to high quality. This way of working was epitomized with the radical notion that at anytime a Japanese worker could stop the line to ask questions or spend more time on an area. This was all under the Japanese concept of "kaizen" or continuous improvement.

The Americans were stunned by this. Their system was one were quantity was pushed, not quality. It was thought that you could go back and deal with quality after you had pushed it through the line. This just led to stockpiles of cars that were not functional. The #1 rule of the GM system was that you could not stop the line. Workers were not to be trusted with this power because it was thought they didn't want to work and would slow down the process.

Armed with this new way of building cars, the American workers were changed. The NUMMI plant workers were overjoyed and felt a new sense of confidence as they started to control the process. Working collaboratively as a team led to a radically different notion of work itself. Managers and workers had a different relationship and these radical changes transformed the plant. The NUMMI plant in Freemont produced cars of high quality, as the number of defects was low compared to other plants. The workers were proud of the cars they produced and the plant saved money and produced almost perfect quality ratings.

The mangers of NUMMI hoped that their new system of producing cars would spread across all of GM. This never happened. People, especially managers saw the new system as a threat. At a plant in Van Nuys, one worker complained that "seniority" was being thrown away because everybody worked together and was expected to know all the different jobs. Mangers didn't like it because their bonuses were tied to how many cars they produced (regardless of defects) and this slowed down the process for quality purposes. They also didn't want to give up their separate parking lot and cafeteria. People claimed that "teamwork" just led to division and insubordination.

The "bigwigs" of GM were also half-interested in the changes that needed to take place. Although NUMMI employees hoped to spread the message of teamwork across the company, there was no buy-in from the top levels. Other programs were more important and no real plans were made to change the line for other plants. A bigger systemic change of culture was needed to support individual plants that were trying to change the ways of production. The top was not willing to implement the radical changes of NUMMI even if it led to radical success.

By the 1990s GM was struggling and by the 2000s everybody new change was needed. As more managers had been exposed to NUMMI and its notions of worker autonomy and teamwork, the culture started to change. Ironically, as GM was going bankrupt it was probably a better company than it had ever been. It was just too late. As one commentator said,"If it takes you 30 years to figure something out you are going to get run over." In the opinion of some of the workers, managers, and contributors that helped make the story, earlier change would have saved GM.

CC flickr picture by John Lloyd


GM pulled out of NUMMI and it became strictly a Toyota plant. In 2010 the plant closed indefinitely. Rick Madrid (the aforementioned man who used to bring screwdrivers to work) commented, "I am truly sad to see NUMMI go. NUMMI changed my life from being depressed and bored to be better." Another worker who worked 17 years without a vacation day said he still looks at the cars the plant produced and feels a sense of pride.

So what are the parallels to this funky plant, GM, and ed reform...I will let you decide.

Friday, April 22, 2011

...But awards feel so good

My school still has such things as honor roll and improvement awards. Although it is something I have to do, I give them out begrudgingly in vociferous dissent, as much of the junior high team knows. One of the most telling indictments of awards ceremonies are the students themselves. When it is time to go to the ceremony (as low key as it is), it is not uncommon to hear groans from my students. They seem to acknowledge that ceremonies create "winners" and "losers".  In my honest (and humble) opinion this is not the point of learning and education. It isn't to beat other people or to win a game. It is to work together in an intrinsic manner to better the whole leading to authentic, spontaneous, and life-long learning.

They seem to know that no matter how hard they work or how much they learn, they are presupposed to remain "awardless". Thus, to a grand majority of the class, awards are not based on effort or actual learning, but rather on innate "smartness".  This is totally the opposite of why most people argue for awards. Along this thinking, awards do not cause students to work harder and do not motivate because they think "awards" are based on something they cannot control-- innate intelligence.  Most students don't complain or groan because they don't get "awards", they moan and complain because they see that they have been made "losers" when they know that is not that case.

Now don't get me wrong, it is not that I dislike award winners or I think they "win" just because they are "smarter" than everybody else. They should be proud of themselves and I should be proud of them. This should be the case regardless of the award. They should not be excited because they won, but for learning and for learning well. This is something all students should be proud of and I don't think an award is needed to show this. I am not sure awards reinforce this love of learning. They reinforce forced competition and irrelevant comparison. They show students that grades and the award is all that matters.

But what happens when one of those students who usually doesn't get an award gets one. As teachers we naturally feel happy and think "wow I did that". While you may have helped that student motivate herself, the end is that that kid motivated HERSELF (even if this it not what the "award" measures). All the award does is take that intrinsic motivation and gain and make it something extrinsic. In order for the student to have extended, long term gains it must always come from the intrinsic internal motivation.

My big concern is that the student now thinks that their measure of success is the award not the intrinsic gains of learning. So as happy as I am for that student, I still think the award hurts. It takes something that needs to be intrinsic and makes it extrinsic. It shows them that success is considered authentic only by a controlling adult, not the person themself. Furthermore, "awards" deflate the effort and learning of students who do not get them. Why should I keep trying if I didn't get on? I will never be as "smart" as so and so. As educators who have to deal with awards and award ceremonies, make sure we stress to kids that awards in themselves are not the end. Learning and the betterment of the individual is something only the individual can define. You need to only be proud of yourself. So in the end I am concerned that as good as awards feel they only "do bad" in the long run.

...But awards feel so good

My school still has such things as honor roll and improvement awards. Although it is something I have to do, I give them out begrudgingly in vociferous dissent, as much of the junior high team knows. One of the most telling indictments of awards ceremonies are the students themselves. When it is time to go to the ceremony (as low key as it is), it is not uncommon to hear groans from my students. They seem to acknowledge that ceremonies create "winners" and "losers".  In my honest (and humble) opinion this is not the point of learning and education. It isn't to beat other people or to win a game. It is to work together in an intrinsic manner to better the whole leading to authentic, spontaneous, and life-long learning.

They seem to know that no matter how hard they work or how much they learn, they are presupposed to remain "awardless". Thus, to a grand majority of the class, awards are not based on effort or actual learning, but rather on innate "smartness".  This is totally the opposite of why most people argue for awards. Along this thinking, awards do not cause students to work harder and do not motivate because they think "awards" are based on something they cannot control-- innate intelligence.  Most students don't complain or groan because they don't get "awards", they moan and complain because they see that they have been made "losers" when they know that is not that case.

Now don't get me wrong, it is not that I dislike award winners or I think they "win" just because they are "smarter" than everybody else. They should be proud of themselves and I should be proud of them. This should be the case regardless of the award. They should not be excited because they won, but for learning and for learning well. This is something all students should be proud of and I don't think an award is needed to show this. I am not sure awards reinforce this love of learning. They reinforce forced competition and irrelevant comparison. They show students that grades and the award is all that matters.

But what happens when one of those students who usually doesn't get an award gets one. As teachers we naturally feel happy and think "wow I did that". While you may have helped that student motivate herself, the end is that that kid motivated HERSELF (even if this it not what the "award" measures). All the award does is take that intrinsic motivation and gain and make it something extrinsic. In order for the student to have extended, long term gains it must always come from the intrinsic internal motivation.

My big concern is that the student now thinks that their measure of success is the award not the intrinsic gains of learning. So as happy as I am for that student, I still think the award hurts. It takes something that needs to be intrinsic and makes it extrinsic. It shows them that success is considered authentic only by a controlling adult, not the person themself. Furthermore, "awards" deflate the effort and learning of students who do not get them. Why should I keep trying if I didn't get on? I will never be as "smart" as so and so. As educators who have to deal with awards and award ceremonies, make sure we stress to kids that awards in themselves are not the end. Learning and the betterment of the individual is something only the individual can define. You need to only be proud of yourself. So in the end I am concerned that as good as awards feel they only "do bad" in the long run.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Good "Teacher" Paradox: The Less You Know The Better You Are?

There is no doubt that many of us (whether educators or not) have at one point entered into the pedagogical mastery vs content knowledge debate. The basic question is whom would you rather have as your teacher: one who has a mastery of appropriate pedagogical skills (how to "teach") or one who is an expert on the content in the discipline? The answer to this question usually determines whether you believe in the notion that any skilled "teacher" could "teach" any given subject.

Fotopedia.com image (Colin_K via flickr)
My cop-out answer usually falls somewhere in them middle. I do think a good teacher can take any content and guide the students to success. On the other hand, I do think it helps a lot to have content mastery when clarifying student knowledge or answering questions. Let me give you a different angle on this. Something I have now dubbed the good "teacher" paradox.

The good "teacher" paradox goes something like this. The less you know about the lesson's eventual output the better you are as an educator. What do I mean by this? If you have structured a class, lesson, or unit where the students are expected to create content, construct knowledge, ask questions, challenge the norm, or take a new angle you (the teacher) will often not have the answer. If I allow my students to frame their own learning on a topic, if I give them autonomy, if I give allow them to produce their own questions on a topic, I might not know the answer. I do not hold the answer sheet to their own thinking. In effect, I have to answer their own questions with them. This may in fact be why some teachers have a hard time making class student centered. Real student learning often leaves you scrambling for an answer or trying to figure out a problem WITH the student. It can be troubling to not be "prepared" to instantly know the answer to a student question. But at the same time this is why I love teaching---I get to learn and be challenged all day long. I am always on my toes. Do I always know the outcome? No, but I think that is something good teachers accept as a good lesson and good "teaching".

This epiphany of the good "teacher" paradox came to me as I subbed for the math teacher all last week. As she was gone, I was expected to teach 8th grade math all week (a truly terrifying endeavor for a history teacher). But the teacher left a truly awesome project where they needed to design a carnival game based on probability. Even if I would have spent all weekend reviewing probability, I wouldn't have canned answers to a worksheet. In fact, the opposite was true. I had no way of anticipating what they would come up with. All week I had the attitude that I was going to learn with them and that we were going to challenge ourselves. With every problem they threw at me I had to go back and relearn probability. It was tough at first, but when I "got it", wow did we have fun. I may have not had the best content or pedagogical knowledge, but I was a darn good math teacher last week. Thus is the good "teacher" paradox: The less you know the better you are?

The Good "Teacher" Paradox: The Less You Know The Better You Are?

There is no doubt that many of us (whether educators or not) have at one point entered into the pedagogical mastery vs content knowledge debate. The basic question is whom would you rather have as your teacher: one who has a mastery of appropriate pedagogical skills (how to "teach") or one who is an expert on the content in the discipline? The answer to this question usually determines whether you believe in the notion that any skilled "teacher" could "teach" any given subject.

Fotopedia.com image (Colin_K via flickr)
My cop-out answer usually falls somewhere in them middle. I do think a good teacher can take any content and guide the students to success. On the other hand, I do think it helps a lot to have content mastery when clarifying student knowledge or answering questions. Let me give you a different angle on this. Something I have now dubbed the good "teacher" paradox.

The good "teacher" paradox goes something like this. The less you know about the lesson's eventual output the better you are as an educator. What do I mean by this? If you have structured a class, lesson, or unit where the students are expected to create content, construct knowledge, ask questions, challenge the norm, or take a new angle you (the teacher) will often not have the answer. If I allow my students to frame their own learning on a topic, if I give them autonomy, if I give allow them to produce their own questions on a topic, I might not know the answer. I do not hold the answer sheet to their own thinking. In effect, I have to answer their own questions with them. This may in fact be why some teachers have a hard time making class student centered. Real student learning often leaves you scrambling for an answer or trying to figure out a problem WITH the student. It can be troubling to not be "prepared" to instantly know the answer to a student question. But at the same time this is why I love teaching---I get to learn and be challenged all day long. I am always on my toes. Do I always know the outcome? No, but I think that is something good teachers accept as a good lesson and good "teaching".

This epiphany of the good "teacher" paradox came to me as I subbed for the math teacher all last week. As she was gone, I was expected to teach 8th grade math all week (a truly terrifying endeavor for a history teacher). But the teacher left a truly awesome project where they needed to design a carnival game based on probability. Even if I would have spent all weekend reviewing probability, I wouldn't have canned answers to a worksheet. In fact, the opposite was true. I had no way of anticipating what they would come up with. All week I had the attitude that I was going to learn with them and that we were going to challenge ourselves. With every problem they threw at me I had to go back and relearn probability. It was tough at first, but when I "got it", wow did we have fun. I may have not had the best content or pedagogical knowledge, but I was a darn good math teacher last week. Thus is the good "teacher" paradox: The less you know the better you are?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

My Little Brother Just Challenged me to Words With Friends

My little brother and I

 On any given day my twitter feed and google reader may have over a dozen blogs or articles regarding the proper place of technology in the classroom. While most of these posts deal explicitly with the classroom, many of the issues (both positive and negative) can be microcosms for the general public's feeling on technology. Over the last three days I have read three thought-provoking blog posts on technology. One was by Chris Kennedy explaining how his elementary students thought social media could be a medium for peace.  He argues that students recognize and understand the role social media occupies in changing the world. Another was written New Milford High School principal Eric Scheninger. He argues that instead of banning technology we should embrace "web 2.0 technologies that foster creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills." Finally, George Couros writes, in a blog post titled "We Are All Somebody's Kid", that adults need to model online respect in both agreement and disagreement.


As I read these, I could not help but think about how important technology is in my life.  First, I love technology. I am the eldest of nine children. When I left for college my baby brother was just being born and another younger brother was four years old. Because I went away to college and subsequently away for grad school, I have spent precious little time with them. I have lived hours away by car and given my schedule (full time job and grad school), it has been nearly impossible to see their first baseball games, birthdays, and the such. But we live in a truly remarkable age. My dad snaps a few pictures or video clips via his phone, sends me a caption and I feel like I am there. The next time I talk to my little brothers on the phone I have a clear visual to start an authentic conversation. Furthermore, my mother just bought an Iphone. Since I recently bought one too I can now have "Facetime" conversations with my family. Last time my brother even challenged me to Words with Friends and we have been playing and texting ever since. All this authentic communication is truly remarkable and I am thankful for it. Whenever I hear that social media and technology distances human interaction and relationship, I am truly puzzled. Whether it is my family's ability to chat face to face, my student's ability to email me, or the daily learning facilitated by my PLN, I am eternally indebted to how technology fosters real connections. 


My second thought may be a bit more controversial. Do our lower income schools and families have the same abilities? Having taught in a "low resource" area the previous two years, I saw technology and internet as an integral part of community life. However, I did not see it being used as an integral part of the educational experience. Whether it be access to devices or education using these devices, we must include all socioeconomic groups in this movement to technological literacy. Technology, social media, and Web 2.0 tools should be made available to all. We cannot continue the "divides" in our country to include that of technology. As technology can truly build bridges, address differentitation, and promote relevancy, it is something that should be really pushed in school. We need to make sure that technology is not something that is to be banned and relegated. We need to see that technology can be used in the same way I use it with my family. It should be used to build relationships, knowledge, and connections naturally throughout the school day. This is the world our students live in and we cannot ignore it.

My Little Brother Just Challenged me to Words With Friends

My little brother and I

 On any given day my twitter feed and google reader may have over a dozen blogs or articles regarding the proper place of technology in the classroom. While most of these posts deal explicitly with the classroom, many of the issues (both positive and negative) can be microcosms for the general public's feeling on technology. Over the last three days I have read three thought-provoking blog posts on technology. One was by Chris Kennedy explaining how his elementary students thought social media could be a medium for peace.  He argues that students recognize and understand the role social media occupies in changing the world. Another was written New Milford High School principal Eric Scheninger. He argues that instead of banning technology we should embrace "web 2.0 technologies that foster creativity, collaboration, problem-solving, and communication skills." Finally, George Couros writes, in a blog post titled "We Are All Somebody's Kid", that adults need to model online respect in both agreement and disagreement.


As I read these, I could not help but think about how important technology is in my life.  First, I love technology. I am the eldest of nine children. When I left for college my baby brother was just being born and another younger brother was four years old. Because I went away to college and subsequently away for grad school, I have spent precious little time with them. I have lived hours away by car and given my schedule (full time job and grad school), it has been nearly impossible to see their first baseball games, birthdays, and the such. But we live in a truly remarkable age. My dad snaps a few pictures or video clips via his phone, sends me a caption and I feel like I am there. The next time I talk to my little brothers on the phone I have a clear visual to start an authentic conversation. Furthermore, my mother just bought an Iphone. Since I recently bought one too I can now have "Facetime" conversations with my family. Last time my brother even challenged me to Words with Friends and we have been playing and texting ever since. All this authentic communication is truly remarkable and I am thankful for it. Whenever I hear that social media and technology distances human interaction and relationship, I am truly puzzled. Whether it is my family's ability to chat face to face, my student's ability to email me, or the daily learning facilitated by my PLN, I am eternally indebted to how technology fosters real connections. 


My second thought may be a bit more controversial. Do our lower income schools and families have the same abilities? Having taught in a "low resource" area the previous two years, I saw technology and internet as an integral part of community life. However, I did not see it being used as an integral part of the educational experience. Whether it be access to devices or education using these devices, we must include all socioeconomic groups in this movement to technological literacy. Technology, social media, and Web 2.0 tools should be made available to all. We cannot continue the "divides" in our country to include that of technology. As technology can truly build bridges, address differentitation, and promote relevancy, it is something that should be really pushed in school. We need to make sure that technology is not something that is to be banned and relegated. We need to see that technology can be used in the same way I use it with my family. It should be used to build relationships, knowledge, and connections naturally throughout the school day. This is the world our students live in and we cannot ignore it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Trying to Figure out Civil War Issues: Design a City!

Last week was the week before spring break and I was at a crucial point in the 8th grade. We had just finished up Western Expansion/Manifest Destiny (American Imperialism as many of my students argued) and seeing that we only had a week I didn't totally want to dive in the Civil War. I came up with this idea to introduce the context of America leading up to the Civil War. Students were given exclusive rights to plan a brand new city in the Kansas territory. In planning this city they had to think hard about some of the following questions


-Where is it and what type of economy? (More Northern looking or South looking)
-Will you be pro or anti slavery? Will you allow your citizens popular sovereignty to decide?
-Will you support the Underground Railroad? Will you support the Fugitive Slave Act? How would you deal with slaves like Dread Scott?
-Will you allow for abolitionist groups? Even if they are radical like John Brown?
-What will be your stance on women’s rights?
-Will you be Democrat or support the new Republican party?

From day one students were looking up important concepts, definitions, and ideas both online and in their textbooks. They were pouring over maps trying to find streams, lakes and rivers that would support a new town. Many of them were asking great questions like what if we give citizens popular sovereignty and they vote for slaves? I told them the whole notion of popular sovereignty makes that possible. Quickly they figured out that they would just say that the townspeople had already voted for or against slavery and that settled that. 

Something I tried a little different was that I had no expectations, no rubrics, and no real standards for the mini project. I gave them a rough skeleton of things to do to help them finish, but I thought those were minimal. Day one was looking up terms and concepts, day two was discussing issues and questions, and the rest was devoted to making some type of presentation or model of the city. I just wanted them to make a town with a mind to some of the issues that people dealt with in the build up to civil war. The lack of defined structure really made them creative and willing to take chances. I even had one group build a town based on slavery and plantations. They assured me they were against slavery and just wanted to see the "other side". I thought that was awesome and it lead to some good discovery. 

Students also discovered new ways to build these cities. As they were not expected to show off their city in any particular way, the students found some real innovative tools. A couple of groups (totally unprovoked) found Bekonscot, which is a online site that easily allows you to build virtual villages. Other groups experimented with google sketchup (just not enough time). In short, it was a fun week in which students were excited to learn and made great connections. Here are some of the examples:

The student's town "Promise Land"

Some notes on Promise Land:
We called our city in Kansas the Promise land because it is like the Promise land in the Bible where the slaves become free like the Israelites. We have the most Underground Railroads. We are anti slavery and we treat the slaves as normal people. In our virtual city, we used a railroad to symbolize the Underground Railroad. We put a  river to show we let people pan for gold also they use it for transportation and a food source. if slave owners from slave states come to our state we will send them to jail. We will support the new Republican Party because they are Anti slavery. We will  have Popular Sovereignty.  we will give women rights to some extent. 

Other towns
Student City Glog Example 1
Student City Glog Example 2







Trying to Figure out Civil War Issues: Design a City!

Last week was the week before spring break and I was at a crucial point in the 8th grade. We had just finished up Western Expansion/Manifest Destiny (American Imperialism as many of my students argued) and seeing that we only had a week I didn't totally want to dive in the Civil War. I came up with this idea to introduce the context of America leading up to the Civil War. Students were given exclusive rights to plan a brand new city in the Kansas territory. In planning this city they had to think hard about some of the following questions


-Where is it and what type of economy? (More Northern looking or South looking)
-Will you be pro or anti slavery? Will you allow your citizens popular sovereignty to decide?
-Will you support the Underground Railroad? Will you support the Fugitive Slave Act? How would you deal with slaves like Dread Scott?
-Will you allow for abolitionist groups? Even if they are radical like John Brown?
-What will be your stance on women’s rights?
-Will you be Democrat or support the new Republican party?

From day one students were looking up important concepts, definitions, and ideas both online and in their textbooks. They were pouring over maps trying to find streams, lakes and rivers that would support a new town. Many of them were asking great questions like what if we give citizens popular sovereignty and they vote for slaves? I told them the whole notion of popular sovereignty makes that possible. Quickly they figured out that they would just say that the townspeople had already voted for or against slavery and that settled that. 

Something I tried a little different was that I had no expectations, no rubrics, and no real standards for the mini project. I gave them a rough skeleton of things to do to help them finish, but I thought those were minimal. Day one was looking up terms and concepts, day two was discussing issues and questions, and the rest was devoted to making some type of presentation or model of the city. I just wanted them to make a town with a mind to some of the issues that people dealt with in the build up to civil war. The lack of defined structure really made them creative and willing to take chances. I even had one group build a town based on slavery and plantations. They assured me they were against slavery and just wanted to see the "other side". I thought that was awesome and it lead to some good discovery. 

Students also discovered new ways to build these cities. As they were not expected to show off their city in any particular way, the students found some real innovative tools. A couple of groups (totally unprovoked) found Bekonscot, which is a online site that easily allows you to build virtual villages. Other groups experimented with google sketchup (just not enough time). In short, it was a fun week in which students were excited to learn and made great connections. Here are some of the examples:

The student's town "Promise Land"

Some notes on Promise Land:
We called our city in Kansas the Promise land because it is like the Promise land in the Bible where the slaves become free like the Israelites. We have the most Underground Railroads. We are anti slavery and we treat the slaves as normal people. In our virtual city, we used a railroad to symbolize the Underground Railroad. We put a  river to show we let people pan for gold also they use it for transportation and a food source. if slave owners from slave states come to our state we will send them to jail. We will support the new Republican Party because they are Anti slavery. We will  have Popular Sovereignty.  we will give women rights to some extent. 

Other towns
Student City Glog Example 1
Student City Glog Example 2







Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Three C's

Creativity, Choice, Cooperation


I am sure my cute little moniker is stolen from somebody, but until I specifically hear so I am calling it my own. It has a nice ring to it and simply sums up a few essential parts of learning. When designing lessons, units, projects, classes, or even schools are we actively putting choice, creativity, and cooperation in the forefront? These three C's should be embedded into not only the academic nature of schooling, but also the social design of schools and lessons. In my opinion, all three are necessary to have one. For example, it is very hard to push creativity on anyone if they have no say in the matter. Furthermore, if students or people are able to work together in an organic and natural process, the sum of their knowledge often overpowers the singular parts, allowing for massive creativity. Also, an emphasis on creativity, choice, and cooperation lessens teacher proclivity to rant and lecture without allowing for active participation. So what do they 3 C's look like in a classroom or school?

Creativity
Are new and alternative ideas welcomed? Is the environment at school or in the classroom conducive to discovery? Do bland worksheets and textbooks drive instruction? Can students use the arts to express content across curriculum? Is technology used for the unique constructions of ideas? Do rubrics or assignment structures limit products? Do grading procedures make students abandon creativity in order to play if safe? Do projects create an avenue for innovative thought or are they canned ways to fill time?

Choice
Are students empowered by decisions on projects, lessons, or assessments? Do they feel like they have the ability to guide their own learning? Do students have relationships with staff and faculty to make suggestions? Can they pick presentations tools? Do they make choices based on extrinsic factors or because of intense intrinsic interest? Is there flexibility within assignments to allow students ability to do things that make them personally comfortable? Is homework student or teacher driven? Do they want to be there?

Cooperation
Is your class and school culture one of cooperation or competition? Do students see their peers as valuable learning partners or people they have to one up? How often to students teach each other? How do group discussions, projects, and lessons build cooperation? Is working together an everyday occurrence in your room? Do students feel like they can communicate with each other and ask for help? What is the line between cheating and cooperation? Are individual talents used within groups to produce a sum of talents and skill? Are ideas invented, refined, and reinvented with each others help?

The Three C's

Creativity, Choice, Cooperation


I am sure my cute little moniker is stolen from somebody, but until I specifically hear so I am calling it my own. It has a nice ring to it and simply sums up a few essential parts of learning. When designing lessons, units, projects, classes, or even schools are we actively putting choice, creativity, and cooperation in the forefront? These three C's should be embedded into not only the academic nature of schooling, but also the social design of schools and lessons. In my opinion, all three are necessary to have one. For example, it is very hard to push creativity on anyone if they have no say in the matter. Furthermore, if students or people are able to work together in an organic and natural process, the sum of their knowledge often overpowers the singular parts, allowing for massive creativity. Also, an emphasis on creativity, choice, and cooperation lessens teacher proclivity to rant and lecture without allowing for active participation. So what do they 3 C's look like in a classroom or school?

Creativity
Are new and alternative ideas welcomed? Is the environment at school or in the classroom conducive to discovery? Do bland worksheets and textbooks drive instruction? Can students use the arts to express content across curriculum? Is technology used for the unique constructions of ideas? Do rubrics or assignment structures limit products? Do grading procedures make students abandon creativity in order to play if safe? Do projects create an avenue for innovative thought or are they canned ways to fill time?

Choice
Are students empowered by decisions on projects, lessons, or assessments? Do they feel like they have the ability to guide their own learning? Do students have relationships with staff and faculty to make suggestions? Can they pick presentations tools? Do they make choices based on extrinsic factors or because of intense intrinsic interest? Is there flexibility within assignments to allow students ability to do things that make them personally comfortable? Is homework student or teacher driven? Do they want to be there?

Cooperation
Is your class and school culture one of cooperation or competition? Do students see their peers as valuable learning partners or people they have to one up? How often to students teach each other? How do group discussions, projects, and lessons build cooperation? Is working together an everyday occurrence in your room? Do students feel like they can communicate with each other and ask for help? What is the line between cheating and cooperation? Are individual talents used within groups to produce a sum of talents and skill? Are ideas invented, refined, and reinvented with each others help?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

My morning at TEDxsfed

Passionate people give off a vibe that is both highly exciting and contagious. Therefore, it was no surprise to feel a special vibe permeating the air during the TEDx event in San Francisco. The theme of the TEDx event was "re-imagining education" and it was clear that the attendees and speakers had a truly revolutionary vision of education. I consider myself extremely lucky and fortunate to have shared a morning with such innovative, passionate, and creative people. Although I could only attend the morning session (I had to coach in the afternoon), I was inspired by the amazing work and ideas that were exchanged in such a small amount of time. Below are some bullet points I took away from the speakers I saw. 

Sandy Speicher
-Talked about design thinking as it relates to children
-Allows for students to believe they have a role in shaping the world
-Job of designer to create new meaning
-Forthcoming website designthinkingforeducators.com
-"We ARE bigger than the system".

Susan Stauter
-Talked about the power of inspiration and arts in education
-"commit your life to make sure imagination doesn't fail in the future"
-"We change metabolically when we are inspired"
- "Art gives us hope and a connection that is beyond self"
- "At the end of the school day parents ask what you did you DO today not what did you listen to today"

David Orphal
- over 50 percent of people connected to education are not in the classroom
-"Could you imagine the change in ed policy if Arne Duncan took five weeks off to teach summer school"
- Talked about the idea of a Teacherpreneur. That is teachers who make policy, have hands in administration, design curriculum all at same time. Split roles to re-imagine education. 
- "TEACHER LEADER NETWORK" education leaders can keep a foot in the classroom


Victor Diaz (REALM Charter School)
-"Treat every kid as if it was your kid"
-"We know why kids don't like school and yet we don't do anything--Instead we put the problem on them"
-Transition from apathy to deservedness (How can I serve this child?)
- Trust is a powerful tool
-Ask kid "how do you come to school everyday?"


Music Group "The Freeze"
-freestyle workshops combine Pablo Friere with beatboxing to empower kids
-"Teenagers, in their own minds, are the most oppressed people in America. Kids' menus?! What is that stuff!?" 
-Check out some of their super awesome video


             

My morning at TEDxsfed

Passionate people give off a vibe that is both highly exciting and contagious. Therefore, it was no surprise to feel a special vibe permeating the air during the TEDx event in San Francisco. The theme of the TEDx event was "re-imagining education" and it was clear that the attendees and speakers had a truly revolutionary vision of education. I consider myself extremely lucky and fortunate to have shared a morning with such innovative, passionate, and creative people. Although I could only attend the morning session (I had to coach in the afternoon), I was inspired by the amazing work and ideas that were exchanged in such a small amount of time. Below are some bullet points I took away from the speakers I saw. 

Sandy Speicher
-Talked about design thinking as it relates to children
-Allows for students to believe they have a role in shaping the world
-Job of designer to create new meaning
-Forthcoming website designthinkingforeducators.com
-"We ARE bigger than the system".

Susan Stauter
-Talked about the power of inspiration and arts in education
-"commit your life to make sure imagination doesn't fail in the future"
-"We change metabolically when we are inspired"
- "Art gives us hope and a connection that is beyond self"
- "At the end of the school day parents ask what you did you DO today not what did you listen to today"

David Orphal
- over 50 percent of people connected to education are not in the classroom
-"Could you imagine the change in ed policy if Arne Duncan took five weeks off to teach summer school"
- Talked about the idea of a Teacherpreneur. That is teachers who make policy, have hands in administration, design curriculum all at same time. Split roles to re-imagine education. 
- "TEACHER LEADER NETWORK" education leaders can keep a foot in the classroom


Victor Diaz (REALM Charter School)
-"Treat every kid as if it was your kid"
-"We know why kids don't like school and yet we don't do anything--Instead we put the problem on them"
-Transition from apathy to deservedness (How can I serve this child?)
- Trust is a powerful tool
-Ask kid "how do you come to school everyday?"


Music Group "The Freeze"
-freestyle workshops combine Pablo Friere with beatboxing to empower kids
-"Teenagers, in their own minds, are the most oppressed people in America. Kids' menus?! What is that stuff!?" 
-Check out some of their super awesome video


             

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Do we allow for such innovation in school?



In no way shape or form am I trying to do some free advertising for Chevrolet , but this ad has always made me think. Innovation, inventions, and creativity often happen in the most random and unpredictable ways. Sometimes our greatest ideas come from our greatest of accidents. Sometimes we find inspiration in strangest of places. Sometimes we need to make mistakes to make discovery. And yet I don't know if any of these mistakes, accidents, or "innovations" are encouraged in mainstream education thought. Is there any possible way to allow students more time to simply explore and experiment? Innovation Days like those dreamt up by Josh Stumpenhorst (my school is planning one in May) offer some hope. Daniel Pink also mentions the idea of FedEx days for school which are appealing. But what else can we do? Are there any ways that you push for students to discover interests, passions, and ideas on their own?

Do we allow for such innovation in school?



In no way shape or form am I trying to do some free advertising for Chevrolet , but this ad has always made me think. Innovation, inventions, and creativity often happen in the most random and unpredictable ways. Sometimes our greatest ideas come from our greatest of accidents. Sometimes we find inspiration in strangest of places. Sometimes we need to make mistakes to make discovery. And yet I don't know if any of these mistakes, accidents, or "innovations" are encouraged in mainstream education thought. Is there any possible way to allow students more time to simply explore and experiment? Innovation Days like those dreamt up by Josh Stumpenhorst (my school is planning one in May) offer some hope. Daniel Pink also mentions the idea of FedEx days for school which are appealing. But what else can we do? Are there any ways that you push for students to discover interests, passions, and ideas on their own?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

What will you get? You get nothing!

Last week I finished reading The Devil Came on Horseback, a chilling and provocative book about genocide in Darfur. A former marine, Brian Steidle, describes witnessing genocide while serving as a U.N. monitor in the Darfur region of Sudan. His narrative is authentic as it is written in a very readable and personable style. It is very easy to see how this haunting situation played on his emotions and conscience. If you are interested in the history of the Darfur conflict, it is a great book that reads quick and is more than thought provoking.

In the Epilogue, Brian writes the following passage:

    "Sometimes when I am talking to people about Darfur, they ask me how they or the United States will benefit
       from getting involved in the issue. I can feel my anger rising. I tell them: You get nothing! You get nothing 
       from helping these people--except to know you did something good, that you did the right thing. You
       helped people who couldn't help themselves."


This small paragraph struck me in so many different ways. As a teacher, a learner, and a human how often do I do something just because I expect something in return. Alfie Kohn explains this extrinsic motivation as "Do this and you will get that." Regardless of how much I loathe this sort of idea, upon very short reflection I find myself guilty of this thinking on a daily basis. I do not want my students, myself, or my world to operate on this assumption. Yet how often do we? Whether it is the concept of "grade" on an assignment or "signing up" for extra curriculars, do we do it because we are intrinsically motivated or simply because we are waiting for a reward. Recently my school has been collecting water bottles in order to donate the proceeds to Japan. Over the past  week I have continuously heard students say that they wanted to be in the winning class, meaning the class that collected the most bottles. Whenever I here this, I say nobody wins or loses when we help people out. Students say they understand this--but do they? So until the rest of the school year I challenge myself as well as you to move beyond the "what do I get out of this" mentality. Let's work to move students to act because of the intrinsic worth of an action not because of the perceived reward.

What will you get? You get nothing!

Last week I finished reading The Devil Came on Horseback, a chilling and provocative book about genocide in Darfur. A former marine, Brian Steidle, describes witnessing genocide while serving as a U.N. monitor in the Darfur region of Sudan. His narrative is authentic as it is written in a very readable and personable style. It is very easy to see how this haunting situation played on his emotions and conscience. If you are interested in the history of the Darfur conflict, it is a great book that reads quick and is more than thought provoking.

In the Epilogue, Brian writes the following passage:

    "Sometimes when I am talking to people about Darfur, they ask me how they or the United States will benefit
       from getting involved in the issue. I can feel my anger rising. I tell them: You get nothing! You get nothing 
       from helping these people--except to know you did something good, that you did the right thing. You
       helped people who couldn't help themselves."


This small paragraph struck me in so many different ways. As a teacher, a learner, and a human how often do I do something just because I expect something in return. Alfie Kohn explains this extrinsic motivation as "Do this and you will get that." Regardless of how much I loathe this sort of idea, upon very short reflection I find myself guilty of this thinking on a daily basis. I do not want my students, myself, or my world to operate on this assumption. Yet how often do we? Whether it is the concept of "grade" on an assignment or "signing up" for extra curriculars, do we do it because we are intrinsically motivated or simply because we are waiting for a reward. Recently my school has been collecting water bottles in order to donate the proceeds to Japan. Over the past  week I have continuously heard students say that they wanted to be in the winning class, meaning the class that collected the most bottles. Whenever I here this, I say nobody wins or loses when we help people out. Students say they understand this--but do they? So until the rest of the school year I challenge myself as well as you to move beyond the "what do I get out of this" mentality. Let's work to move students to act because of the intrinsic worth of an action not because of the perceived reward.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

My take-a-ways from Alfie Kohn

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Alfie Kohn give a presentation titled "Testing, Grading, and Homework: But Why?" at Cupertino High School. Although I have read countless articles of his and am in the process of reading one of his books, it was the first time I  heard him speak. Through my reading of Kohn and through the conversations I have had about his work, I have learned a lot about motivation. In particular, I have started to reexamine the notion of extrinsic motivation especially in regards to learning and school. His voice is often one that bucks the conventional wisdom, yet it makes inherent and empirical sense. Without belaboring my views on Kohn and his work, these are some quick points I took away from the presentation. Most of these were tweets I sent out during the presentation (talk about active participation but that is a different post) or quick notes I jotted down. Also, I do not necessarily agree or disagree with the points in the list below, they just struck me as the most interesting and thought-provoking snippets of the night. 

CC licensed picture by Capture Queen


"Learning comes from actively making sense of ideas not passively sitting back listening to a teacher"

"The best schools I visit don't give grades"

"Standardized testing is a great measure of how big the houses are next to the school"

"What makes kids excited to learn should be the essential question of education and ed policy"

"Kids driven by grades will pick the easiest path"

"As extrinsic motivation goes up, intrinsic motivation goes down"

'Rewards are a way to control behavior not help the child behind the behavior"

"Without grades teachers have to create a classroom that is authentically and actually engaging" (but they can)

"Responsibility comes from making choices...how can homework build responsibility if it is mandates"

"If you really are trying to educate the whole child but give homework you are a liar. You are saying the academic interests of school are held above all else"

Re: homework   "You can only reinforce a behavior not learning"

My take-a-ways from Alfie Kohn

Last week I had the opportunity to hear Alfie Kohn give a presentation titled "Testing, Grading, and Homework: But Why?" at Cupertino High School. Although I have read countless articles of his and am in the process of reading one of his books, it was the first time I  heard him speak. Through my reading of Kohn and through the conversations I have had about his work, I have learned a lot about motivation. In particular, I have started to reexamine the notion of extrinsic motivation especially in regards to learning and school. His voice is often one that bucks the conventional wisdom, yet it makes inherent and empirical sense. Without belaboring my views on Kohn and his work, these are some quick points I took away from the presentation. Most of these were tweets I sent out during the presentation (talk about active participation but that is a different post) or quick notes I jotted down. Also, I do not necessarily agree or disagree with the points in the list below, they just struck me as the most interesting and thought-provoking snippets of the night. 

CC licensed picture by Capture Queen


"Learning comes from actively making sense of ideas not passively sitting back listening to a teacher"

"The best schools I visit don't give grades"

"Standardized testing is a great measure of how big the houses are next to the school"

"What makes kids excited to learn should be the essential question of education and ed policy"

"Kids driven by grades will pick the easiest path"

"As extrinsic motivation goes up, intrinsic motivation goes down"

'Rewards are a way to control behavior not help the child behind the behavior"

"Without grades teachers have to create a classroom that is authentically and actually engaging" (but they can)

"Responsibility comes from making choices...how can homework build responsibility if it is mandates"

"If you really are trying to educate the whole child but give homework you are a liar. You are saying the academic interests of school are held above all else"

Re: homework   "You can only reinforce a behavior not learning"