Friday, November 14, 2014

Why CS?

I will always remember the moment.

It was about five years ago, and I was teaching seventh grade Social Studies. I had just starting using project-based learning with my class, and we were working through a project on the separation of church and state. Students needed to present policy recommendations for church/state relations.

Danielle asked me if she could email the mayor to get his thoughts on the matter. I thought about it and said, “Sure, why not? Just realize you probably won’t get an answer. He is busy.”

Five minutes later, Danielle let out a small scream and started rambling, “he answered, he answered.” The whole class ran to Danielle and read the email. They were so excited. Right then and there, I knew project-based learning (PBL) was a powerful way to engage students with the real world.

My students continue to amaze me. They use PBL to be critical thinkers, problem solvers, and innovators. Most of the time, I have to kick them out of class. Imagine that!

I co-founded CrowdSchool to bring this type of learning to teachers and students across the world. We want to be the first platform to crowdsource the best PBL Challenges from the best teachers.
As the CrowdSchool project gathered steam, I was forced with a decision. Do I leave the classroom on a full-time basis to focus on its growth?

I thought to myself, why CrowdSchool?

Why will CrowdSchool create a genuine impact on education? I thought of Danielle. I remembered the faces of my students. I wanted to give that experience to teachers and students everywhere. I knew it would not be easy, I knew it would be a sacrifice, but I knew it would be worth it. I still love being in the classroom as a part-time faculty member, but I also really love working at CrowdSchool.
I know we are going to do some amazing things.

…And go ahead and email, I am not too busy for you.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

She Asked About the Elections?

"What is going on with the elections next week? I see all these commercials and stuff."

That was the question one of my students asked me a few weeks ago. She asked unprompted, totally on her own.

A few classmates replied, "Yeah, what is happening?" There was a gentle buzz in the room. This is the stuff you dream about as a teacher, a perfect conversation for our 8th grade social studies class.

I was excited too! I am a political junkie. I love election season.

On the other hand, we were in the middle of a PBL unit. Students were investigating community problems and creating legislative solutions. The students were enjoying it and we had so much to do.

I paused, then spoke with wonderful intentions, "I am glad you are asking. How about we go over that in a few days?"

Did we go back over it in a few days? Let me give you a hint. The answer rhymes with smope.

I recently reflected on this moment. I consider myself a progressive teacher. I strive for full engagement by thinking outside the curriculum, by setting up large-scale, relevant projects. I am not afraid to try new things. I am not afraid to give my students choice and autonomy.

...But in a simple moment, a moment when a student came to me and asked, I felt like I needed to do what I had planned. I was dictating the moment. Who cares if that plan was a textbook or an amazing project? Who cares if that plan was a worksheet or a hands-on experiment? I missed an opportunity to stop everything and address that student's curiosity.

We can all get caught up in our great plans and our great projects that sometimes we miss the simple things, like a question. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Would You Eat The Dog Food You Serve?

In 1980, Apple Computer president Michael Scott wrote a memo announcing that:
"EFFECTIVE IMMEDIATELY!! NO MORE TYPEWRITERS ARE TO BE PURCHASED, LEASED, etc., etc." by the computer company, with a goal to eliminate typewriters by 1 January 1981. Apple is an innovative company. We must believe and lead in all areas (Inc. Magazine, 1981).
If Apple truly believed that word processing was more efficient and effective than the typewriter, it needed to show it. Apple refused to simply pay lip service to its innovative talk, it led by example. Apple ate its own dog food.

Zooming closer to the present:
Facebook rolls out most features to employees first, and only then to a subset of external customers. Employees, of course, already use Facebook every day and can provide instant feedback (GeekWire, 2013).
If a new feature isn't good enough for Facebook employees, why would it be good enough for the public? If a new idea doesn't jive with those closest to Facebook, how could it work with the world? Facebook gives its dog food to its own employees first. Would they eat it?

So what's my point here?

Think about your own classroom. Think about the work. Think about the routines. Think about the discipline. Think about the assignments. Think about the expectations. Think about it all. Would you eat the dog food served in your own classroom?

Much has been made recently of teachers and administrators shadowing students (read here and here). Some findings: kids sit a lot, kids are exhausted, kids passively listen most of the day. No surprise there. We tend to teach like we were taught. The dog food recipe hasn't changed much.

Its worth thinking deeply about.

Would I eat the dog food served in my classroom?

Would you expect someone else to eat the dog food served in your classroom?

If not, what can we change about the recipe? How we improve our dog food immediately?