Saturday, January 10, 2015

3 Essential Reagents Drive Standards Based Grading in Iowa

Over the past few decades, leading educators have expressed a growing urgency to transform traditional grading and reporting practices.  With student achievement hanging in the balance, today’s educators are working to fix the broken cultural paradigm of school grading which sorts, selects and compares kids based on a conglomeration of points, percentages, zeroes and extra credit.  In place of the oddly lopsided bell curve which serves only a select few, educators today are advocating for a standards-based approach to reporting student progress. 

Put simply, students need to be given clearly articulated learning goals and then empowered to achieve them.   

There are several factors accelerating the transition to Standards-Based Grading (SBG) in Iowa, not the least of which is a growing adherence to the Iowa Core.  With implementation of the Iowa Core expected for all districts, teachers are finding that close monitoring of student progress on the Iowa Core standards is essential to guaranteed learning outcomes.  

Many districts have also found SBG to be a logical outcome of the work of Professional Learning Communities (PLC).  A PLC thrives when teachers participate in rich conversations and professional dialogue about course standards and common assessments as a measure of student achievement.  Teachers naturally want to begin reporting on those same standards for students and parents as well.  A single mark (or grade) to represent all of math or literacy or science seems inadequate in light of the complex curriculum work being done in our highly functioning PLC structures. 

For instance, Sioux City’s well established PLC structures provide the distributed leadership which is an essential factor for SBG.  More than any other variable, teacher leadership provides the momentum needed to deeply embed a robust SBG system of practice.  A healthy, high-functioning PLC platform creates an environment that embraces a cycle of continuous improvement and collective effort toward the common goal of student achievement.  Since teachers are the front-line curriculum implementers, it only makes sense that they should take the lead as the curriculum designers as well. 

Lastly, student information systems (SIS) like Infinite Campus are finally progressing to the point that they can provide teachers with a framework for reporting at the standard level to parents and students. While still inadequate from a progressive ideal, today’s SIS do allow teachers to enter assessments and classroom activities organized by standard (instead of the traditional categories of daily work, quizzes, tests or labs).  Now that assessments can be grouped by learning standards it is much easier to monitor a student’s progress toward mastery of course content.  Grades can be a dynamic reflection of ongoing progress, rather than a stagnant report of past performance.

It’s not a difficult stretch to see that the combination of meaningful course standards with closely aligned assessments and a robust Student Information System are the essential reagents in the SBG equation.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Act, Learn, Be Great

In my eSTEMation, there is one critical ingredient that separates the good from the great in STEM teaching and learning.  Good STEM is student-centered, active and interdisciplinary.  But, great STEM extrapolates the learning curve until kids become contributors.  Great STEM expands the classroom until both teachers and kids can “Act Locally and Learn Globally”, facing the great engineering challenges of our time. 

Every generation since the beginning of civilization has faced its own unique engineering challenges, from electrification to agricultural mechanization. Today, I am convinced that STEM classrooms are the world’s best hope to face the global grand challenges of our age.

The list [developed with the input of thousands of citizens at the National Academy of Engineering website] is daunting, but inspiring:
How is today's educational platform preparing a STEM-literate citizenry to address these grand challenges?  The answer, in my opinion, is great STEM.  Great STEM fosters the imagination, the passion and the genius of every learner:  the artists, entrepreneurs, engineers, designers and builders who will one day lead the work on the grand challenges of our age.

Engineering challenges having a sweeping range, from virtual reality to urban infrastructure.   Can each of us identify at least one of the grand challenges that captures our own unique core imagination or passion, calling us to invest our own resources personally and professionally?  For instance, I contribute professionally to "advance personalized learning" through my daily work with teachers and school districts.  I contribute personally to "provide access to clean water" through humanitarian efforts.

From an educator’s perspective, I honestly think that a team of creative teachers could cover the entire core content by “reverse engineering” from the grand challenges. How cool would that be?! Now that really would be holding true to the maxim that we Begin With the End In Mind.  We could begin by asking our local business partners questions like, “What need does your industry meet for its customers?” and “What projects energize your top thinkers and doers?”

I am not sure which comes first, “acting locally” or “learning globally”.  Honestly, I think Iowa’s best classroom teachers are already helping students to do both. 

In my eSTEMation, greatness STEMs from Iowans, “acting locally and learning globally”.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Greatness STEMs from Iowans

Greatness STEMs from Iowans.  I like that. 

I like the fact that Iowa’s new STEM message is focused on the only essential reagent in Iowa’s STEM equation:  the human element.  Greatness STEMs from Iowans.  Greatness does not STEM from programs and policies.  Greatness STEMs from Iowans, who invigorate programs into passions, and policies into practice. 

Greatness STEMs from Iowans, the front-runners within the formal and non-formal sectors of Iowa’s educational landscape. Almost overnight, a statewide roster of “Who’s Who” in STEM education is being built.  These Iowa educators are shaping a functional definition of “what STEM is” and “how STEM works”. Iowa educators are beginning to understand that STEM is strongly anchored within the broader context of educational reform.  Educators are leveraging STEM to promote active, student-centered classrooms, characterized by personalized experiential learning.

Greatness STEMs from Iowans, the visionary leaders in business and industry who are working to build strong partnerships with local educators.  The private sector sees STEM as anchored in practices of global citizenry that shape the decisions of the next generation related to both career choice and civic life, for a thriving Iowa future.

Greatness STEMs from Iowans.  I like that.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

STEM is the Tesseract of Teaching

In my eSTEMation, Iowa’s classrooms are now entering the fourth dimension—STEM is the tesseract of teaching

Until now, America’s classrooms have been mostly two-dimensional, attached to a textbook or a worksheet.  Good teachers have labored to share an up-down-all-around world using only “X” and “Y”.  Learning science from a worksheet is something like imagining music without ever hearing a song.

Honestly, good teachers have always tried to add the third dimension to their mostly flat classrooms.  Grasping at the “Z”, we tell stories, take fieldtrips and show videos.  We entertain guest speakers and assign projects.  Yet, it’s hard not to admit that most classroom experiences are still a 2-D drawing of the Cartesian coordinate, tethered to the inertia of traditional teaching and learning.

Recently, I have come to see STEM as the fourth dimension: spacetime.  STEM begins with the “XYZ” of content and rigor and relevance.  But STEM doesn’t stop there:  STEM insists on the fourth dimension of “spacetime”.  STEM is the tesseract of teaching.  It drags the cube to a new place of real-world, localized, time-sensitive event connections. 

STEM translates learning experiences to the fourth dimension using the vectors of community partners and trans-disciplinary work.  Students tackle the grand challenges of their own generation, building on the framework of essential content. And, in case you think this is just STEMfiction, talk to the Iowa kids who are touching a four-dimensional world: Real World Design Challenge and FTC World Champion or Siemens We Can Change The World national finalists.

In my eSTEMation, it’s time to break loose from the two-dimensional plane of worksheet, textbooks or even computer screens.  Let’s tesseract.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Don't Just Teach a Kid to Fish

In My eSTEMation, If you give a kid a fish, she’ll eat for a day. If you teach a kid to fish, she’ll eat for a lifetime.

But….if you let that kid investigate a local fish population, working alongside regional experts in fish management and the aquatic environment---she may develop a love of STEM which will launch a career in sustainable resource management, with the goal of feeding the whole planet.

I am increasingly convinced that an essential component of STEM education is the inclusion of locally relevant problem solving.  In my eSTEMation, this is the hook which will capture the minds and the hearts of our youngest problem solvers.  We need to match STEM-mentors with teachers and students, and then encourage everyone to jump into the deeper waters of collaborative, student-centered, problem-based learning. 

STEM challenges are real, and real challenges often involve failure, messiness and unexpected complications (anyone who has ever gone camping knows the truth of this statement). The role of the STEM professional is to help students press through the set-backs, ultimately establishing precisely the sort of tenacity (e.g. grit) that Iowa’s future demands.

In my eSTEMation, Iowa should cast the STEM-net in deep water, looking for a catch that includes STEM business partners, non-formal educators, and teachers and learners from just about every discipline.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Dream. Design. Re-Design.

This blog is "cross posted" from the STEMconnector Blog, a fantastic national resource for STEM.

Today’s headline news in Iowa STEM circles is the release of a Request For Proposals to provide support for innovative, redesigned STEM Learning Environments---schools and classrooms with an outside-of-school twist!  With an aggressive timeline, proposals will be due on August 30th, with the design and implementation phase to occur during Spring, 2014. Strong proposals will demonstrate a commitment to three key characteristics that have been endorsed by the Iowa STEM council.
Active Learning, Univ. of MN
Redesigned STEM Learning Environments: STEM is interactive, dynamic, collaborative, inquiry driven, trans-disciplinary, and student-centered.  Technology will be seamlessly embedded and ubiquitously available to both teachers and learners.  Workspaces facilitate pathways of communication and creativity.  A STEM learning environment encourages tangential discoveries and multi-faceted decision-making. Students will require learning spaces that embrace failure (experimentation and design) as an important aspect of their academic experience. They will need to develop collaborative skills that mesh physical and virtual environments. Increasingly, students are learning and working in hybrid spaces, "third spaces", that require unique tools and skill sets. 
Integrated STEM curriculum focused on personalized, deeper learning:  Iowa STEM Schools will inspire innovative, lifelong learners within interdisciplinary environments, stimulating constructive connections between seemingly abstract concepts and encouraging insightful leadership via technology-rich, real-world applications anchored by global literacy.  An integrated approach to the STEM and non-STEM disciplines will result in a re-imagined use of time in school, allowing students to engage with core content in novel and deeper ways.  Students will be encouraged to deploy tools and technologies that build local system capacity while retaining the perspective of global citizenry.
Higher Education, Private Business and Non-formal Learning Community Partners
  • Higher Education:  Within the context of a STEM school, partnerships with post-secondary institutions will provide students support throughout a blended high school and college experience.  
  • Private Business Partnerships:  Iowa STEM schools will build meaningful partnerships with community businesses as a mechanism to ensure career and college readiness for all of Iowa’s young people. Student learning goals and activities will extend beyond the traditional classroom to incorporate real-world learning with local connections.  Partnerships may take the form of internships for students,  externships for teachers, facilitated mentoring programs and other off-campus learning opportunities.
  • Non-Formal Education Partners: Museums, libraries, science centers, youth agencies, clubs and other non-formal education entities are powerful partners in the borderless new paradigm for STEM education. Iowa STEM is committed to the idea that STEM fields present vibrant life and career opportunities for all students.  Non-formal partners will help provide bridge programs, tutoring programs, extended school day, and year-round learning, with an emphasis on developing a "STEM identity”.
“Exciting post-secondary majors and certification programs await Iowa’s K-12 graduates,” said Lt. Governor Kim Reynolds, co-chair of the Governor’s STEM Advisory Council. “These programs set the stage for rewarding STEM careers that fuel lifelong learning and the state’s economy. Redesigned STEM-focused schools will invigorate the pipeline and enhance the fact that STEM education truly ties together all education disciplines.”

Monday, July 8, 2013

Le Tour de STEM

In my eSTEMation, Le Tour de STEM in Iowa is just as much a team sport as Le Tour de France.  In its 100th year, Tour de France is a bike race that covers thousands of kilometers of European landscape, peppered with brutal mountain passes and daring descents. Twenty-one grueling stages test the endurance of every rider individually, but cannot be won alone.

Le Tour de STEM has specialized team members in its peloton as well:

Climbers:  these guys are strong.  They have a million miles in their legs, and they will not give up on even the steepest of grades.  The members of the STEM Advisory Council have invested heavily in the success of the Initiative, and they inspire us all to keep climbing, higher and higher

Sprinters:  the fastest to the line.  Our Scale Up programs can accelerate as if they are rocket powered.  The summer sprint to deliver the 2013-2014 Scale Up programs has broken all records.

Domestique:  French term for “servant” of the team.  The Regional Manager at each Hub rides to re-fill water bottles, replenish supplies and do road-side repair with a single goal:  keep Iowa STEM rolling.

Lead Out: pulling other riders to the front of the race.  Lt. Governor Reynolds, new co-chair Mary Andringa and Executive Director Jeff Weld lead out, helping the whole peloton to reach the finish line strong for the win.  

In my eSTEMation, the Iowa STEM Initiative wins the yellow jersey.  We are cycling strong:  covering miles, climbing mountains, sprinting for the line and most importantly, staying together as a team.