Saturday, December 17, 2011

Getting Ready

December is a month of “getting ready”. Getting ready for the holidays, for travel, for parties, and for the New Year. Everyone gets ready in his own way—some make elaborate preparations, and others –well, others do not. Today, my Saturday “getting ready” list was longish and seemed important until I was helped to re-prioritize my day. My husband’s irrefutable logic was, “Why spend a gorgeous Saturday getting ready for a party that doesn’t even happen until after dark on Sunday? So, we abandoned the vacuum in favor of the bikes, and enjoyed an epic ride. Somehow, I know that we are much, much more ready to have a great time at the holiday party after spending several hours in the sunshine. And, I’m pretty sure my feet will be unfrozen by then.
Speaking of “getting ready”, it has been my great pleasure to watch each of of our SLHS faculty make preparations for January Term. Just like holiday parties, we all get ready in our own ways. Some are creating websites, Moodle courses, and blogs. Others have detailed plans on Google Doc Calendars, and spreadsheets. The Senior Internship team has spent hours (and hours) meeting with students and helping them to develop substantive, meaningful projects to benefit their workplace. The Winter Recreation Crew is collaborating with community partners and planning epic adventures for our students. And if you want to be really inspired, talk to Sharon and Gerry about their Environmental Stewardship trip to Florida!
Probably the best thing we could all do to get ready for January Term would be to take a really long bike ride. On the bike, a person notices the color of the sky, the angle of the sun, the direction of the wind, and the myriad shades of brown in the grass. I had the distinct impression today that the world was waiting. Waiting for the snow, the cold, the wind, and the darkness, which must inevitably come. And, somehow, Spring is waiting too. In fact, perhaps Spring is already being born in the stillness under the thin smooth layer of ice on the lakes.
Change always comes with a loss of some sort. For some, it has been hard to finish the semester before it feels “ready”. Yet, we will emerge on the other side of Winter Break with something new. I have often been asked, “What will make January Term different than our regular SLHS classes? The answer lies in our determination to “get ready” for true project based learning, defined by
Authenticity (meaningful, personal, real)
Academic Rigor (interdisciplinary, higher order)
Applied Learning (beyond school, tech-infused)
Active Exploration (field work, investigative)
Adult Relationships (collaborative, professional)
Assessment (meaningful, reflective, presenting)
We are not getting ready with keynote presentations, worksheets, multiple choice exams, textbooks, or lectures. We are getting ready by networking with the community, asking questions, pressing for real-world connections and day-dreaming about what might be. We are getting ready by climbing Bloom’s pyramid to the very top—where creating, designing, inventing and constructing bring the joy of learning to life. Getting ready for January means becoming a learner again…and that feels almost as fun as a bike ride!

Sunday, December 11, 2011


I’ve never been to New Hampshire, but lately, I’ve been “virtually” living there. New Hampshire is a model state in terms of educational reform initiatives, and I have spent many hours on their Dept of Ed website learning about competency based education (CBE) and project based learning (PBL).Since several of our January LIVE classes will be both CBE and PBL, I am trying to assemble brief, functional, and timely descriptions of what that really means for SLHS teachers and students.
New Hampshire’s comparable term to Iowa’s student-centered learning is “personalized learning”.The state of New Hampshire uses a word to describe personalized learning that I have rarely (if ever) encountered intermingled with educational jargon: JOYFUL. The New Hampshire vision for High School Redesign states that personalized learning is joyful:
“Learning is boring when it is forced,
uninspiring and irrelevant in the eyes of the learner.
Learning is joyful when it is interesting, fun,
exciting, challenging, and creates a craving for more.
Personalized learning is joyful.” 1
I heard an illustration of joy just this morning (thanks, Coach Loveall) which made me wonder about the joy in our schools. What if, tomorrow, every student in our school was handed a helium (latex-free hypo-allergenic) balloon as they entered the building? We would instruct the students to release the balloon at the first moment during which they experience learning which is “interesting, fun, exciting, challenging, and creates a craving for more”: in a word, JOYFUL.
Here is the question, “At the end of the day, how many kids would still be holding on to that balloon?”
And, what about us “grown ups”? What if we walked into school on Monday morning with a hypothetical helium balloon clutched in one hand? We can release that balloon as soon as we ourselves are engaged in an “interesting, fun, exciting, challenging, joyful learning experience which creates a craving for more”. Teachers are learners, too, after all.
Am I still holding the balloon at the end of the day?
Joy is one of the most contagious of conditions—and I’m predicting an epidemic in SLHS this January. When I look at the PBL courses are teachers are creating, I know that each one fits the New Hampshire description of joyful personalized learning. Thank you to the SLHS teachers who arrive at school each and every day to model the JOY of learning to our students. It sends a powerful message to the students and community when our whole HS staff is willing to create new courses, work with new schedules, implement innovative models of teaching and learning, taking risks both collectively and individually. To me, that looks a lot like—JOY!
In fact, if I had a balloon in my hand right now, I would let it fly.