Looking for Learning: School Visits to #acps

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Looking in classrooms of today reveals changes in tools, teaching, and learning.

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Read, Design, Engineer

This past week I observed elementary children programming Arduino controllers to turn LED lights on and off. In doing so they researched in technical manuals to figure out how to first connect their circuitry and bread boards together and then set up code to activate the Arduinos. When I visited a middle school class, I watched a teacher working with a specialist to figure out how to use a laser cutter so that students could incorporate this new tool into designing, engineering, and building projects in what once was a traditional shop class. But a visit today makes the point to me that it’s definitely not your father’s shop class. While students do continue to learn to use traditional shop tools such as a lathe or a drill press they put new tools such as 3-D printers and laser cutters in their tool “boxes”, too.

A photo posted by @gschoppa on

Our educational times are changing. 

When I walked into an engineering class in one of our high schools, a student 3-D prints  parts for a working U-Boat replica while another student focuses on figuring out controller code to fly quad-copters in formation. These learning experiences are ones that radically differ from what young people were accomplishing in high school just a few years ago.

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Inquire, research, make

When I visit our schools and see teachers and young people at work, I look for our students’ work to acquire competencies of lifelong learning – a key focus for students graduating from our high schools that moves them beyond passing required courses and tests of Virginia standards. Providing a variety of choices for students to pursue paths to learning is key. While most of our graduates will go into post-secondary education to acquire four-year or two-year degrees or credentials, we know young people will enter a rapidly changing workforce. We know that some jobs will remain important but others will be wiped out by the rise of technologies that will replace jobs we take for granted today. Focusing on citizenship, post-secondary education, and workforce capability are all critical to our children’s education. Understanding the dynamic of coming changes that will result from evolving technologies is a must to educate our young people well.

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write, create, perform

What’s needed to prepare young people to transition into an adulthood that will bring even more challenges to staying current as lifelong learners? In Albemarle, we believe those skills include both traditions of literate and mathematical thinking but also the capability to create not just consume, to design and make, to pose questions and search for needed information across media, to communicate and collaborate with others to find solutions and complete projects.  We also believe its important for students to lead fit and active lifestyles and sustain wellness as they move into adulthood. We label this work in and out of our classrooms as lifelong learning competencies.To accomplish our goals, we see arts, sciences, social studies, language arts, mathematics, world languages, and physical fitness and wellness as remaining important.

Teachers plan for students to engage in work that leads to these competencies.

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Team 19 students working on interdisciplinary video documentaries.

We assess performance through projects, tasks, and products that represent this work. Our principals look for this work when they observe students and teachers working across our instructional programs. Instructional coaches and learning tech integration specialists assist teachers with professional learning so that strategies that support integration of lifelong learning along with conceptual understanding, knowledge acquisition and skill development embedded in standards-based curricula.

Work to develop lifelong learning competencies can’t be done in isolation of excellent teaching, integration of a variety of learning technologies, and effective assessments of what we expect our young people to learn whether age 8 or 18. This kind of teaching demands that young people analyze, apply, and create as they process what they learn. This kind of learning represents integration of interdisciplinary content that supports students to use skills and knowledge being learned across the curricula.

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The U-boat project unfolds history, math, science, and language arts

Reading complicated technical manuals leads to programming Arduinos. Creating a U-boat leads to research about the role of new technologies in World War II and history of naval warfare. Figuring out how to use a laser cutter creates potential to connect the arts, sciences, and technical education.

Just as in other sectors, public and private, our educators today are pressed to learn new skills and incorporate changes into practice at a faster pace than we could have imagined in the twentieth century. Ensuring that our young people leave us prepared for what comes next in their lives demands our attention and time. That’s why we must sustain openness to learning even as we expect that of our children.

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Arts and Communication

Biology students take to the water

sciences and fitness

Using Math to CAD program

mathematics and social studies

 

Mathematical Thinking Matters

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IMG_5496Whether buying a new car, working in a research lab, applying the Pythagorean theorem on a construction site, or using spreadsheet formulas to plan how to pay off student loans most efficiently, mathematical thinking is a basic for graduates of our schools. What students must learn today goes well beyond the work of yesteryear’s arithmetic textbooks when members of earlier generations used to memorize rote fact families, repeat procedural recipes from long division to geometry theorems, and solve basic word problems.

It’s an expectation in Virginia that contemporary students take three or more years of high school math – a requirement far beyond the “just” Algebra I requirement of thirty years ago. That’s why developing critical reasoning skills in math is a key focus for today’s educators to make sure young people acquire the competencies they need for a lifetime of mathematical thinking.

This kind of mathematical learning does not happen by chance in schools. It demands teachers who deeply understand a range of mathematical disciplines and who skillfully use multiple teaching strategies to help learners of different competency levels learn to think mathematically as they solve complex math problems.

A high school principal recently shared that learners who once struggled with math are having significant success this year in Algebra I – by any measure. If a student can’t pass Algebra I and then take two more math courses beyond Algebra, they won’t graduate with a standard Virginia diploma. For an advanced diploma, the college admissions gold standard, four math courses are required.

When I met the lead teacher for the successful high school algebra team (a course in which parents and students routinely ask teachers, “when will I ever use algebra in life?”), she said three things which stood out to me: algebra problems must be real, multiple problem-solving strategies must be learned, and positive relationships between the teacher and learner are vital.

My conversation with her reminded me of a recent blog post by Walton Middle School math teacher Bill Doar who works to make sure every student in his class learns math concepts and competencies well. Teachers such as Mr. Doar create learning experiences so students learn math well and find themselves actually liking math.

Here’s a post from Mr. Doar on how he teaches middle school students to see math as a positive part of their day as they learn Virginia’s more rigorous standards.

Teaching for Perplexity by Mr. Bill Doar,
seventh grade math teacher

Walton MIddle School

The past two months have flown by.  On October 11th, my wife and I welcomed our first child – Will into the world.  It feels like September was just a short while ago and we were in Virginia Beach enjoying Labor Day.  Will is starting to smile, make cute baby ‘coo-ing’ and sleep for solid four-hour chunks at a time.  Those luxurious four-hour segments were not always the norm.  Sleep during the first month was scarce and I would often find myself watching Sportscenter or listening to sermons at 3 a.m. to pass the time while Will fell asleep.
One night several weeks ago I stumbled across a YouTube channel run by a math teacher I admire greatly – Dan Meyer.  I initially heard of Dan during my first year teaching in the Mississippi Delta and watched one of his more famous videos – ‘Math Class Needs a Makeover’.  I could immediately relate to his struggle of making math engaging.  In it he describes the math teacher – student relationship as follows:
“I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it…”
I distinctly remember the moment during that first year when I realized, many of my students don’t like math, believe they can’t do it and don’t see any practical application of the workbook problems tdoarpic2hey’ve encountered since kindergarten. In the past five years of teaching I’ve worked hard to make math standards meaningful, engaging and applicable to real life. Through technology infusion in the classroom, the ‘maker curriculum’ and the push to make teaching more than just preparing for the SOL, I’ve tried to make my classroom one where the work we do has application that reaches beyond the annual standardized test.
A recent challenge posed while watching one of Dan Meyer’s videos at 3 a.m. holding Will was to change the progression of each lesson.  About 98% of the time I would start with a standard, students would take notes, work out problems, ask questions then try an enrichment/application level activity.  In Dan’s video ‘Teaching for Perplexity’ he challenges educators to start with a real life, engaging, thought-provoking question and embed the standards in the question.

Today in class, I handed my Core + students the 7th grade VDOE formula sheet when they walked in and told them to create the six shapes on the formula sheet and record the dimensions on a graphic organizer I created.  It’s been amazing to see the change in student engagement transitioning from the traditional ‘sage on stage’ teaching model to challenging students to create and ask probing questions along the way.  I’ve found that with this new model students can learn at their own pace and they genuinely want to ‘complete the challenge’ set before them. It also allows me to circulate the room and give more individualized attention.

The most astonishing aspect to this change though was that during our 40 minudoarpic1te activity today we were able to discuss evaluating expressions, order of operations, exponents, nets of 3D shapes, area, perimeter, volume and surface area.  When I am teaching in front of the class and students are working on a worksheet, it is incredibly difficult to teach more than one or two skills at a time.  This may prove to be the most important benefit to the change in classroom model.

In all honesty, I do not use this model everyday but am trying to implement it more and more each week.  I will leave you with a challenge Mr. Meyer posed during a recent TED talk.  Study the graph below that shows water consumption during the Olympic Gold Medal Hockey Game.

doargraph What caused the highs and lows?  Where is the math in this graph?  What standards could this graph be used to teach?

You can follow Bill Doar on twitter @MrDoarAtWalton

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As you can see from his post, Bill Doar works on students’ attitudes toward math, not just their math competencies. He knows students need both confidence and competence to advance their math knowledge and skills.

In the United States we tend to project a belief that some students are “good” in math –  but most aren’t. Boys are better at math. Girls aren’t. These beliefs play out at home and in school. We know from research families and educators around the world have a different mindset about the capability of children to learn to think mathematically. Adult beliefs about learners impact children’s beliefs about themselves as learners. Negative beliefs about some children’s potential to learn can become their destiny.

Math is a case in point. Let’s change that.

 

Why Arts? A Learning Commitment to Our Young People

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balloons2I had an opportunity to spend time in Stephanie Helvin’s room recently at Stone-Robinson Elementary. Stephanie teaches art. Watching her second graders as they began work on creating line drawings of hot air balloons, I noted that she introduced them to science, math, and new vocabulary as she shared with them how to turn overlapping circles into dimensional drawings.

Why arts education? In a day and age when conversations about the importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in pK-16 curricula and workforce preparation dominate education, what makes the arts still relevant? In many public schools across the United States, art room doors have closed, teachers have been let go, and art time has shifted to academic time.

Why then have we worked in Albemarle Schools to purposefully sustain a budget commitment to the arts despite current trends across the United States to slash arts from schools’ offerings?

As Kai Kight, Stanford graduate, says, “Innovation happens at intersections.” The capability to innovate directly affects our potential to ensure a thriving economy and culture across our communities. Arts education builds innovative thinking.

Our division has a critical commitment to educating young people well so they will be ready for their future as citizens, lifelong learners, and employers and employees. We believe this  comes from a well-rounded education to sustain learners’ creativity as well as to build their analytical skills across the curricula. Arts do both.

For example, a recent video shared with me by Albemarle High orchestra teacher Carrie Finnegan captured the neuroscience underpinnings of how playing a musical instrument benefits your brain and impacts both linguistic and mathematical functions:

We also understand that learning through arts will build deep cognitive learning in young students:

“The arts are not just expressive and affective, they are deeply cognitive. They develop essential thinking tools — pattern recognition and development; mental representations of what is observed or imagined; symbolic, allegorical and metaphorical representations; careful observation of the world; and abstraction from complexity.” (How the Arts Develop the Young Brain, Sousa)

Our fabulous arts teachers across the county’s schools understand the importance of their role to build this deep learning among children by keeping creativity alive as our learners move through school. Andrew Sherogan, Meriwether Lewis Elementary, and Molly Foster, Hollymead Elementary, are two of our visual arts teachers who routinely share that message in their blogs as they profile children engaging in our arts programs through project-based learning.

stem2We are not alone in our commitment to putting the A from arts into our contemporary focus on STEM.  We see the value in STEAM just as top universities do, including our own University of Virginia.

President Teresa Sullivan and actor Kevin Spacey described this  at the recent UVA President’s Speaker Series for the Arts:

“The University’s arts curriculum inspires creativity, innovation and discovery, while giving our students across all disciplines opportunities to integrate the arts into their U.Va. experience.” (Sullivan)

“We have this system that we call STEM, to teach sciences and technologies. Now there are a lot of schools who are adding an ‘A’ and calling it ‘STEAM.’ ‘A’ is for arts,” Spacey said. “I think it’s incredibly important because while math, science and technology are hugely important, if we leave behind a young person’s imagination or creativity, I think they won’t have as full a life.” (Spacey)

We realize in Albemarle that young people draw upon arts skills to help them design, build, engineer, produce as well as use math, science, engineering and technology competencies – whether creating an electric guitar or 3-D printing a prosthetic hand. The renowned WAHS robotics teams use a multitude of integrated skills essential to their design process. It’s not just their engineering minds at work. There’s a wealth of creativity embedded throughout their design decisions.

Kai Kight, graduate of of Stanford University, certainly understands the value of integrating the arts across the curricula while sustaining a passion for “arts for arts sake.” So do engineering professors. One said to me recently on a tour of our schools that a keen grasp .. of “spatial thinking helps our young people excel as they enter higher levels of math from trigonometry to advanced calculus.”

Arts are as important today as they have ever been in human history. Arts opportunities engage learners’ interests and inspire careers as well as a lifetime of personal enjoyment. It’s why I’m committed to arts education for all students we serve in our schools.

 

 

Learning by Doing for Students and Teachers Alike: Education for this Century

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May is one of the busiest school months in the year. It’s a time when the learning that has been growing all year comes together for young people and they have opportunities to show what they know, understand, and can do. Recently, I heard a medical professor who teaches at the University of Virginia comment that students need to “show what they can do – the know should be embedded in that.”  What this professor describes as learning represents far more than what can be measured in the new, more difficult multiple choice SOL tests being rolled out by the Virginia Department of Education.

IMG_3561Instead of focus upon standardized tests with limited response choices provided by outside “test examiners”, teachers across Albemarle are using more contextual opportunities for young people to show what they’ve learned through performance tasks, projects, portfolios and analytical writing and problem-solving that integrate content from curricula. This kind of deep learning represents competencies essential for young people to be successful after graduation, even though such learning can’t be easily or efficiently tabulated and converted into test score data.

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Educators and parents know that children are not “test scores,” and that traditional tests only capture a slice of what young people need to become adults who can draw upon lifelong learning competencies associated with excellent communication, sustained creativity, critical thought and actions, and collaboration within diverse teams – all of which are important in the contemporary workforce, communities, homes, and post-secondary education.

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 Young people create videos, blog, and build “livebinders” to share and show learning. They complete performance tasks and teachers use rubrics to assess their specific skills and knowledge. Learners ask questions, conduct research, and develop projects individually and collaboratively, using both creative and critical thought processes. Parents and teachers see evidence of students’ learning at Quest Fests, Inquiry and STEAM Fairs, History Expositions and Arts Festivals. Learning jumps out from musical and drama performances by elementary singers, middle school orchestra musicians, and thespians. They are not just performers, but also producers.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Young people who are inspired learners will search, connect, make, and communicate with passion and interest, not because of school compliance. It’s why educators in Albemarle County Public Schools believe that learning in this century must represent what students can do, not just remember. However, it takes time for teachers to redesign spaces, shift teaching, and learn to use technologies to promote interactive and engaged learning. That’s why educators at Red Hill Elementary are working in teams this year to collaboratively learn from each other. Principal Art Stow has flipped faculty meetings so that teachers have time to do the important work necessary to educate young people for their century, not the past.He sees this as an important shift for the teachers and for him. Here’s what he wrote in a recent post.

Red Hill Elementary – Principal’s Blog

How Teachers and Students Learn Alike

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Teachers and students learn and work using similar strategies. Principals are lucky people. We get to visit classrooms any time we want, so we get to see great things happening everyday we are at work! As a principal, I learn so much when I enter a classroom. I see the effective strategies that teachers use when grouping and creating work stations for students to develop skills, collaborate on projects and work through problem solving activities. So I’ve learned, if this approach works with kids, then it can certainly work with adults. As a result, at our faculty meetings, like today, there will be time for discussion and group input, but there will also be time set aside, in “work stations” for teachers to collaborate, choose, and check some things off that mile long to do list. It’s a great place to be when working together means learning together. Three cheers for SCHOOL!

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The Art and Science of Making: What Students Do to Create and Invent

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A few weeks ago, some of our young people reminded us that making is a mindset that can occur any time, any place.  On a snow day, a group of kids were co-opted by a local teenage video “maker” into creating and publishing a fabulous YouTube video, “Call Me Maybe, Josh Davis.” This video represented the inherent passion and joy that surfaces when young makers get together and intersect talents, skills, and interests in a collaborative venture. They learned from and with each other. They sparked ideas and inventive thinking. They showed our community what happens when kids exercise their spontaneous and creative genius, use technology tools in powerful ways to communicate, and leave their mark upon an authentic audience.

We also see inventive potential when our elementary children construct their own cardboard arcade games for their school carnival, test bending moment using chairs, tables, and Unifix cube bridges, and create engineering solutions to design challenges pitched to them. It’s in the creative genius of our teenagers who’ve built their own 3-D printer, designed quad-copters and musical instruments, produced their own studio music and made document camera projectors for less than $100 dollars.

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Navigating Lego Simple Machines at Meriwether Lewis Elementary

Making things is a natural learning state for humans. It offers a different way to see the world through the practical lenses of finding solutions to problems, conundrums, and perplexities embedded in daily life. Making opportunities stretch analytical, creative, and integrative thinking. Making creates multi-dimensional, hands-to-mind and mind-to-hands processing that engages together the mathematical and language centers of the brain.

Making offers integrated learning opportunities–the best of any century learning. We see it in the collaborative efforts of Destination Imagination teams to design-build solutions to challenges. We see it in the gardens created and nurtured as part of a school’s own “grow local” effort for their school cafeteria.

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Measuring, Mixing, and Making Muffins at Red Hill Elementary

Making is not just about math, science, engineering and technology.

A focus on STEM content knowledge is great if we want our children to become the next generation of skilled technicians and workers.  But, for us, the hacker/maker movement is about creating the next generation of entrepreneurs, creators and inventors.  That’s what adding the “A” to STEM gets at–a necessary injection of the creative Arts into STEM as STEAM.

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

Monticello High Music Industry Class Writes Lyrics and Records Music

We believe whether it’s the advanced manufacturing spillover influence from the University of Virginia’s engineering school into our elementary school digital fabrication labs or our year-round Irish-influenced Coder Dojos where kids make games in MIT’s free Scratch programming language  create websites with HTML, or work with Java, our children are moving back through these experiences to the natural learning that’s fueled America’s inventors, patent-makers, backyard mechanics, studio artists, NASA engineers, and skyscraper designers and builders.

A number of our Albemarle schools have prototyped maker spaces in libraries, redesigned computer labs, hallway niches, and converted classrooms. We see the results in the energized work of young people to create, design, invent, engineer, and make.

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

WAHS physics students build a wind tunnel in a flipped classroom environment

 Next year we will open Design 2015 teacher-developed maker space projects in a number of schools. We want our children to learn to use manual tools, but also so much more, In today’s environment, digital tools (in most cases) are very necessary design tools in early stages of “making” — drawing or programming to make something else do something.  Consider the tools, materials, skills, and knowledge necessary to make something new that will meet a human need or want. How many people do we know with the skills to do “maker” work today – despite the idea that America’s economic future rests in the hands of designers, inventors, builders, engineers, and makers from artists to auto mechanics?

We see the connectivity of our partnership with the national MakerCorps summer project as an opportunity to work with children through a different kind of interactive professional development for teachers who will partner in this hands-on maker experience, using a variety of traditional and contemporary technologies. The MakerCorps offers us an opportunity to draw young people, high school graduates and local college students into a real-deal maker program where they will serve as mentors for both our children and the teachers with whom they will interact. This work will engage young learners in the same way that these MESA Academy students engaged in designing, making, and sharing their interdisciplinary work – integrating the arts, sciences, technologies, and mathematics with engineering principles.

We are at a turning point in human history, a rising tide of a culture of participation in global networks that open doors of which we humans have never dreamed. Remember, “making”, at its core, is about “teaching” kids to view the world (not just school) in a completely different way — it’s about empowerment and ownership of destiny— wondering is great but realizing that one has the power to “make something happen” is a powerful, powerful thing.

summer Coder Dojo

summer Coder Dojo

 Many of us talk about what’s wrong with the world (our work, our culture, etc.)—we chat about the need to change and wonder about something better—but very, very few of us actually do much of anything about it.  We tinker around the edges at best.  We are mostly admirers of problems and not solvers of them.  Public schools, very much by design, often perpetuate that.

So, moving kids from compliant listeners to curious learners is an awesome goal, but the ultimate goal must be to move learners from dreamers ….  to doers …. then, later in life, to change makers. Our nation, state, and local community depend upon it.

But, to make our own dream a reality — we’ll need to move ourselves and other adults along that continuum as well. That’s no small challenge. We educators, have much to consider and make happen.

Chad Ratliff and Pam Moran co-authored this post previously published at makered.org

 

Making the World’s History Real: China Past, Present, Future

Ms. Mulcahy

Elizabeth Mulcahy, Western Albemarle teacher, is one of those great educators and teacher leaders working in Albemarle County Public Schools who looks for ways to make the World History curriculum she teaches as relevant, interesting and challenging as possible for her students. She believes in project-based learning and is a supporter of the National History Day program as a tool for building great research and presentation skills in the young people she serves as a teacher. As a colleague says about Ms Mulcahy, “she brings history alive.” In a day and age when we hear media complaints about children not knowing their own nation’s or world history, teachers such as Ms. Mulcahy work daily to make our history/social studies program one that engages and interests our learners.

learning relevance and challenge is key

I heard a high school student who attended the Albemarle Leadership Academy this past summer comment recently to teachers in a Making Connections professional learning session that “It’s teachers who are passionate about their work and love what they are doing who create passion for learning in us.” Such teachers, as this young woman describes, build strong teaching relationships with students, learning relationships among students, and  a connection between the content they teach and the students in the class.

I had the chance to hear Ms. Mulcahy speak to regional superintendents recently about an educational trip she took over the summer to visit the People’s Republic of China through the University of Virginia School-University Partnership. She applied for and was awarded a merit scholarship to cover her expenses. In the session with superintendents, she noted that Chinese educators were asking our U.S. educators how to enhance creativity and thinking in their classes, rather than continuing the low-level test prep curricula that has dominated their instruction for decades. The Chinese understand it’s the inventors, idea-generators, designers, researchers, engineers, and builders who will own the future of the 21st century, not those who simply can do the factory work of present-day China. We educators know from Shift Happens that the top 15% of students in China or India exceeds the number of students in the entire United States. This is why we believe that every student in our schools has to graduate with the competitive competencies of lifelong learners and are ready to enter the workforce, post-secondary education, and adult citizenship; Goal I of our strategic planning.

Ms. Mulcahy also spoke about how she is both adding more relevant exploration and understanding of China topics into her world history program as the result of her trip.  At the November 8 School Board meeting, Ms. Mulcahy was “spotlighted” for her professional work and had the chance to share her experiences and expertise with the School Board.  Here’s a short  post at her blog about her trip and a video showing what the educators saw in China:

A Husband’s Dream

After returning from my first trip to Asia, I realized that one of my husband’s greatest dreams can be achieved in China.  He could have Kentucky Fried Chicken delivered to him at pretty much any time of day.  As I quickly took a picture of the KFC bike delivery guy I realized what a small world we really do live in.  For seven years I have been attempting to teach world history to high school students who have never seen the world.  US history is easier.  Students can pronounce the name George and they can walk on a Civil War battlefield with just a small drive.  By making their backyards the classroom they can experience history for themselves and are naturally more connected.  The same is not true for World History, especially when trying to describe the Sahara Desert or pronounce Qin ShiHuang.  It is up to the teacher to try and make the world small enough for students to create one history for them to experience and find their place within.  My goal as an educator is to help my students realize their dreams and passions even if it is a KFC delivery bike on the streets of Shanghai.

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Thank you Ms. Mulcahy for sharing your perspectives!

Moving, Math and Literacy: Brownsville Physical Educators Lead the Way

Educators in Albemarle County Public Schools create learning opportunities for children to acquire Lifelong Learning Competencies. We believe that physical education offers a pathway for children to engage in movement activities that support development of math and literacy skills, while providing healthy exercise which we know is a critical aspect of both academic learning and sustaining a healthy lifestyle over a lifetime. The Physical Education program at Brownsville Elementary offers wonderful examples of how the physical education teachers engage children in challenging, interesting and interactive learning. I know you will enjoy reading this narrative they constructed about their work with children.

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Integrating PE with language arts and math supports our mission at Brownsville Elementary School to create lifelong learners who realize that learning is interdisciplinary.

One of the ways we integrate math in the early grades is to play a well-known P.E. game called “Clean up the Backyard.”  This game happens at the end of an activity when we have the students place the balls on a line on their side.  Initially we just have them count the balls.  Then we might have them place them in groups and we count by twos, threes, fours etc.  Eventually we just say we have 5 sets of 3 balls, or 5 x 3.

How many do we have below? Can children think like mathematicians even when they’re in PE class? We think so.

 This year in PE we are measuring everything as we integrate Lifelong Learning Skills of estimation and measurement into our lessons and activities.  We estimate the length and width of various PE equipment and objects, and we have the kids vote on the closest and most reasonable estimations. Then we measure a space or something like a volleyball net. In doing this we are creating reference points so that hopefully the students will later be able to look at a distance or space and have some idea what unit of measurement they will want to use when measuring.

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Another thing the students enjoy doing is trying to jump their height.  First students measure their height, and then they try to jump that distance. They come up with lots of different ways of doing this!

                           

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In one of our students’ favorite games, “Builders and Destroyers”, the students earn bricks by doing exercises and running laps.  They then work with their team mates to build towers.  In the final stage of the game, the students get to throw a ball to try to knock over their opponents’ towers.  The students then measure the surviving towers’ dimensions to determine a winner.  It is always interesting to see them work to build the tallest, yet sturdiest, tower, and then to measure it afterwards.  In the picture below, this team designed their tower so that the smallest side of the tower faced the throwers; it ended up being the winning tower.

Here at Brownsville our little Bees love playing “Butter Battle,” which is one of the ways that we incorporate Language Arts and Reading into PE.  “Butter Battle” is a game created by Mr. Bragg, who taught at Brownsville for many years.  Mr. Bragg got the idea from the “Butter Battle” book, written by Dr. Seuss, to craft a game which involves throwing and giving hugs. When Ms. Witt joined the team here at BES she added the element of reading part of the book by Dr. Seuss, “The Butter Battle Book,” and you can see Ms. Yeatman reading the book in the picture below.

While reading only the first four pages of the book, the stage is set for the game and the kids are overflowing with excitement.  In the game the students practice throwing yellow balls (“butter balls”) across a line as they recreate parts of the “Butter Battle Book.”

At Brownsville Elementary School we are proud of the interdisciplinary way that our students learn and how our PE teachers integrate math and reading into their classes.

Learning about Scratch by Eileen – and Albemarle’s Coder Dojos

The following post contains background on the Coder Dojo program underway in Albemarle County Public Schools and a guest post by Scratch programming enthusiast Eileen who attends Broadus Wood Elementary. If you would like to know more about our plans for our new round of Coder Dojo sessions or to volunteer to help, click here. Eileen’s page also has a link where you can download Scratch for free and see her original post as well.

By Eileen- a Broadus Wood student:

If you want to make your creations come to life, then Scratch is the website for you. You can make hundreds of different characters, and make them walk, talk and move in any kind of way. You don’t have to make characters, you can also make Movies,animated pictures,games, and puzzles! Scratch is an around-the-globe website, so anybody can play it! The cool thing about it is, if you like your creation, you can publish it online so the whole world can see it. You have to download this site, but its free, so there’s really nothing to it. It only takes a few seconds to download this site, so don’t plan anything ahead of time. I highly recommend Scratch, it is a fun, educational website. I am excited to hear about your creations, and if you can, post your creations on this blog, so I can see what you have created! Scratch is a fun website, and I hope you can get it.

Coder Dojos of Albemarle County Public Schools

summer Coder Dojo

This summer, Albemarle learners, ages 7 – 18, participated in our four-day Coder Dojo Academy where they learned basic to advanced programming skills.  The Coder Dojo movement began in Ireland and rapidly spread around the world. Albemarle County Public Schools is one of the first divisions in the United States to sponsor Coder Dojos for our young people.

We were surprised at the significant interest this summer from our families because we rolled the invite out towards the end of the summer and knew many children were already in activities or on vacation. We hoped to attract interest from 40-50 kids, but ended up with 900 on a waiting list, and expanded up our AHS program and served 200. The kids were amazing, coming in with little to no programming knowledge to knowing more than some of our teacher-facilitators. The Dojo is designed so that kids learn from the teachers as they have questions and often from each other in this multi-age setting. I watched elementary children teaching middle schoolers how to make Scratch games and high schoolers taking the time to help younger children with HTML so they could design, create, and publish web pages.

The purpose of the Coder Dojo movement is to provide young people with opportunities to experience computer programming as fun and something they can learn to do. Kids at the camp used a variety of languages to build more and less sophisticated projects. One parent of a high schooler said to me recently, “his participation in the Coder Dojo changed his life. He’s really interested in continuing to pursue computer programming now that he’s back in school and he spends time teaching himself what he needs to do.”  Some elementary children felt the same way, too.

Melissa Techman, librarian at Broadus Elementary, sent me the link to the blog post written by Eileen, which I’ve guest-posted with her parents’ and her permission. Thank you, Eileen, for helping me share how Scratch which was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) can turn kids who like to play computer games into kids who make computer games!

The New Face of Learning: the UVa School of Medicine

Claude Moore Building: UVa School of Medicine

A few months ago, School Board member Eric Strucko shared that the Medical School staff of the University of Virginia had redesigned both learning spaces and approaches to teaching medical students. Later in the winter, the title of a blog post by Colorado high school educator, Karl Fisch, caught my attention. Karl co-produced the viral YouTube video series Did You Know? His post about the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine pointed out significant shifts in educational practice associated with its new Learning Studio.

A Google search surfaced more online information about the radical innovation occurring inside “our” local medical school. I also spoke with a first year medical student about his work as a learner. Much of what he described as learning experiences this year reminded me of ongoing development work by Albemarle’s staff to better serve contemporary learners in our schools.

Recently, several School Board members, all high school principals, some high school teachers, and central office staff toured the new facility and engage in an in-depth conversation with Dr. Randy Canterbury, M.D., Senior Associate Dean for Education and parent of graduates of Albemarle County Public Schools. In our tour, we also spoke with medical school staff responsible for working with students in the new learning spaces integral to the interior design of the Claude Moore Educational Building.

Changing 100 Years of Curricular Tradition: NxGen, Cells to Society

Ashby KIndler(Murray High) and Debbie Gannon (CATEC) check out a high tech mannequin

During the tour, we experienced the cutting edge of the near future of education. This next decade will bring significant changes to both higher education and secondary schooling that will likely parallel changes occurring in medical education today. Dr. Canterbury shared with the visiting team how one hundred years of medical education curriculum was redesigned and is in use for the first time this year with the class of 2014. The new curriculum represents Steven Covey’s concept of beginning with the “end in mind.”

The University of Virginia medical school planning team identified the “end in mind” as creating men and women who first and foremost are being trained to become capable physicians rather than discipline-based scientists. The fundamental shift in curriculum has moved from discipline-based teaching to both interdisciplinary and interactive learning of the knowledge and skills needed to become an effective physician. As Dr. Canterbury indicated, “We want to cull from disciplines the clinically relevant components that are important to take care of patients.”

The traditional coursework model has been turned upside down at UVa and stand-alone courses such as anatomy are no more. Instead, the new curriculum focuses on the critical nature of understanding and using integrated content relevant to working with patients. The curriculum no longer is a series of isolated content courses that lack important connections across disciplines. However, Dr. Canterbury noted that this wasn’t the only change that occurred as a result of program evaluation. Faculty planners realized that the entire medical education system needed to change to address the potential of contemporary learners as they prepare for future work in the medical field. This meant simultaneous changes in learning spaces, teaching, learning work, technology applications, assessment, and grading practices. As a result, the system has become focused on increasing learning engagement among the almost 200 students selected for the program from over 3500 applicants.

Erica Igbinoghene, first year medical student commented as she worked on her laptop, “Interactive learning here facilitates long-term learning. Applying our learning helps us take it to the next level.”

Round tables support team learning according to Dr. Canterbury.

Changing the Pedagogical Model: Using Case Study and Simulation, not Lecture

Dr. Keith Littlewood, Director of the Simulation Center, also spoke to critical changes in learning work, “During my first two years in medical school, all I learned was rote regurgitation of content. Today you will see different access to learning … When learners believe in their learning, they invest.” Beginning with this year’s entering class, the School of Medicine no longer uses a lecture-based teaching model to deliver primary content such as courses in anatomy or histology. Students also aren’t moving through the 2×2 schedule still used by most medical schools and which has been in existence since the early 1900s. Students in a traditional model take courses for two years, then enter a series of “clerkship” rotations with patients that last two more years. Unlike peers in most other medical schools, UVa’s entering medical students no longer wade through rote memorization of isolated content coursework as their predecessors did.

Instead, on the first day of medical school, this year’s class immediately was put to work in teams to analyze and problem-solve patient case studies. They’ve learned to pull relevant, interdisciplinary content into the case as they work, facilitated by a team of professors or a professor with responsibility for their half-day Learning Studio class. Learning digital content critical to the practice of medicine is assigned for homework and a daily five-minute “quick check” on that content occurs at the beginning of class.

Homework Completion and Class Attendance

Based on actual data from prior years, UVa faculty knew that medical students were more likely to skip lectures than attend them. We learned that this group of first-year medical students attend learning studio sessions at higher rates than their predecessors attended lectures. Dr. Canterbury attributes this to what’s become known as a “flipped classroom” approach to learning, a new concept applicable in both higher ed and PK-12 education. Learning through this model has made medical education classes more rigorous, but also more engaging as students work to apply, analyze, synthesize, and evaluate relevant content in and outside of class.

This new model also seems already to be paying off in measures of academic performance. Teaching faculty and fourth year medical students notice that the first year med students ask more challenging questions than in past years. They see this as a result of merging clinical and content studies in the case-based interactive learning model that’s been used since day one with this class. A fourth-year medical student shared his observations with Dr. Canterbury about his work with first-year students in their anatomy lab noting, “The questions that these students ask blew me away. I would never have been able to formulate a question like they were asking when I was a first-year medical student.”

Standards-based Grading: Expectations for Learning

Erica Igbinoghene, first-year medical student

Over the course of a unit, students are formatively assessed every other week and with a final assessment against standards at the end of each unit. Assessments are all online and are completed over the weekend. Staff determines grades based on assessments, not other factors. Students who do not meet the standard relearn and retest for mastery. Dr. Canterbury speaks to the value of all learners mastering the work, “Ideally, you don’t want to stratify. We want them to all be at the same place. My goal is to have 100% above the 90th percentile. Why not? If anyone scores less than a satisfactory score on the standards, they study and retake the test.”

Under this system, students accumulate points from assessments over eighteen months. Missing a class could mean a student won’t acquire points for a quiz that might be worth five points out of a 1000 possible during the year. In shifting to a standards-based assessment system, the medical school staff has eliminated variables used for grading that have little to do with actual performance on assessments.

From 20th to 21st century Technologies: Ubiquitous, Real-Time Learning

The new program also represents a new generation of learning technology applications. These technologies are as relevant today to Pk-12 education as to higher education and post-graduate programs such a medicine, business and law. Students aren’t using paper textbooks in the new medical school program. They access digital content on laptops or mobile devices, using either publishers’ multimedia materials or digital content developed by the medical school staff. In their classes, they respond to questions as a group using interactive assessment technology, project their work onto one or more large screens, and work together simultaneously on team-based web content.

High Tech Mannequins Simulate Real Patient Situations

In the Simulation Center, students work in teams with full-body mannequins that can simulate real-life medical conditions or emergencies. Students can practice emergency skills, surgery skills, or routine diagnostic skills that parallel real conditions to such a degree that the “docs in training” physically respond with changes in heart rate and blood pressure just as they would in actual practice. New technologies also provide access to 3-D anatomy simulations that provide a more realistic point of view of the human anatomy than cadavers ever did. Students working together in the UVA Simulation Center can be observed from multiple screens and given guided feedback by the faculty during and after simulation work. The immediacy of such feedback allows students to improve performance in real-time.

The Clinical Skills Center, a companion to the Simulation Center, provides students the chance to work with standardized patients (living) to practice clinical skills and foundational interpersonal and communication skills so necessary to building and sustaining positive patient relationships. They receive feedback from clinical instructors as well as the patients, helping them hone skills necessary to working with patients of all ages – from pediatrics to geriatrics. This opportunity to practice clinical skills allows this generation of medical students to engage in what Dr. Canterbury describes as a medical routine of addressing “novel patient situations and conditions.”

Lecture Hall to Learning Studio

Before the new medical education building was constructed, the design team scoured the country to look at innovative learning spaces in higher education. The TEAL space established at MIT had become a model for changing the education game by redesigning learning spaces to drive a different kind of teaching and learning. Interestingly, MIT borrowed and refined this concept from NC State as a strategy to decrease the failure rate in freshman physics, dropping it from ten to one percent in one year after implementation.

The UVA School of Medicine has taken the TEAL concept one step further by creating a large space in which the entire first year class works together in team-based learning. Staff made key shifts including changes in lighting, furniture, and, most importantly, elimination of the dominant teaching wall that supports lecture-driven rote learning. The use of case analysis has emerged as a contemporary, best practice in highly competitive business, commerce and law schools as well as in some independent secondary schools. Rather than being anchored by a dominant teaching wall, the UVa Learning Studio utilizes multiple presentation spaces that allow faculty to cycle from small group case study to large group learning as appropriate. It’s a room filled with round tables wired into the presentation system, all surrounding a high-tech lectern in the middle of the room. Why such a team-driven focus?

Dr. Canterbury says, “The Admissions Committee started talking about the attributes of effective doctors. One is the ability to do independent learning and the other is to work in groups – both of those are required (in the profession.) Medicine today is practiced in teams, you see very few solo practitioners. Teams of people tend to take better care of patients, so we like to see our students come in with that as a skill.”

The Learning Studio in Action

Reflections on the Change Process: Status Quo to Innovation

Dr. Canterbury noted in his discussions with Albemarle staff that making changes of this magnitude occurs best when people are engaged in the work and direction is set clearly for the change. He spoke of the need to respect people in the process, but also that moving forward was essential once the direction had been researched and planned. He also noted that change occurs effectively only with significant investment in development of capacity among those responsible for implementing the changes. The faculty members working with the first-year medical students have been involved in no less than 160 hours of development and training in pedagogy to teach the newly designed curriculum using new technologies in a new learning space. The commitment of resources to the change process has been critical to implementation this year, although he noted that schools across the country use a range of technologies and spaces to create their version of Technology Enhanced Active Learning (TEAL) opportunities for learners. Dr. Canterbury also emphasized the importance of ongoing evaluation to assess the quality of implementation processes.

In this new School of Medicine, the Jeffersonian philosophy of learning is as relevant today as it was when the Academical Village was first established on the Lawn. It’s fitting that Dr. Canterbury left us with these words, “Here students, residents, practitioners, and teaching docs are all defined as learners.”

Implications for the Future of Education

UVA RX for Change

The School of Medicine of the University of Virginia is considered to be one of the most innovative learning programs for current medical students in the United States today. It’s an example of educational innovation in which current learning technologies, best-practice pedagogy, rigorous interdisciplinary content, project-based learning work, and contemporary learning space design are integrated to engage learners in interactive learning. Faculty leaders believe this new learning model will take students to higher levels of performance than ever before.

The medical school staff members leading for change are committed to realizing a dream to create a new generation of practitioners who serve patients with greater capability than was possible in the past. The rationale for the changes made by the planning committee parallels focused action to shift towards similar practices in Pk-16 education across the world.

The capability to learn independently, work in teams, demonstrate effective communication skills, problem-solve, and use technology as learning tools are considered basics by the business and medical community as well as in post-secondary education settings. These are today’s workforce basics, regardless of the position held. These college and workforce basics also are represented in the Lifelong Learning Standards for graduates of Albemarle County Public Schools. The visit to the School of Medicine reinforced the importance of the Lifelong Learning Standards and also provided a fresh perspective on what we need to consider to ensure our future graduates are ready for the changing environments of the workforce and colleges and universities as we continue forward into the 21st century.

We thank the University of Virginia School of Medicine staff, students, and Dr. Canterbury

for sharing their work with our Board members and staff.