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.

Uboat

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

 

T’is the Season for Endless Possibilities: Respect, Community, Excellence, Young People

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For the SPCA

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Kids making to support community service

In this season, our thoughts often turn to giving.

When I visit schools, I observe our children and their teachers offering their services in support of those who are less fortunate or whose circumstances prevent them from accessing community activities. This week while at B.F. Yancey Elementary, children were conducting a fundraiser for the SPCA by marketing handmade products to the school community.  Their hard-earned eighty-eight dollars goes to supporting animals in need at the shelter. Learning in our schools extends well beyond working on Virginia Standards of Learning content. We also are committed to realizing our values in the work of young people as they acquire the competencies of lifelong learning – regardless of the season.

Teachers work year-round with children to learn what it means to take care of each other in the community. We want the community norm to be that our children show positive care and concern for each other, take responsibility to keep each other safe, and be kind. After listening to a radio show on this topic, Mimi Fitzpatrick at Brownsville Elementary decided to introduce her children to the Newtown Kindness Organization and engage them in creating and producing their own video to the tune Nothing More, challenging them to bring positive energy to their own sense of community responsibility.

Ms. Fitzpatrick teaches her children to use contemporary communication tools as a part of developing literary. Her classroom functions using the Responsive Classroom approach which is implemented across the division in elementary schools.

Her reflective post on what her third graders learned from this project follows:

Mrs. Fitzpatrick’s Classroom Blog

Endless Possibilities

A few weeks ago, while listening to the radio on my morning drive to school, I heard an incredible song. Not only does it have a good tune, but its message is also inspiring and simple which makes it that much more powerful. The first line that really stuck with me says, “We are how we treat each other when the day is done.”  This line is repeated in the refrain, and combined with so many other great tidbits, that by the time the song was over I knew I had to do something to pass this song on to my kiddos, and in turn the rest of the world.  My first thoughts involved an auditorium full of 700+ melodic students and even more joyful, yet sobbing parents.  While I still think this is a great idea, I gave it a little more thought, and started trying to find a little more information on the song.

 As it turns out, the band called The Alternate Routes created their song Nothing More in an effort to support the Newtown Kindness Organization. This organization has taken on the mission of fostering and spreading kindness throughout the world by starting with children.  The Alternate Routes put out a request for people to sync their own home videos to the song, and pass it on to spread the message.  Once I saw this it helped me figure out what our work with this song might look like in the classroom.

The kids’ first exposure to the song was during our morning meeting.  We thought about what the lines might mean and visualized what they could look like in our lives at school and at home, and in the world around us.

I also typed up the lyrics and put them into our reading centers this week.  Students worked on reading the lyrics fluently, paying attention to phrases and reading with emphasis and expression.  They also worked on an educational art project at another reading center, in which they chose their favorite line, and drew what they visualized when they thought about that line.  Our readers are constantly working on improving their fluency and comprehension, so these activities fit in seamlessly. We are also lucky to have an amazing resource at our school called the Innovation Lounge, where the kids were able to collaborate and create short video clips using iPods. While they worked together to act out and record what they visualized, I got to stand back and record the real thing– kids working together, and solving problems together!  Wooohooo!!


When we thought more about the song and what different lyrics meant, it seemed that opportunities continued to pop up for teachable moments.  We all started noticing small things we do each day to keep the cycle of kindness going, like holding the door for the person behind us, helping someone when they fall over, or asking someone new to play.

We were also able to use it to help us solve problems in better ways. After a touchdown celebration was taken too far at recess, we were able to say, “It’s like that line: To be humble, to be kind. Let’s see if we can think of a better way to do that.” Also, after feelings were hurt in the lunchroom, the line “to be bold, to be brave,” came to mind when the boys decided to stand up for their friend.  The possibilities are endless!

With all of the contributions from the kids, and the candid videos I shot throughout the week, I was able to slap together a video that we have all been quite proud of.  It can be seen here. We hope you enjoy it!

You can find out more about the Newtown Kindness Organization and The Alternate Routes’ song on their website or on YouTube.

To read more from Ms. Fitzpatrick’s blog, you can find her writing here.

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.

Posted by at 10:00 PM

Thank you Ms. Mulcahy for sharing your perspectives!