Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Standardized Tests

I follow both Education Week and the author of this article on Twitter.  Since we are now in the midst of our annual standardized testing routine, it seemed like an appropriate time to copy a link of this post.

http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/finding_common_ground/2012/09/trying_to_be_innovative_during_a_standardized_time.html?cmp=SOC-SHR-TW

Quick summation- I agree with him!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Project H Design

Please allow me to introduce you to a pretty amazing young lady.  I first saw her TedTalk some time ago but forgot about it (sadly).  I have lots of thoughts swirling around regarding educational design and re-discovered this video clip: 

http://www.ted.com/talks/emily_pilloton_teaching_design_for_change.html

Twitter:  @ProjectHDesign

Website  http://designmind.frogdesign.com/articles/and-now-the-good-news/get-local.html?

When we are this close to an election, it is especially easy to become totally focused on which political party/candidate will win- and the resulting implications.  It is easy to forget about the amazing things that individual people have been doing, are doing, and will continue to do, no matter what happens at the ballot box. 

It is also a reminder of what someone with passion and purpose is capable of achieving.  It appears as though Emily pretty much just identified a need, figured out a way she could help, and found a way to make it happen.  Quickly. 

Awesome.




Monday, October 29, 2012

Kodak Moments

"Kodak Moments."  Are you old enough to remember that phrase?  It simply referred to those special moments that should be preserved through the best camera film available.  Kodak was dominant.

In 1976, Kodak had a 90% share of the photography business.  (Thanks, Wikipedia)

Things looked even better though- becuase Kodak was one of the pioneers of digital photography.  So here they were- controlling a 90% share of the existing market and with an early lead in the next big thing.  What could go wrong?  Kodak didn't view digital as the next big thing.  Oops.

This was a headline in the newspaper today, "Kodak's dominant role disappears in a flash."

So what is Kodak?  Is Kodak a victim of a rapidly changing marketplace, or is this a self-inflicted fall from grace?  Was Kodak beaten by a superior opponent, or by the arrogance that comes from having a seemingly insurmountable lead?

I don't know what led to Kodak's demise.  What I do know is that there seem to be plenty of "Kodak Moments" these days- and I'm referring to once dominant companies that either disappear or are reduced to a fraction of their former selves.

It's kind of like watching a horror film and wondering why the person about to be killed is doing such an obviously stupid thing.  (Halloween reference #2 on the blog, for those scoring at home)

In terms of a post-mortem on companies- It's always so easy to see the signs after the fact and when it happens to someone else.  I sure hope I'm learning from Kodak, and not on my way to overseeing the next 'Kodak Moment.'



Friday, October 26, 2012

Lions and Tigers and Bears, and Assessments

Remember the scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy, the Tin man, and the Scarecrow are nervous about encountering "Lions and Tigers and Bears?"  The fear of the unknown.

Open book tests.  We all know what we think when we hear that- easy.  A teacher who gives open book tests is likely to be loved by students, discounted by colleagues, and questioned by parents.

(Was that opening transition a little weak?  Hey- it's almost Halloween, work with me)

Given the typical recall level type questions that we so often use to assess learning, no wonder we think so little of open book tests.

Will Richardson has a new book, Why School?  Richardson highlights the idiocy of asking questions that can be answered through a simple Google search.  He doesn't say that there is never a need to ask those types of questions, but he is very concerned with our obsession over that level of questioning- especially when it comes to using standardized testing to evaluate student learning and the performance of teachers.

He cites this sample test question, taken from the New York State Regents Exam.  An exam question posed to every potential graduate last year:

"Which geographic feature impacted the development of the Gupta Empire?"  
            A) island location  B) volcanoes   C) monsoons   D)  permafrost   *

This is how Richardson recommends the question be posed- IF someone in the know would first determine that it was even worth asking:

"In what ways have the inventions and works of the Gupta Empire had an influence on our modern culture?"   

Nice twist.  And then Richardson takes it to a whole 'nother level:

"Let's scrap open-book tests, zoom past ...asking Googleable questions, and advance to open-network tests that measure not just if kids answer a question well, but how literate they are at discerning good information from bad and tapping into the experts and networks that can inform those answers." 

Open network tests.  In other words, students should develop their own PLN and then use it as part of the assessment process.  Sign me up for that program!

Maybe the new Smarter Balanced Assessments will deliver something along these lines.  In the meantime, next week we begin another round of dreadful testing using the WKCE.  Hours that could be better spent doing, oh I don't know, maybe just about anything else.  Sometime several months from now, we'll get those results back.  The results will add exactly zero value to what we already know about how students are learning.

*If anyone cares, but is too lazy to look it up themselves- the correct answer is 'monsoons.'

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Element: Sir Ken Robinson

It is impossible to do justice to a book by posting a few random quotes.  That said, here are a few random quotes.  This is a great book, worthy of buying or, at the very least, checking out from your local library!


21st Century jobs and competitiveness depend absolutely on the very qualities that school systems are being forced to ramp down- businesses say they need people who are creative and can think independently.


It’s very possible that our children will have multiple careers over the course of their working lives.  Isn’t it our obligation to encourage them to explore as many avenues as possible with an eye toward discovering their true talents and passions?  When the only thing we know about the future is that it will be different, we would be wise to do the same.

Engaging whole body and mind- drawing from deep reserves of feeling and intuition.

Importance of Imagination- which underpins every uniquely human achievement.  It is through imagination that we can create.



Creativity means doing something- creativity is imagination, applied.


Students are educated in batches, according to age, as if the most important thing they have in common is their date of manufacture.


REFORMING EDUCATION: Big mistake to believe that the best way to face the future is by improving what was done in the past.  Overreliance on curriculum reform- measured by standardized test results.  The most powerful method of improving education is to invest in the improvement of teaching and the status of great teachers.  The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it.

 That's a lot to think about.  Teaching for creativity, teaching to students who aren't just grouped by age, and personalizing the educational experience.

One of Robinson's key tenets is that "the arts" have their own intrinsic value.  That is, they are valuable on their own merits, not because there is a study linking participation in band to a higher math score.  I think the arts teachers have some "think outside the box" skills and strategies that could benefit all teachers.  By extension, obviously, all students would benefit as well.

"The key to this transformation is not to standardize education but to personalize it."  Wouldn't be the worst idea in the world if politicians, big time policy makers, school administrators, and classroom teachers recited this with some regularity.  Everything we own is personalized.  If we want students to own their educational experience, we're going to have to allow them to personalize it.
                                                    

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Waypoints

Two years ago I ventured out onto Lake Michigan in my 14 foot boat during the spring "Coho Salmon" run.  The Coho migrate north in the spring, and the action can be fast and furious.  Better yet- they can be caught relatively close to shore.  I caught some and, in the process, caught the fever do to it more often.

This is the kind of passion that can lead to poor decision making.  I left my house one Saturday afternoon with partly cloudy conditions.  I arrived at the marina to find Lake Michigan enveloped in fog.  The smart play was to turn around.  I went fishing.

I went out just beyond the breakwall, set my lines, and figured I would just stay close enough to use the breakwall as a marker.  I owned a handheld GPS, but forgot it at home...  (This is the point where some readers may think: Wow, I thought my spouse did stupid stuff)  Anyway, everything was going fine.  It is oddly peaceful and serene to be on such a huge body of water with such limited vision.

FISH ON!  I got one.  A few minutes later a beautiful Coho was in the cooler.  The breakwall was no longer is sight.  My focus had momentarily shifted off of the only waypoint I had.  Without a waypoint, it is oddly terrifying to be on such a huge body of water with such limited vision.

I managed to find my way back, learned my lesson, and have not repeated that mistake.  I still go out on Lake Michigan in a small boat, but I use much better judgment about when not to go.

I drove home last night in a pretty thick fog.  I was thankful for the reflective paint on the road, and for all the signs.  Even so, it is always unnverving to drive with such limited vision. 

Honestly, I sometimes feel like I'm operating in a fog at work as well.  It's hard to figure out exactly which way I'm supposed to go.  To a large extent, Tony Wagner's Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century are my waypoints:

Critical thinking and problem solving

Think on your feet and find creative solutions.  Emotional intelligence- the ability to interact and relate.  All tied to the ability to ask good questions.

Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

Forge effective collaboration teams and work with people who come from vastly different cultures, religions, and lifestyles.  Kids in schools almost never work in teams- and when they do- it is on projects that are highly prescribed.

Agility and Adaptability
 
I always think of the old Marine slogan:  Improvise, adapt, overcome.  Deal with ambiguity, learn on the fly.  Schools promote ‘right answers’ the world is not that clear.  Even when an answer IS right- it may only be right for a short period, and then conditions change.

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

We can’t thrive in a culture of risk aversion.  If we meet every goal we set- we are probably failing because we’re setting our goals too low.

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Teach them to write!!  Communicate clearly and concisely and to create focus, energy, and passion- to write with a real voice.

Accessing and Analyzing Information

 The ability to synthesize a lot of data- to find the important details- to discern new challenges and opportunities.  Access and evaluate information from many different sources

 Curiosity and Imagination

“Systems analysis”  Curiosity is about taking issues and situations and problems and going to root components; understanding how the problem evolved- looking at it from a systematic perspective; not accepting things at face value.  

 

Beyond Trophies


This is from a site called the Committed Sardine.  It's a great site, and this is a very good article.

http://www.fluency21.com/blogpost.cfm?blogID=3025&utm_source=Committed+Sardine+Blog+Update&utm_campaign=9b2b3f982b-RSS_EMAIL_CAMPAIGN&utm_medium=email

Monday, October 22, 2012

There's No Stopping Now

If you've ever gone down a big hill on a bike, you know that once you get above 20 mph or so, there is no way to stop.  Not quickly.  You can steer, but you can't stop.

In The Map That Changed the World, author Simon Winchester describes the childhood of canal digger turned mapmaker extraordiniare William Smith.  Smith was educated by an unusually strict (even for the time) order of nuns.  The nuns did have a soft spot for field trip walks to the sea.  As recounted in the book, once they got to the edge of the beach on these trips- all decorum was lost.  The combination of the beach, the water, the prospect of a few hours of relative freedom in the open air were too much for the boys.  They would inevitably break ranks and run for the edge of the water- and no amount of shrieking or threats from the nuns could pull them back.  The combination of forces was too great to resist.

In Good to Great, author Jim Collins talks about turning the flywheel.  His research into great companies shows that there is typically not one defining miracle moment that suddenly transforms a good organization into a great organization.  Rather- it is a series of decisions and efforts that he likens to turning a giant flywheel. 

After weeks and months of great effort, the flywheel begins to move.  Keep pushing- it completes one slow turn.  Keep pushing- a faster turn.  Eventually, the momentum "...builds upon previous work, compounding your investment of effort.  The flywheel flies forward with almost unstoppable momentum."

Collins argues that progress comes from a steady and relentless effort- a sustained movement in the same direction.  It is easy to stop before it gets going- which is exactly why the early stages of any implementation process are so critical.  Once moving above a certain speed, it takes on a life of its' own and, eventually, becomes the new status quo.

Last year, we began devoting more time and resources to our Literacy program.  This year, we have sustained those efforts while also adding a new testing program along with sustained and intentional conversations around literacy.  We are about to makes a break for the beach, we are turning the flywheel, we are reaching for that point in the development of our literacy program where "There's No Stopping Now."

Saturday, October 20, 2012

PUNTING TEAM 1, 2, 3,...


  
My high school football coach was George Larson.  Coach Larson was a legend, even then.   The last time I heard him scream ‘PUNTING TEAM’ and then start counting was November of 1979.  It can seem like yesterday.

There is no way to briefly describe the force of nature that was Coach Larson, so I won’t try.  Coach had a low tolerance for mistakes in general, but he had no tolerance for mistakes by the punting team.  By being forced to punt, we were ceding control of the ball to the other team- and that was enough.  He could not bear the thought of a mistake in the process of punting that would yield the opponent one extra inch of field position.

At literally any moment during practice, Coach would yell “Punting Team” while throwing a ball anywhere on the field and starting his countdown.  The punting team needed to get in position and get off a punt before he got to 25.  It sounds easier than it is.  After that, there would be at least one more punt vs a defense.   

Coach had all kinds of ways to give the defense major advantages- most notably, extra players.  The punting team first had to successfully block the rushers, then get into punt coverage and prevent a return.  Notice that I didn’t use the word ‘try’ when describing the punting team.  Trying was a given, but also irrelevant- Success was the only option.  The punting team was a microcosm of Coach Larson’s philosophy- be accountable, execute, and do your job.

If I were writing a book, I could take this in a lot of different directions and explore them more fully.  In a short blog post- I’ll only deal with one: Being part of something special.  To be on the punting team was to be one of the chosen.   

Calling something special doesn’t make it special- it needs to have standards and criteria that are clearly and obviously higher than anything else around.  But- it also doesn’t have to be world class to be special.  We were one of the better football teams in the state, and part of the reason for that was a punting team that didn’t make mistakes.  Cool, but hardly world class.

People want to be part of something special.  They will endure pain and agony to maintain a spot in an elite group.  I think it is OK to push students to go beyond where they think they can go.  Few would probably argue with that as a general statement, but it's another thing when it is your child.  We can't be afraid of allowing students to experience success by first experiencing adversity and even failure, and learning to push through and perservere.  They can’t get that experience while they are simultaneously being rescued, or when a decent effort is mischaracterized as a great effort.

Please don’t misunderstand.  I do not believe we should become the Darwin School for the Fittest, Fastest, and the Best- where the strong survive and the weak are culled from the herd.  However, part of the
educational experience needs to include opportunities to force students to stretch, to compete, and to give an effort beyond what they think is possible.  Specifically, we need to create more of those opportunities in the classroom.  When they experience success in those types of situations, we won’t have to tell them they’re special, they’ll know it. 



Friday, October 19, 2012

Education Reform

Yes, this is another semi-lazy blog post, as it primarily represents what someone else already posted.  My defense, however weak, is that part of what I am trying to accomplish is simply sharing things I find interesting.  This is one of those posts.

The opening section deals with the origin of vouchers.   Any student of history is aware of the "Desegregation Academies" that suddenly sprang up all over the South after the Brown case in 1954.  These were Private Christian Schools whose primary purpose was to ensure that white kids would continue to be educated next to other white kids.  It may not be a proud part of our history, but, as one of my old friends likes to say "The truth isn't always pretty."

I'm not casting aspersions on all current educational reform efforts, nor am I attempting to link them to something as ugly as segregation.  I am posting this because I do think it is fair to look at the 'historical arch' of an idea and it is fair to ask about underlying motives.  The motives may be as pure as the driven snow, but it doesn't hurt to 'do a little homework' before buying whatever anyone is selling.

"Follow the money."

http://www.schoolbook.org/2012/10/02/reformers-could-use-a-history-lesson

Monday, October 15, 2012

Maps

I have three maps in my office.  One is a world map, and I deliberately placed it on the far wall so that I can see it while talking to people who come into the office.  I love my job.  But, as an administrator, not every issue that is dealt with in the office is a pleasant one.

A world map provides a sense of perspective during those meetings.  I can sort of tell where Wisconsin is, but can't make out anything specific.  Looking at the map just helps bring everything down a notch.  It's a big world out there, with lots of issues.  Nothing happening in my world can begin to compare to the difficulty and strife that others are experiencing.  Oh, and Friess Lake is not located at the center of the universe. 

One map is a Strata of the Delineation of England and Wales.  A reproduction of the hand-painted masterpiece created by William Smith in 1815.  Yeah- cool right?  It's from a book by Simon Winchester entitled The Map That Changed The World

William Smith was a canal digger in the late 1700's who possessed lots of 21st Century Skills.  Of the Seven Survival Skills that Wagner identifies (see earlier post), Smith excelled at five.  Unfortunately- he lacked at Collaboration and Effective Communication.  In his defense, he was up against an intractable status quo that had no interest in calling it's beliefs about science and origins into question.  Especially from a canal digger.  This was England and people had places- it was best to know yours.

Smith is really the father of modern geology.  His personal story, as told in the book, is an amazing testament to endurance and a stark reminder that life is often unfair.  A brilliant mind and a tireless worker, Smith spent much of his life poor and rejected.  He pressed on, and we are all better because of it.

The third map is of the Northeast Section of Lac Seul, a lake in Ontario.  Lac Seul was one of the favorite places for my dad to do one of his favorite things- fish.  It's a beautiful and massive lake, and home to lots of great memories.  It's also a reminder that people are gifted in various ways.  My dad was incredibly smart, but he really struggled to 'read' nautical maps.  He had lots of great ideas about navigating through life and was a skilled fisherman and an expert at filleting fish, but he was not the person to ask about navigating home from the fishing spot.  I can read those maps pretty well, but wouldn't have the slightest idea how to create one.

So the third map serves as a reminder that special places and special memories are important.  It is also a reminder that we all bring different gifts to the table.

Survival Skills

A post based on the Tony Wagner Book- The Global Achievement Gap.

Wagner identifies Seven Survival Skills for the 21st Century.  The skills, and a brief synopsis of what he means, are identifed below. 

Friess Lake Teachers have had this list for several years, and have referred to it when planning lessons and units. 

Critical thinking and problem solving

Think on your feet and find creative solutions.  Emotional intelligence- the ability to interact and relate.  All tied to the ability to ask good questions.
 
It's always fun to 'find' an answer to a problem that has had our number for awhile- but it is really an amazing experience when we realize we've been asking the wrong questions, and therefore looking for the answers in the wrong places.  I think part of our job is to provide some opportunities for students to experience that feeling as part of the educational process.   

 
Collaboration across networks and leading by influence

Forge effective collaboration teams and work with people who come from vastly different cultures, religions, and lifestyles.  Wagner says that kids in schools almost never work in teams- and when they do- it is on projects that are highly prescribed. 
 
I would argue that a big part of that probably stems from the fear that parents get upset if their child does most of the work on a group project, or recieves a lower grade because one of their partners didn't do their job.  This post isn't the place for a detailed answer to that problem, but we need to find some solutions- not just use that as a reason to shy away from real opportunites to collaborate- even when some of those efforts end in failure.

 
Agility and Adaptability

I immediately think of the old Marine motto:  Improvise, Adapt, Overcome

Deal with ambiguity, learn on the fly.  Schools promote ‘right answers,’ but the world is not that clear.  Even when an answer IS right- it may only be right for a short period, and then conditions change.  If we only teach students to apply new learning in specified, controlled, and predictable situations- we really aren't teaching them anything useful. 

 

Initiative and Entrepreneurialism

We can’t thrive in a culture of risk aversion.  If we meet every goal we set- we are probably failing because we’re setting our goals too low.

 

Effective Oral and Written Communication

Teach them to write!!  Communicate clearly and concisely and to create focus, energy, and passion- to write with a real voice.

 

Accessing and Analyzing Information

The ability to synthesize a lot of data- to find the important details- to discern new challenges and opportunities.  Access and evaluate information from many different sources.
 
Lots of similarities between Wagner and Gladwell (earlier post).  It isn't enough to be able to find information, or just to 'know' things- we have to be able to discern, analyze, and evaluate information.

 

Curiosity and Imagination

“Systems analysis”  Curiosity is about taking issues and situations and problems and going to root components; understanding how the problem evolved- looking at it from a systematic perspective; not accepting things at face value.   

Friday, October 12, 2012

Information Overload


This is sort of a follow up to the last post
A few key quotes from Blink, by Malcolm Gladwell:
We have come to confuse information with understanding.
The key to good decision making is not knowledge.  It is understanding.  We are swimming in the former.  We are desperately lacking in the latter.
Those statements are powerful and provide opportunities to go off on in a variety of different tangents.  
I’ll start with a sports analogy and see where it goes…
Drew Brees just broke the NFL record for throwing a touchdown pass in the most consecutive games.  Despite his success in college, Drew Brees was not a highly coveted draft pick.  He came up short on one of the key “measurables” that NFL Quarterbacks are supposed to possess.  I mean that literally.  Drew Brees is under 6’ 0” tall.  Prototype NFL QB’s are at least 6’ 2”. 

Lots of NFL teams had a chance to take Drew Brees- they all had mountains of information, they all had knowledge about what attributes predict success.  What did they miss, and why did they miss it?
Examples like this are ubiquitous, and we love them.  We love stories of people proving the experts wrong.  That is, except when we’re supposed to be the experts.
I need to ask myself- when have I been “that guy?” the guy who confused knowledge and information with understanding.  The guy who, based on that confused state, made a poor decision, or a series of poor decisions?
Every school I know of claims to be a data driven school.  So are the scouting services for professional sports that, despite their detailed and sophisticated piles of information, routinely miss in their evaluations.
I’m excited about the various tests we are administering here @ Friess Lake that are providing us with solid information about the current progress level of each child.  What we must not do is to confuse information with understanding.  What we must guard against is letting one test score tell us “too much.”  This information can help us deliver a more targeted and personalized instructional program, but only if we use it as a means of understanding the whole child.

Pickles, Spaghetti Sauce, Playlists, and Mass Customized Learning

Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful author.  This TEDTalk is based on a portion of his book, Blink.  The video is about 17 minutes long.


The clip provides examples supporting his premise that when we ask people what they want, they really don’t know.  He also describes how food companies used to look for cooking universals- the one way to make something that would appeal to the largest group.  That is until they discovered- kind of by accident- that there was a better way. 

Now, there is a better understanding of variability.  Different people have different tastes, and each of those tastes represent a market opportunity.  It isn’t an accident that there has been an explosion in ‘niche market’ foods and drinks over the last 10-20 years.    

Henry Ford didn’t create the Model T through a series of focus groups.  He is reported to have said, “If I would’ve asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”  The iPod is an enduring testament to the genius of Steve Jobs, not a series of Strategic Planning Committee decisions.  I managed to live the first fifty* years of my life without a series of personalized playlists and podcasts, but I’m glad I get to have them for the next fifty or so J

If we can ‘Mass Customize’ so many various aspects of modern life, why can’t we ‘Mass Customize” education?  The answer is, we can.  Gladwell, Ford, and Jobs would argue that we probably aren’t going to get there by asking people what they want.  We need to create it.

 

*Technically, 47 ½, but 50 sounds better

 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Heed the Dodo Bird

OK, maybe this is a lazy form of blogging- but this is a great post.

http://tokeepthingswhole.blogspot.com/2012/10/heed-dodo.html?spref=tw

Importance of Creativity

Sir Ken Robinson is about as good as it gets in explaining the importance of teaching for creativity and allowing various disciplines to stand on their own merits. 

One of my recurring themes is that Accountability is fine, but that doesn't mean our existing/impending accountability measures are fine.  Robinson isn't speaking directly to the issue of the new Wisconsin Report Card in this clip, but he does address legitimate concerns with Standardization and Standardized Tests.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/zWJdCzgtFTo

I'm still just trying to figure out the "whole blogging thing."  (How's that for eloquence?)  If I continue and, hopefully, get better at it, there will be plenty more posts featuring the ideas and thoughts of Sir Ken Robinson- and my thoughts on what they mean for us.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Assessing the Quality of an Elementary School



http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2012/10/assessing_the_quality_of_an_elementary_school.html

Great article.  In my humble opinion, this is a better way to grade schools than the new WI Report Card.  Is it practical?  I suppose not- but that doesn't mean it isn't better.

We get a number of parents who tour our school and openly state that they are 'school shopping.'  We welcome those tours, and a very high percentage of those families end up enrolling their children here. 

Thanks, Friess Lake Staff!

Pickles, Spaghetti Sauce, Playlists, and Mass CUstomized Learning


Malcolm Gladwell is a wonderful author.  This TEDTalk is based on a portion of his book, Blink.  Sorry, the video is about 17 minutes long.


The clip provides examples supporting his premise that when we ask people what they want, they really don’t know.  He also describes how food companies used to look for cooking universals- the one way to make something that would appeal to the largest group.  That is until they discovered- kind of by accident- that there was a better way. 

Now, there is a better understanding of variability.  Different people have different tastes, and each of those tastes represent a market opportunity.  It isn’t an accident that there has been an explosion in ‘niche market’ foods and drinks over the last 10-20 years.    

Henry Ford didn’t create the Model T through a series of focus groups.  He is reported to have said, “If I would’ve asked people what they wanted, they would’ve said a faster horse.”  The iPod is an enduring testament to the genius of Steve Jobs, not a series of Strategic Planning Committee decisions.  I managed to live the first fifty* years of my life without a series of personalized playlists and podcasts, but I’m glad I get to have them for the next fifty or so J

If we can ‘Mass Customize’ so many various aspects of modern life, why can’t we ‘Mass Customize” education?  The answer is, we can.  Gladwell, Ford, and Jobs would argue that we probably aren’t going to get there by asking people what they want.  We need to create it.

 

*Technically 47 ½, but 50 sounds better

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Winning vs The Journey


I like winning.  For much of my life, including well into my adult life- the concept was defined pretty simply.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to understand winning in broader terms. 

Both of my daughters participated in high school cross country.  They were on a strong team and enjoyed lots of success.  Cross country is hard.  I learned this first-hand while working the finish line of a cross-country meet.  I was soon basically standing in puke.  I was also a witness to the power of the journey and the importance of striving for a personal record (PR) vs. winning- as I had previously understood winning. 

I thought that the race was pretty much done after the first few people finished.  Wow, was I wrong.  What really struck me was the level of effort from those finishing well behind the main pack.  These runners were not going to impact the team score- and yet they were competing just as hard as they possibly could, and the crowd, including their teammates, was cheering for them with just as much gusto as they had cheered for the first runners. 

 This was new to me.  There was a completley different vibe, a different feel, from the end of a blowout basketball or football game.  I learned something.

Both daughters have since finished a marathon.  Neither one finished first, but I would argue that they still won.   

The decision to run a marathon is not made the morning of the event.  Rather, it requires months of dedication, training, and lifestyle sacrifices.   Anyone who has traveled the journey of preparing for something like a marathon has proven that they can set a goal and adhere to a regimen- even when, no especially when, everything hurts. 

 This type of effort and dedication might not equate to being the first to cross the finish line, but it sets one on a journey that is likely to result in success.  Sorry Coach Lombardi, but winning isn’t the only thing, nor is it the only thing that matters. 

 It doesn’t have to be a physical activity- but we should constantly be setting goals to push ourselves to be better at something- to improve on our own personal record.  When we do that, we win.   The Journey is its’ own reward. 
 
We took a big step forward as a school today.  We met in small groups throughout the day and analyzed student data in a way we have not done before.  It was our first step on a journey.

Monday, October 8, 2012

A Battle of Wits


Happy 25th Birthday to “The Princess Bride.”  

OK, it doesn't fit the profile of the typical movie I like.  We saw it in a theatre in Texas shortly before our first child was born.  I went reluctantly, figuring it would be horrible.  It remains one of my all time favorites.  Here is one of the many awesome scenes:


Sometimes, we can overthink things or get too caught up in the value of our own intellectual insights.  The results aren’t always pretty.  Besides, no amount of intellect or physical strength can compete with true love  J   “As you wish!”


Friday, October 5, 2012

What My Parents Didn't Do For Me

Two quick quotes from a great Book:  Clayton Christianson's  How Will You Measure Your Life?

"...some of the greatest gifts I received from my parents stemmed not from what they did for me- but rather from what they didn't do for me."

"They helped me learn that I should solve my own problems whenever possible."

Later in the book, he describes a scene that has confronted virtually every parent.  A child announces that a major project or report is due the next day- and it is nowhere near finished.  What to do?

As tempting as is it to swoop in an "rescue" the child, to assemble the materials and get to work- maybe even to take a lead role in the project, and/or blame the teacher for not communicating more/more often/more clearly with the parent- Christianson's point is that the best course of action is for the parent in that siuation to do very little, if anything.

A few brief comments:

I think I was about 32 years old before my parents ever let on that they thought a particular teacher or coach I'd had while growing up might've been a little "too demanding" or "disagreeable" or "wrong" or (insert your word of choice here).  They certainly never said anything when I was 11.  Well, actually they did- and it was usually centered around the theme of me getting what I deserved. 

They were very supportive, but I never had the feeling that we were in Fourth Grade, or any grade, together.  I was in school, not them.  I had my stuff to do, and they had their stuff to do.  If I asked for help, it was given.  If I didn't get my work done, too bad for me.  (a 3 out of 42 on a junior high home ec. project comes to mind- ouch!)

Playing sports was a way of life, and I was fortunate enough to be halfway decent.  My friends and I logged thousands of hours 'just playing' basketball, football, golf, baseball, whatever.  We decided when, where, and what we would play.  We picked the teams.  We made the rules.  We enforced the rules. 

Adults barely knew where we were, much less exactly what we were doing. Even when they did know where we were, they usually had no quick way to get in contact with us. We were often on our own for hours at a time. Sometimes there was conflict. We had to figure it out. We didn't expect, or want, our parents to solve those problems for us.

Don't get me wrong- my parents were awesome, kind, caring, loving people.  That's kind of the point.  We did lots of things as a family, and they attended countless games, concerts, plays, and conferences.  They also weren't afraid to tell me something was my fault or my responsibility and allow for natural consequences to run their course.

Parenting is hard.  It is often hard to define the tipping point when support turns to rescuing.  Christianson simply offers a solid reminder that sometimes what we don't do is the best thing we can do.

Fancy Cups

Saw this video courtesy of Joan Wade on twitter.   @joanw   


http://www.flickspire.com/m/SimpleTruths/LifeIsLikeCoffee

The video speaks for itself.  It reminded me of the most powerful sermon I ever heard (apologies to the late Rev. Robert Engstrom that it was delivered by someone else) 

I was about 13 and we had a missionary from Africa as a guest pastor one week.  He began by asking people to identify the types of taxes they pay.  This being a Lutheran service with a bunch of Scandinavians not used to or comfortable with a call and response sermon- he was initially met with an uncomfortable silence.

Gradually, people began offering up answers- income tax, property tax, sales tax, capital gains tax, etc...

He said he was surprised no one had identified the most onerous tax of all and gave us a chance to think again.  More silence.  Some coughing, sideways glances, shuffling of feet- an inordinate number of people suddenly seemed to need to use the restroom....

He started asking and answering his own questions:  What's the purpose of clothing?  To cover our bodies and protect us from the elements.  A car?  To get from Point A to Point B?  A house?  Shelter.  Food?  Sustenance.

His point was that anything over and above meeting those basic needs fell into the category of a "Pride Tax."  He hit us where it hurt.  I don't recall that the sermon was political- he wasn't making any points about tax rates or government services.  He didn't openly suggest that people run out and give away their clothes, exchange their cars for something cheaper, or sell their houses and downsize into something smaller.

He did ask questions about when is enough, enough.  He did suggest that we need to be brutally honest with ourselves about identifying the true cost of living in a way where so much focus goes to satisfying wants- not needs. 

Combine the video and the sermon- and it is easy to see that there is a heavy price to pay for focusing too much on fancy cups, and too little on the coffee.



Thursday, October 4, 2012

Monkeys, Escalators, and cans of paint


I first heard of the story of the South Indian Monkey Trap while reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Apparently, monkeys can be a problem in some villages in Southern India.  The monkey trap they devised is both ingenious and instructive.  They tether a hollowed out coconut to a rope and place some rice inside.  The hole is big enough for the monkey to reach inside with an open hand, but too small to pull out a fistful of rice. 

The monkey believes he is trapped by the coconut, when he is actually trapped by value rigidity.  He is unable to revalue the rice, so he can't let go.  He is doomed.

You may have already seen this video showing two people ‘stuck' on an escalator.  Funny clip, but also pointed.


Often, the solution isn’t really all that hard. 

Dutch Boy dramatically increased their sales by changing the design of the can.  Yes, you read that correctly, they changed the can.  The design was simple, yet ingenious, and people didn't care that it cost more. 

Where are we trapped by something as simple as a hollowed out coconut?  Are we stuck on an escalator?  Do we have a ‘can of paint’ just awaiting a simple redesign?