Sunday, November 9, 2014

Schools need to be Libraries with Guides instead of Teachers

Schools of fish mindlessly dart as one...

...which can appear beautiful and effective for herd animals' defense and perhaps even factory workers, but Americans should not stand for their children to be "educated" so. It trains them to be obedient animals that echo information back on command, not independent critical thinkers. We need citizens who are eager to learn, explore problems and come up with creative solutions. Our problems are entirely too complex to fixed with a reductionist philosophy or symptomatic treatment philosophies. We have a design problem.

We need a new model.

We've heard it before: the education system is "broken". The reality is it never was; it's flawed by design, always was & it's a lot of fun reading about it in history, but I don't have time for that (Dumbing Us Down). The fact is our schools aren't helping students; they are mostly hurting our youth and failing to prepare for the real world. Roughly half of college graduates are finding jobs. None of these jobs promise longer than an on-average 5 year run with little to no longterm benefits. Student loan debt is a staggering 3 trillion and rising with less jobs that can support a family available every year. The K-12 system of memorization & 8 hrs of indoor sitting has to end. The economic ladder to nowhere and memorization babble has to end. K-12 public school as we know it has to end.

Schools should be libraries.

We need schools to be giant libraries with much more than books, microfiche, audio and video. We should have tool libraries, building material libraries, machine libraries, print labs, old technology libraries, computer labs, fabric libraries, etc. It would all be tailored to (& by) the specific community, no federal oversight or interference. The local professional industries or trades would be intricately tied into the library. Unique locations would create unique experts. This diversity is exactly the decentralized stability that a large country like ours needs to be economically stable. Tying ourselves to a global economic oligopoly is the opposite of stable. Small, localized and independent - defines strength in both economies and democracies.

No more...

No more judgements, no more grades, no more directives, no more shame, no more labels, no more restrictions, no more control, no more sitting, no more K-12 indoctrination machine, just free people and minds pursuing what is alive in them. Democracy led by the ideals of the Constitution, & the Bill of Rights.

Going to the LibrarySchool

You step into your community LibrarySchool's main building to start your journey to answer a simple question: What was the first cotton gin like and how was it so important? A Guide specializing in that era & in engineering is waiting to meet you for your appointment with them. They discuss your questions and possible places you could explore for answers: the machine library, the book library, the internet & multimedia and microfiche archives. You choose to visit the machine library which has an actual cotton gin. You spend the next week returning, drawing, reading sources about the cotton gin as you sit before it. You then go to the building material library and start trying to replicate some of the primary mechanisms and their context in time. More study of the machines from earlier and later machines that have similar key working parts or designs generates a context for the cotton gin's arrival & effect. Using the 3D printer lab, you scan the main working parts of the cotton gin you've created, miniaturize them on the computer and then connect them to make a practical device. You print it and then patent your design online that day with the US Patents office, securing your hold on your new invention that builds upon a classic design that shaped history.

In our area, it would surely have a farm library where different types of farm experts practiced on Library land to demonstrate their abilities in a living archive. Other areas would specialize in other disciplines. Communities would excel in their strengths and train experts that can go enhance other communities with their strengths in a democratic offering and exchange.

The future is decentralized, democratic & DIY. 

Is our education preparing them for it?

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Objectives Not Directives

Who am I to dictate a child's choices when I don't what's best for them, no one but the child knows themselves that well. Even parents don't know what a child's intrinsic motivations necessarily are. I always knew that I'd be a musician which baffled my parents. My choice of college also came out of left field in my parents' eyes. No teacher ever really saw me until a teacher began asking me what I was thinking & feeling & what I wanted to do with my life in a convincing way. Up until that point, I'd been told what to do and fought tooth and nail. I had hated school and all the restrictions, dictations, threats & directives. I think later I became a teacher to protect children from a similar fate.

I want my students to have the skills to skip college, go straight into their careers and/or be their own bosses. The skills I teach (and the skills taught by my peers at Minarets High School) would also make them a rockstar in college, and I've heard back from my students that this is the case. I want the rising generation to innovate the jobs of tomorrow while still in high school because they can. They are the most adaptable generation we've ever had. They are the most comfortable with change & diversity in history. They are the most connected globally as well. For me to presume I know what they want or could be is like a dinosaur deciding what's best for early mammals. I need to guide, not direct. I need to demonstrate skills they find applicable to their own paths, and if I do not have the skills, bring someone professional into the classroom who can, either digitally or physically.

Won't the students seek to be entertained only & fritter away their time?

Maybe at first as a reflexive reaction to all the forced and bribed behaviors we've put them through for a decade, but in time they stop and realize: my teacher is here to help me. This usually is eased by group activities where students direct and drive each other doing choice- or challenge-based projects. Technology imitates a 1:1, teacher:student, relationship with its ease of use, youtube et al & networking capabilities.

Students that fight "teaching" are asking to be free, free to make their own choices. The real person waiting to emerge only has to be coaxed out by giving them choices. Pioneer species in nature are often spiky and spiny (which is why they are labeled weeds or noxious), so too are pioneer people, and so are the initial stages of behavior with people who are afraid to trust.

200 years ago, these high school students weren't children but young adults. They could own land, have businesses, start their careers, get married & even have children. Have their genes changed that drastically? Have we devolved? Likely not. Instead what's more likely is that we've infantalized our nation to keep us in school longer to make more $ wasting each other's time. The liberal arts education (where they choose your path and require you follow a path) is dead in the water. It makes for 10% valuable information and 90% fluff. Even worse, college is no guarantee of getting a good job or even a job at all. We have plenty of engineers that have no work, even though we encourage students to be engineers due to their high paying job possibilities despite the prospects being slim. For many in America, having an education means, being over qualified. Even the service economy is no refuge: McDonald's is about to fire most of its workers and replace them with machines. With that trend, the service economy will evaporate. Even worse, administrative work is almost all automated and digitized, making the majority of the prep kids get in high school and college moot. The jobs of yesterday are disappearing with the retiring generation that created them. We need to embrace a new paradigm for education.

Teamwork, leadership skills, presenting/teaching skills & system design thinking: that's the future. That's even the present model for success for all management roles. Why aren't we teaching our students to be CEOs or entrepreneurs at least? I think it is high time we invest directly in our student's futures instead of vicariously through (and with blind faith in) the collegiate system. We need to bring professionals in our communities into the schools and connect students to the professional world. High schools should have internship programs. Leadership training should be a part of all English Communications curriculum, and NO LEGISLATION CAN DO THAT. Only teachers, parents, administrators and students together can change each other by creating real, working examples of success and improving on each other's work over time. Real growth can never be legislated because legislation is static, and natural growth is exponentially changing, evolving.

Let's design our assignments without directives but with objectives. Let's teach how not what. Let's free our students, so our future is brighter, freer & more profitable.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Schools Need Clear Ethics

           There are many aspects of public education in practice that need adjustment. I think mostly we are dealing with symptomatic results of key weaknesses. Schools focus on discipline because they cannot design a school properly. Good design takes the future into account. We should streamline discipline & focus on school culture, positive action oriented thinking rather than punitive negative thinking which is standard in almost all schools. 

Focus on doing the right thing. Focusing on not doing the wrong thing is a waste of energy and time. 

The 3 Ethics

           I was fortunate enough to take a Permaculture Design Course with Geoff Lawton this year and learned about Permaculture, an ethical design science which can be applied to almost anything though it started out as permanent and ethical agriculture. The ethics component has really stuck with me as an educator.

   It's the missing ingredient!

Earth Care (or School Care)

Caring for the earth and all its living things (and specifically the school grounds and the classrooms)

People Care

Caring for yourself and each other (including all students, staff and the greater community)

Return of Surplus (or Giving Back as Daniel Ching coined)

Giving back through trade, commerce, charity, bartering, volunteering, etc. 

If we organize assignments with these ethics as the basis of the final student product, we could make a profound change in the tone of the classroom:

  • How does this help the school or the earth itself?
  • How does this help people? 
  • How does this make a profit? 
Let's bring ethics back into the fold & make our world a better place.


Monday, May 5, 2014

Training "Global Workers" Is Fallacious; Lead Don't Follow

No trend ever was caught by imitation
Only when it is an innovation

        The world we live in is far too diverse and broad for us to chase global trends, reverse engineering others' successes in hopes of training a successful model of student. The more you train them in whatever fashion you've developed only devalues as the market fills with your type of product. We will only undermine our success with the success itself. That is why we shouldn't be expected to have uniform output of performance at all.

        It is only in diversity, free agency education, & opportunities varied and open to all that we find new markets, new trends, innovation & market strength in diversity and localization. A bridge of simplistic large sections is weaker than one of small, well interacting and healthy structures (i.e. a rope bridge or a poured concrete bridge is not as strong as a geometrically designed bridge like NYC's). Monopolies of government or corporation always fail because they become weak overtime. In nature it is only in diversity that life thrives; monocropping creates desert wherever it is practiced. Bigger is not better. Everyone has niche. We are all here for a purpose. The fact that we want all students to have an education & fair treatment says that clearly enough.

        We cannot hope to imagine a future that hasn't been created. Teachers should inspire, not dictate.  We cannot truly fathom much beyond a local sense; we aren't designed for it, so why should we even fool ourselves into trying. The reality is we create localization regardless of where we are or who we communicate with online or in real life anyway: we build a rather small circle of connection & interaction. Even if it is hundreds of people (150 is the approx limit of true friends), you've created a community which is a localized phenomenon not a disparate, nationalistic one. The power of the internet is not that it globalizes in a unification or discernible way; it is the connective & even unpredictable nature of the internet that makes it so powerful. The more we amass information & combine it in new ways (innovate), the more new trends, new markets, & new diversity is born.

If we create the opportunity for greatness & show how others in diverse situations and ways have also solved problems of their own, we give students new tools for performance & reflection.
Tangent - It's important to know that those are all we have:

Performance & Reflection are the two most important components of student learning. 
If they can teach it, they know it. 
If they can reflect on mistakes, they will grow. 

We need to move away from standardization & testing.
If we chase trends, we are following, not leading.
If we train leaders, it won't be with a textbook.
Are we teaching what's most important?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Homework is BAD!!

     Remember homework? Annoying drills, set # of words/sentences/pages, worksheets & mind-numbing readings. I hated every minute of it. I felt robbed each time I had to do it, but it was clear that there was never a choice. You did what you had to & you behaved. It was the 80s. In contrast I remember all the work I did on my own outside of high school classes with warmth: reading, writing, & music. Now as a teacher, I find I still hate homework and cannot bring myself to impose it upon my students.* Our time at home is our time (our family's time), right? Why would I push my job onto the laps of students and parents after hours?? If I was doing my job right, wouldn't the time I have in class be enough? IN FACT my students have had no homework the 3 years I've been teaching, and their SCORES… keep getting HIGHER each year as I refine my techniques & designs.
*(Full Disclosure: I offer a menu of activities (a ProPointMenu) for extra credit at all times. I think this is fair: you compensate for work done. If homework is always offered for extra credit with connected studies to that day's lesson plans, then students that need help & CARE ABOUT THEIR LEARNING will do more work. That would be extra credit work or practice in their minds and not homework.)

    Today it feels like we are trying to skip over childhood. No elementary school student should have an hour of homework on average. They should not have any homework, EVER. Furthermore, I don't think homework works because when I'm choosing to do "homework" without being told, it is called "practice" or "study". The latter is choice-based & intrinsically motivated (which means awesome). No successful person ever referenced their time doing homework as well spent, but they do use the words "practice" and "study"consistently. If what we taught in schools was intrinsically motivating or used students' intrinsic motivations as catalysts for learning, study and practice would happen naturally. Students that take on responsibility & hard work begin Life earlier than their peers that don't partake.

    When someone learns to master a skill, they really learn to master and control themselves enough to control something else to that degree. Great skill on bass didn't come naturally to me; it came from sitting still & focusing all my energy into my hands, arms, ears & mind. If we want students with work ethics, we need to STOP GIVING THEM HOMEWORK, and instead invite them to take on as much responsibility as they can handle.

  They need to learn to work hard, to practice, to study, to reflect, to ponder, to dig in, to fail & regroup, to learn patience, to master something and be publicly recognized as mastering it. 

   Homework crushes the inner light of curiosity & wonder by filling those potential hours of free time with drudgery. We need to allow students to learn from themselves & their own experiences. They need the room to explore & grow, not more restrictions. They need to find a passion & pursue it whole-heartedly.

  How to do this?

  I think the only way I can do this is via technology: 1-to-1 laptop immersion. Without a wifi connection & the internet, how could I differentiate everything so effortlessly? How could I design projects that are professional, modern & connected to the market? How would I convince the students that I could help them be prepared for the future? I think we need to embrace this technology, the responsibility & a new way to approach "teaching". It's the only way we can be fair to all students, help them pursue their goals & help them gain the skills they'll need. Since every student is unique, learns in their own way & is on their own path...

Maybe teachers should be called Guides?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Competition is a Myth, Cooperative Refinement is the Reality

             In commonly held micro-view it appears that we are all competing individually in a zero sum game which tends to depress most people upon pondering, but that belies the fact that we are more and more interdependent each day as globalism entrenches further into societies nearly everywhere.  My iPhone represents a cooperation of thousands of people and dozens of countries into a seamless culturally adaptable device that connects me to the vast international digital network which in turn connects everyone else to myself and my part of the world & culture as well.

             In the macro-view we can also fail to see the potential: we have a limited supply of everything & humans tend to be destructive and cruel… but that would also belie the historical trends & actual numbers on the ground. Once you shuffle off the talking heads & their statistics, you find some interesting things. Humans are much more humane nowadays on the whole; equality is spreading. Disagree? 300 years ago: slavery globally. There may be more slaves now (human trafficking), but it isn't more slaves PER PERSON, a vital distinction. The status of women and all minorities is also testament to this.

             What about starvation?? Food shortages?? Well, we actually have enough food being made for 10 times the amount of people; it's just we are using that food for fuel nowadays. STILL: Food shortages???? There's also proof that our farming and grazing practices create deserts. There are NEW practices emerging that cooperate with nature rather than fight it to great success. Farming without irrigation, tilling & fertilizer is emerging globally with extremely high yields, and it is a result of…. COOPERATION GLOBALLY that the ideas have been able to come to fruition in Permaculture & all the new farming practices like it. The creativity of the world gestalt is speeding up.

             Why? Simply because people exchanging information creates innovation & micro-competition pans out globally as macro-cooperation. Humans are the ultimate adaptors; we can't help it. The modern age's problems & issues are both not as bad as they seem in canned statistics and opportunities for growth & progress universally. Look past the hype & the power grab of opinion & fear which doesn't help anyone do anything.

            Instead we need to embrace the cooperative refinement, move past "grades" which are static indicators in a fluid system of progress & thus not good indicators of growth (seeing as the test itself also changes perception as it is being taken). We need to focus on performance, Why/How explanations/demonstrations, & oral/aural assessments. Only then will learning leave the rote feedback memory/regurgitation machine behind.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teaching How to Think not What to Think

   Control the how not the what or why. To do this, build choice into the lessons but keep the skills and objectives the same. An added benefit of each student or group of students doing something different is you can have them present to each other & keep their peers' attention; there's nothing worse than having everyone present on the same thing… 

   You'd think this would be obvious, but it was and still is being done. Here is what I think of when I create a project (chart below), and then I think of how to tie in as many standards as I can. I usually look at how I can connect something from each section into an activity that is meaningful to the students. 

ResearchWeb Search, text-based, audio-based, video-based, interaction-based with peers, local community centers/monuments/historical societies/libraries/etc, field trips, & interviews
PresentationVimeo, SlideShare, GooglePresentations (not public), Keynote (not public unless posted), Live presentations by all for all work. Include Compliments & Reflection as well as MLA formatting & citation.
CollaborationPartners or 3 - 4 person groups. Rotating through whole class. Though constant free choice, you must work with everyone. Sometimes have a free choice group with anyone.
StudentInterestThemselves, Sharing, Movies, Music, Books (Audio), Sports, History, Family History, Personal Experience, etc. Take a Survey.
ReflectionSurveys, Collaboration, Feedback, IronChef Feedback-Response Presentations, Application of Reflection in Future work/teaching

  Here is one of the simplest project examples that is solid CommonCore (Science/English/History), or at least what I'm going to say CC should be (it still could boondoggle on us at any moment  ;) From the Research Project Menu:

Nature Research 
Day 1 - Steps 1 - 3
Step 1: Pick a Group of 3 - 4
Step 2: Pick an animal, geographic location, or aspect of nature to research.
Step 3: Reflection: Why do you want to research this aspect of nature? (2-3 sentences). SHARE.
Research: 5 websites per person, 5 quotes per person, & 5 analyses per person (1-3 sentences on what the quote is saying and why it is important). SHARE.

Day 2 - Step 4 
Step 4: Write an outline of your research - have as many aspects (body paragraphs) to research as group members- use all the 5 quotes & analyses from each member as a pool to pick from. Collect pictures to support your evidence. Use Google Doc. SHARE.

Day 3 - Step 5 
Step 5: Finish your research essay complete with Works Cited, introduction, conclusion, InText Citations, & completely correct spelling and grammar. Google Doc. SHARE. 

   Here is another example but one for essay writing. It is Science/English using a novel example to help focus on organization, form & logic (higher taxonomy):

An Essay Example - The Lorax from Matt Powers

   This model of Remix-My-Presentation is most valuable in classes that rely upon any form of memorization. Students can watch it over and over (and they do!!) to refine their ideas. 

    Students have fun with this "icebreaker" English assignment because they can choose a novel example. It is self-affirming & easy:

Characterization with Homer J. Simpson from Matt Powers

It can also be very randomly creative as well. The randomness will protect you from cheating, increase engagement & win you admiration. Students hate boredom & condescension most. Win their loyalty & attention, and you can begin teaching anything. Half of "teaching" these days is classroom management which is controlled by design easily. 

The weeds that grow in a garden
 are simply helping heal & hold 
the soil together 
for the flowers to bloom their brightest. 
When we spend all our time pulling 
up the weeds, we kill the soil 
and starve the flowers 
we were trying to nurture. 

be careful gardeners

Saturday, February 1, 2014

An F Is Not Motivating, or Why Public Ed Needs A Reboot

Motivation must be intrinsic… we can't force it, drug it or "teach" it.        

          D's and F's are useless at motivating students. They are good at motivating parents and teachers to punish rather than instruct, resulting in a veiled resentment and thin obedience. We should instead have just A, B & C. If the work is not satisfactory, it is not finished. 

        We should also eventually just move to interviews with parents & students at the end of each semester in a comfortable, celebratory fashion where we focus on ways to improve and strengths rather than weaknesses & concerns. This dovetails with the idea that we shouldn't graduate kids through by year but by completion. Mixed aged groupings have been shown to cut down on misbehavior on the whole, but then again this dovetails with the idea that school should be non-compulsory… If students chose to learn then they would come to school ready to learn, & discipline issues would evaporate, & engagement would skyrocket. Teachers & students would be empowered by it. This also means that ADA money et al would have to be scrapped. Funding should be localized with federal offerings tied to programs in a locally adaptable application but no mandates. We shouldn't have any standardized tests. The data is no good anyhow, and we, students, teachers, & parents, all know it. We say it to the kids, but we then turn around & accept the practice as inevitable: What are we teaching our students & children then?? 

      Right now our Secretary of Education & President Obama want to COPY CHINA by focusing on testing more, lengthening the school day & lengthening the school year. Experts in China have even dubbed their system a failure… so why are we copying it? One can only guess. They send their people over here to figure out what makes us creative, adaptable & innovative. Evidence shows that PLAY without adult intervention is the birthplace of creativity & so much more: If we want creativity, adaptability, innovativeness, "American" qualities, we have to back off and let control shift away from top-down education. 

     Schools should not indoctrinate kids: they should be an offering of courses in different skills and perspectives. The reality is most of what we are told to teach could be self taught if the students were motivated enough (i.e. if it was related to what they cared about). Much of what we "teach", they already know, and we are only labeling and organizing their knowledge. It's like a cultural matching game; that's why cultural minorities can't play it as well: their culture doesn't match their teacher's or the textbooks' editors.  

     The idea of "organization" we cling to is unnatural. We think in uniformity is strength, but we clearly see it is not in architecture, monocropping, & thinking. It is in small unique successful grouping closely links to natural cycles that last and create overall systemic stability. Israel Zangwill's Melting Pot is the American Strength, the assimilation and recognition of the best in all cultures and systems. Our education system as it aligns further and further with a national test will weaken the scores, our economy & collective future to devastating effect. 

     We can see this in nature where the straight lines and severely organized patterns of our agricultural and cityscapes create deserts, endless landfills and toxic wastelands. It is only in the allowance of chaos that we see real control as we let things go & achieve balance in design. Teachers need to control their classrooms via design not behavior modification or force. Candy bribes turn children into nothing more than trained dogs. The highest degree of motivation is intrinsic. If we didn't have to force kids with law & consequence to attend schools, they'd only show up when they really wanted an education. Teachers would adapt and change. 

    Would this be entirely new? Yes. What we are doing now that is "great" and "new" is still housed in an ill-fitting basket and doesn't change enough. We need to start over. 

   Public non compulsory school is the only way to create a fair and equitable environment for all children. Depth instead of breadth. No grades. Real engagement & learning. Goodbye discipline issues (for the most part). Short courses organized around skills and interests. 3 week courses? Courses in the summer (farming, gardening, etc)? Courses on the trail camping? Trips abroad/History Courses? Internships/Apprenticeships as courses? Real skills? Real jobs/work?

Anything can happen.