TGIF! Sep 29 2017

TGIF!

Good morning and happy return to fall.  We continue to look at different building options for the high school and while our hope is to purchase a suitable existing facility (or really cheap land!) we also want to look for a contingency plan to get up and open with our initial class of 9th graders.  This would be a couple-of-classroom-sized space we could use for the first year (or two).  If you are a member of a community, civic, social, or religious organization that has some spaces that sit unused during the weekdays, we would be interested in learning more about potentially leasing that space.  The #1 clue that the space might meet school building code requirements is if it has a newer sprinkling system. So, look around as you go through your week this week – our school’s first home may be sitting under your nose!  We just need to hear about it!

See below for a few thoughts on why we need to see this school come to be, in the first place.

Purpose at the center

Our mission is to support each of our students to construct a life of meaning and purpose, and this mission is built into the heart of our school design.  This is an opportunity students in traditional high schools don’t often get, as Mind/Shift pointed this week in Helping Teens Find Purpose: A Tool For Educators To Support Students’ Discovery

“For you to have a sense of purpose you need two things: One, you need to know what’s important to you and what you care about,” Cook-Deegan said. “And two, you need to know how your work is going to have consequence in the world.” Many high school students go through four years of school doing exactly what they are told to do. The work often feels divorced from the real world — a prescriptive set of “shoulds” that adults say will lead to a happy life. But for many students, the end goal of all that work — college or a career — is a hazy future, not a tangible one.

The article goes on to point out two key structures that help bring purpose into focus for students – Advisories and Real World Experience. Learning in real-world internships allows students to test drive “possible futures” for themselves, and the support of their Advisor helps them to make sense of those experiences and grow in their understanding of their own talents and passions.

Cause and effect

I think the other reason for the “hazy future” problem is that our traditional schools, to the degree they address developing purpose, get the sequence backwards.  From another great piece, How to Help Teens Find Purpose:

“Young people do not usually develop a specific purpose and then go become an expert in that thing. Rather, they are exposed to something new that helps them develop their own sense of purpose. In short, in most cases experiences lead to developing purpose, not the other way around.”

Most people (4 out of 5 according to the Stanford Center on Adolescence) don’t have a clear vision of where they want to go, what they want to accomplish in life, and why.  And that’s OK.  But what’s not okay is telling 80% of young people to mimic those 20%: just pick something you think you can be passionate about, then go to college and study that thing, then get a job and make a career out of it.  (I’m not sure that works for the 20% all that well either.) We need to give kids a different roadmap:

“Most people do not have that one thing they are passionate about—that singular motivator that drives all of their life decisions and infuses every waking moment with a sense of purpose and meaning. (If you’ve found that studying the mating habits and evolution of mollusks from the Cambrian period until the present day is your purpose for living—we salute you. Charles Darwin spent thirty-nine years studying earthworms; we salute Charles Darwin.) …[But] most people are passionate about many different things, and the only way to know what they want to do is to prototype some potential lives, try them out, and see what really resonates with them. Once you know how to prototype your way forward, you are on the path to discovering the things you truly love.”

Our school model provides for that prototyping, and starts young people on their life’s journey so that graduation is just another step, not the end of the road.

 In closing….

Thanks for reading.  Please share our newsletter, and share our story with people you meet!

Kim

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TGIF! Sep 22 2017

TGIF!

Happy first day of Autumn!  Wipe the sweat from your brow and raise a glass of iced lemonade to toast the changing of the seasons. And after watching the kids play soccer tomorrow morning – assuming games aren’t cancelled due to the heat index – you can head over to the state park and drop your beach blanket down in between the snow fences! Tip: if you’re looking for ice cream, I know the Dairy Creme at Chinook Pier is open through Sunday.

But no complaining.  This is fuel for the soul before La Nina punches us in the gut in a couple of months.  (Get your skis tuned now!)

Real Innovation

From EdWeek (paywall) this week:

Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page aren’t shy about sharing the secret of how they came up with new products like Gmail and Google News: They allowed the company’s engineers to be creative. To be exact, they allowed their engineers to spend 20 percent of their work time on their own innovative passion projects… What if our K-12 schools believed in students the same way that Google believes in its engineers and universities trust their professors? What if we had that same faith in our students’ talents and capabilities?

Several years ago, as a middle school teacher at a Title I public school in New Haven, Conn., I told my 8th graders that for one period per day, they could spend time solving a problem they cared about instead of doing traditional schoolwork. Doing so changed my classroom: After years of teaching standards, I began teaching students.

We started by brainstorming students’ concerns about the world. They noticed that TV cameras rolled into the neighborhood when there was a murder, but not when good things happened. They were concerned about police brutality and a lack of trust between officers and teenagers. They worried about how the media portrayed young people, particularly young people of color like themselves, as uncaring rather than as the impassioned and curious people they are.

We then worked together to create standards-based projects that addressed those concerns. We developed the same skills students in other classes were learning, but we did so for real reasons. We built a website where they researched and reported their own stories for an online audience, responding to events in the news and paying attention to what the news overlooked. We designed a campaign to reduce stereotypes of officers and teenagers that students presented at the local police academy. We started a neighborhood museum at our school to celebrate the stories of our community.

… None of this was for a grade or because I, as their teacher, told them to. Instead, they did it because they could—and because they wanted to. Though I have since left the classroom, I still hear about the ways my students are making a difference at their high schools.

The traditional method of mass education starts with a curriculum and fits it to students’ needs. Too often, students’ interests exist separately from school, and they complete assignments for their teacher’s eyes only. Personal passion is too often missing from our classrooms.

As teachers, we should approach education the other way around: by starting with our students and then shaping a curriculum around them. When we give our students real responsibility to tackle problems connected to their interests, they flourish.

Learning Links

A few more pieces on innovation:

From Getting Smart, Why Factory-Model Change Won’t End the Era of Factory-Model Schools.  As Albert Einstein said, ““We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Shared on our Facebook page: Why more and more high schools are acting like start-ups: “Mission statements about innovation are a lot more common than the real thing. The most successful schools do more than get tablet computers in the classroom — they rethink instruction altogether. At Leyden High Schools in Franklin Park, Illinois, ninety percent of all tech-support tasks are now handled by high schoolers. Students are encouraged to develop business plans for startups and use school facilities to videoconference with mentors in the business world.”

In closing….

Find yourself some pumpkin spice sunscreen and go enjoy this crazy weather!

Kim

TGIF! Sep 1 2017

TGIF!

I wish each and every one of you a relaxing and fun Labor Day weekend, and all the best to parents and kids heading back to school. Here are a couple of “challenges to conventional wisdom” for you to ponder about this thing we call school.

On the difference between school and summer camp

Blake Boles in The Art of Self-Directed Learning writes:

“School taught me how to memorize a fact until Friday and alter the margins on an essay to create a higher page count; camp taught me how to figure out what I want, take the initiative, conquer my fears, own my victories, and learn from my failures. To my teenage sensibilities, the annual ratio of camp to school didn’t make sense. Why didn’t I go to camp most of the year and then head off to school for a couple months to learn grammar, algebra, and whatever else camp didn’t teach?”

On teenage brains

Katherine Williams, author and mom of two (now grown) Self-Directed learners, recently wrote on the ASDE blog about the various studies you have probably read showing that teens develop the emotional, impulsive parts of their brains ahead of the rational prefrontal cortex.  She writes:

“Science and academia are working to understand the disconnected neurology of teenagers. There are tons of scans and studies telling us that American teenagers aren’t fully inhabiting their prefrontal cortices. And what a relief! This news is so easy to hear. It takes all the pressure off our schools, our parenting, and our culture. …[T]eenagers aren’t justifiably angry and given to the kind of impulsivity and craving for freedom we might expect of released prisoners. [T]eenagers are sub-brained pre-adults. It’s nature, not nurture. Phew! Just look at the scans…”

Do you feel the set-up coming?  She goes on to point out that that virtually every scientific study you have ever read about teens (at least in the U.S.) is in fact a study of teenagers under the influence of our current (traditional) model of schooling – simply because that is how the vast majority of kids are educated.  Here’s the punchline, and it’s a zinger:

“Consider a 2016 study from Brown University, “Infants Use Prefrontal Cortex in Learning,” published in the Journal of Neuroscience. This study has shown that infants make consistent use of their prefrontal cortex. If infants are employing the same neurological tools as adults in learning, it may be that scans of [traditionally] schooled teenagers have measured the extent of brain damage inflicted on teenagers in our culture.”

 

In closing….

Hope I rattled a few of your own assumptions – talk these ideas over with your kids, spouse, nieces or nephews this weekend!

Kim

TGIF! Aug 18 2017

TGIF!

If you don’t recall, or perhaps you weren’t a subscriber at the time, but our core purpose at Imagine! West Michigan is to help our students to gain the self-awareness and experience necessary to create a purposeful life.  That’s why we talk so much about how to create opportunities for kids to figure out who they are, what they want to do and try out paths to get there.  And while every high school will talk about career preparation (in the context of “college preparation” and sometimes with a nod to “life preparation”) we believe in young people living their lives now – not waiting for them to start.  Not only is this the best preparation anyway (“you can’t steer a ship that isn’t moving”) but figuring out what you want to do with yourself is not the “once and done” endeavor of our parents, but an iterative process our kids will find themselves managing through again and again.  I figure, learning how to do that young, and with support, is a great place to start.

So having said that, now I’m going to bash on STEM.  Apologies in advance.

 

A word about STEM Education from Teacher Tom

Teacher Tom is Tom Hobson, a teacher at a wonderful cooperative preschool in Seattle.  He blogs at teachertomsblog.blogspot.com, and back in March he wrote a post about STEM, a topic it turns out he is somewhat uniquely positioned to have an opinion about.  As it turns out, his wife is the CEO of a software company:

Earlier in her career she was an automotive executive and has held senior positions in several technology-based businesses. She is, as she realized to her delight not long ago, one of those much sought for rarities: a woman with a successful STEM career. That said, she studied languages at university. That’s right, languages, not science, technology, engineering or math, yet here she is today running a technology company.

Science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM as they are collectively called in the contemporary lexicon, has become an emphasis for our schools both public and private. The idea is that those legendary “jobs of tomorrow” will require STEM skills and so we are feverishly “educating” our children to be prepared for their future roles in the economy. Setting aside the hubris embodied in the assumption that anyone can predict what jobs our preschoolers will grow up to hold, science, technology, engineering and math are important aspects of what it means to be human and fully worthy of exploration whether or not one is going to one day require specific employment skills.

When my wife was a preschooler, no one envisioned computers on every desktop, let alone on every laptop. The internet hadn’t even made an appearance in science fiction novels. And we all carried dimes in our pockets just in case we needed to make a call on a public phone. Today she is the CEO of a software company by way of the automotive industry by way of the jobs that her study of languages made available to her when she stepped into the workforce. The problem with predicting what specific “job” skills our children will need in the future is that we can only guess, because it’s not us, but the children themselves who will invent those jobs, just as my wife has invented her own STEM career.

So the “bash” on STEM isn’t really against STEM, but against the hubris that teaching say, computer programming, is the be-all and end-all answer to prepare kids for a changing economy.  The truth is that we don’t know what the future will hold.  But it’s also true that every one of us has an amazing collection of gifts and talents, very few of which we get to express in traditional models of schooling.

Rather than guess at what the future might need, knowing we’ll most certainly wrong, I’d advocate for finding ways to apply what we are really good at today, then continuously adapt.  After all… if it turns out you hate programming, how much worse to also find out later in life that “guarantee” of a good career, wasn’t?

Too often, we spend years thinking we are “dumb” or narrowly defining our “skills” only to find out later on that our more quirky talents are often the most precious.

 

In closing….

As always, thank you for reading and for your support.

Kim

TGIF! Aug 11 2017

TGIF!

Last week was quite a long post. We’ll keep it shorter today by just sharing a few links from our Facebook feed over the past couple of weeks.

If you prefer not to use social networking, but are curious about the articles we share and post on our page, you can view all our posts publicly without having a Facebook account.  Just browse on over to www.facebook.com/imaginewestmichigan/.

College application insanity

“High schools need to realize that, while students amassing millions of dollars in scholarships and hundreds of college acceptance letters seems like an accomplishment, the outcome for many students is the total opposite. Too many students end up not going to a school that is the best fit for them, taking on piles of debt, and dropping out with no workforce experience. The goal should be that each high school student will graduate having a grasp on their career path (and experience in that field), scholarships to the school of their choice (full rides or little to no debt), and be confident in where they will be spending the next four to six years of their life.” https://www.chalkbeat.org/posts/tn/2017/07/18/my-high-school-told-me-to-apply-to-100-colleges-and-i-almost-lost-myself-in-the-process/

Work-based learning for credit in Vermont

“I just thought it was really awesome to have the chance to explore your interests in ways outside the classroom setting and gain skills that may actually be useful in the workplace,” Eurich said. “Because it’s really hard to gauge that just by taking classes similar to a career.” http://hechingerreport.org/one-state-students-ditching-classrooms-jobs/

A lesson from preschools – how to prepare kids for an AI economy

“A big challenge — and one he said is essential to preparing children for a labor market in which routine and individualized tasks are being automated — is making sure this style of education is not lost in higher grades, when teachers turn to lecturing and standardized curriculums… learning to work in groups and be creative – and that this problem you’re facing today looks like a problem you faced in a different context a year ago – is a process that is very hard for artificial intelligence to replicate.” https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/31/upshot/how-to-prepare-preschoolers-for-an-automated-economy.html

In closing….

Thanks for reading, and have a great week!

Kim

TGIF! Jul 28 2017

TGIF!

Lots of good discussion about internships this week as we continue to talk with local businesses.  What kinds of preparation will 14- and 15-year-old students need to be ready to contribute at a professional level?  What kinds of jobs, roles, or projects could businesses see our high schoolers performing?  We hear the same things over and over again – employers need critical thinking, problem solving, and communication!

How can students prepare for internships?

It turns out, preparing for and acquiring an internship is a process with almost as much benefit as the learning that comes from the internship itself!  At Acton Academy, advisors support students to find and secure their internships on their own.  Here are some nuggets from their process:

1. Digging deeply into your gifts, activities that bring you joy and deep burning needs in the world to create a prioritized list of apprenticeship possibilities.

2. Writing a compelling introductory email to a business owner you see as a hero or role model, asking for a short phone call to explain the Acton apprenticeship model.

3. Crafting a phone pitch explaining how apprenticeships work, including a promise to show up early, work late and do whatever it takes to add real value, and asking for a chance to meet in person.

4. Creating an in-person pitch, where you ask for a chance to prove yourself.

5. Learning to manage a portfolio of apprenticeship possibilities, just in case your first choice runs into logistical problems.

6. Negotiating a contract with your employer and parents to make sure goals and promises are clear.

7. Having a plan to add value in the first few days and a way to capture the lessons you learn.

8. Following up with thank you letters and a request for a reference letter.

Learning Links

Elon Musk – the importance of Why to learning

Todd Rose – high school dropout turned Harvard professor on why no one anywhere is average – and why education needs to change to reflect that

Benefits of Social/Emotional Learning – in life and in academics too

 

In closing….

And today it begins… welcome to Coast Guard Festival everyone!  Get out and enjoy this crazy vacation in our own backyard.

 

Kim

TGIF! May 26 2017

TGIF!

Wow!  What a great event Wednesday night.  I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to share our school design with you, see your excitement and most importantly take time to answer your questions and hear your feedback.  Given all the end-of-school-year activities, concerts, sporting events and more, there were many people who told me they were interested but could not attend.  Should we do this again?  August perhaps?

Info Night download/debrief

If you couldn’t make it to our information night, I will make the presentation slides available next week. After sharing more details from parent and community feedback, the bulk of the conversation was sharing what this high school will include!  Our breakout groups chose to deep dive on internships, motivation, and advanced coursework/college credit.  I will spend some time over the next few weeks answering more of your questions on those topics, and more, in these pages.  Let’s start with…

Internships

Many of you have seen the vet video I’ve posted previously.  But one question that was raised was, “what about younger students, what kind of internships can they do (legally and capability-wise)?”  You also asked about how internship mentors and teacher-advisors stay in contact and how the internships tie into academic learning.  This short video answers many of these questions.

Why to How, Part V

New subscribers can read the first four segments, which traced our “why” to “what” to “how”, on our blog. Last week we dove into the first two keys of our “how” – ownership and personalization. Here’s our final installment in this series, wrapping up the last two keys of how we deliver on our vision for each student to gain the knowledge and experience they need to construct a life of meaning and purpose.

The third key is relationships.  Our relationships define our culture and are central to our mental health and happiness.  By limiting the size of the school to about 200 students, we ensure that everyone knows and is known by everyone else.  We organize the school into multi-age (9th/10th and 11th/12th) “crews”, made up of 18 students and one teacher-advisor.  By staying with one crew and advisor for two years, deep relationships develop as peers and adult coach and support one another.  Students at schools using an advisory model always use the same word to describe their crew – family.  And students will have to work at developing and managing these authentic relationships – skills that are critical for their future, both in the working world and more importantly in their interpersonal lives.

The fourth and final key is real-world experience.  This is how, within a relationship-based culture of ownership and personal development, kids are truly able to make the leap from childhood to adulthood.  By engaging with adult society – through substantial internship programs beginning in 9th grade, through Impact Capstone (our 4-year service project), and through real responsibility in the micro-economy that is the school itself – kids are able to learn and test real skills in real situations. This gives them the all-important feedback they need about what behaviors work out well and which ones not so well; what kinds of activity and environments allow them to be the best version of themselves, and which leave them drained and unfulfilled.  And, it gives them a sense of purpose and value, to have shown – to themselves and others – that they can contribute to the world in way that is meaningful and valuable.

 Learning Links

This piece on stress and learning shows that you can’t just slap on more open-ended problems in an otherwise traditional environment.  When it’s still about grades and other extrinsic markers of performance, there’s a shock factor as students try to figure out how to “be right”.  Lots to think about here.

Do you want to learn more about Big Picture schools? Here’s a quick overview from their website.

In closing….

Welcome to those who are new to our mailing list.  Look for a “TGIF” every Friday in your inbox.  Feel free to forward on to others who may be interested!

Kim