“Dream, Then Do” When It Comes to #STEM Teaching, Learning

For more than a decade, we have been talking about STEM (science-technology-engineering-math) education in the United States. For much of that time, though, our discussions haven’t evolved much. In too many corners of the conversation, we focus exclusively on how to teach math and science, mostly relying on the same methods and the same approaches we have used for generations.

It’s only been recently that we’ve acknowledged, for instance, the need to better address the T and the E in the conversation, particularly as we now look to add coding and computer science to the K-12 curriculum (and as we search for teachers prepared in leading such instructional pursuits). And we now embrace the idea of transforming STEM to STEAM, seeing how the arts (particularly music) can better connect the academics of STEM to the students of today. 
Eduflack has been fortunate to spend recent years looking specifically at how we can revolutionize teacher education to take full advantage of the opportunities available through STEM education. In states like Georgia, Indiana, and New Jersey, we have worked with dozens of universities to transform their existing STEM teacher preparation efforts, ensuring strong pipelines of effective educators for high-need schools that possess both the content knowledge and the pedagological skills to succeed. 

And through the work of the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, we are now taking that even a step further, exploring how gaming, assisted reality, rich clinical experiences, project-based learning, and a time-independent program void of credit hours and Carnegie units can do a more effective job preparing prospective teachers for the rigors of STEM education in both the schools of today and the learning environments of tomorrow. 

Recently, I had the privilege to travel to Israel to see how a “start-up nation” focused on technological opportunities is addressing STEM education today. The ORT Israel Sci-Tech Schools Network is essentially a network of nearly 100 charter high schools focused on STEM instruction. Everything is taught in a dual-language environment (English and Hebrew), with many of the schools in the northern part of the nation adding the third language of Arabic to meet the needs of their Arab students. 

At every instance, the educators at ORT seek to use personalized learning to help connect STEM lessons to the STEM learner. They embrace the use of technology in the classroom, including the instructional applications of students using their own smartphones while in class. ORT actively recruits teachers who have developed meaningful content knowledge in the private sector, bringing their experiences as developers and designers for names such as Microsoft and Google into the K-12 classroom. 

Visiting schools across the country, I witnessed STEM seamlessly integrated with English language instruction and literature and even the Bible. One educator remarked that “this is a creative thinking place for teachers.” In multiple schools, I heard educators speak of changing “the exclamation points to question marks in learning,” meaning to them that instead of teachers offering the definitive word on everything taught, they saw their role as inspiring their students to ask questions and seek answers. 

“Kids don’t have to change. Let them be curious,” one technology teacher told me. “Teachers need to change.” 

And one engineer-turned-educator summed up his direction to his students as, “today you can dream, tomorrow you can do.” 

The students respond in kind, seeing project-based instruction as, “relevant to us.”  

As I was meeting with a group of students in Northern Israel, I inquired whether they preferred this new, project-based, STEAM-focused instructional model to the previous ways they were taught, the room exploded with a combination of rapid Hebrew, followed by laughter from some of the teachers. Clearly my meager mastery of the English language and my pathetic understanding of Spanish wasn’t going to help me, so I asked one of the teachers for a little assistance. 


His explanation made me understand I was in a STEM classroom much like the classes I visit here in the United States. Most of the kids in the class were not aspiring rocket scientists or brain surgeons. Many of them didn’t want to be in high school at all. But they were saying that if they were required to be in school, this was really the only way they would want to do it. For them, there was no other school choice. 

The visit to these ORT Schools helped me see there are some universal truths when it comes to the future of teaching and learning, truths that I see with every school visit or teacher discussion I have here in the states. Teachers want to be empowered. Educators see the enormous value in mastering content as well as being adept at classroom management. That their success is measured by far more than a test score. That they are eager for the instructional opportunities ahead, and charting new ground to meet the needs of tomorrow’s learners. 

And for those learners, personalized instruction is king. Project-based learning inspires. The real-life experiences of their teachers mean something. And what they can do with the content and knowledge obtained is far more important than how it can be measured. 

As a community, we need to do far more to spotlight what is happening in American classrooms today. To capture how PBL is affecting both teacher and student. To demonstrate the impact STEM has on all students, regardless of expected career path. To call out how teacher preparation programs are breaking the old models to meet the demands of the future. To talk about the dreams of today, so we can do tomorrow. 

Of School Vouchers and Civil Rights 

For more than a decade now, we have heard advocates position the fight for education reform as the great civil rights battle of our generation. And there is little question that discussions of equity and equal pathways to college and career success for all students – regardless of their race, family income, or zip code – is a worthy fight.

It is on this fight that so much of the current school choice frame is constructed. The expansion and adequate funding of public charter schools is all about civil rights. And the renewed attention to vouchers is no different. 

As part of his first address to a joint session of the U.S. Congress, President Donald Trump again tied school choice to civil rights. But at a time when actual civil rights – from Title IX to LGBT to IDEA – are front and center of current school and education debates, is it fair to position private school vouchers in the same manner?

This is the topic we explore on the latest edition of #TrumpED on the BAM! Radio Network.

Interestingly, immediate response to the segment began referencing the United Nations and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. No one should question that access to free, high-quality public education education is indeed a right all around the world should advocate for. And ensuring that parents have a say in the educational path that is best for their children should be rightly included in such discussions. In crafting Article 26, did the UN really intend for such language to be used to provide cover for those choosing not to send their kids to a community public school or a local public charter school, and instead send them to a possibly expensive private school with the financial support of taxpayers? Particularly if those vouchered tax dollars largely exceed what that same family was paying in taxes to support the local schools?

You be the judge. Give the program a listen. I realize Eduflack won’t necessarily make friends with the reform community by posing such questions, but it is an important discussion to have.

 

Happy Happy!

On this day in history. Seventy years ago, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was established. Twenty-three years ago, Justin Bieber was hatched, err was born. Twenty two years ago, Yahoo was incorporated. And 10 years ago today, Eduflack was launched.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a decade. In that time, we have had well over a million page visits to this site. We have experienced three different presidents and four different EdSecs. We went from the height of NCLB to the rejection of NCLB to the passage of ESSA to now the start of the rejection of key ESSA provisions. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

When I launched Eduflack in 2007, I did so because I found the writing cathartic. I didn’t expect folks would actually want to read it (no, I’m not being self deprecating). I certainly didn’t expect major news outlets would quote posts (particularly when I hypothesized on potential EdSec candidates in 2008).

This site has evolved over the last decade, but I still try to keep it at that intersection of education communications, policy, politics, and research. Sometimes we lean more one way than the other. But with each post, we try to stay true to our roots.

This blog has led to the establishment and curation of a top education policy Twitter feed, @Eduflack (believe it or not, Twitter wasn’t even a thing when the blog was established). It has led to a regular podcast for BAM! Radio Network, with the current focus on education policy under President Trump (#TrumpED). And it has resulted in essays and commentaries bearing the Eduflack name in Education Week, US News & World Report, and many, many others.

It has even led to an upcoming book, currently late to my publisher, on the need to reform education reform.

And while I hate the term, it has also resulted in an Eduflack “brand,” which hopefully stands for something that is seen as contributing to a meaningful discussion, and not just adding to all of the meaningless white noise in public education.

Big thanks to all of those who read this blog, who encourage me to continue to do this blog, and to those who run into me at conferences and events and simply know me as Eduflack (granted, Riccards can often be too difficult for some to pronounce.)

Thank you all! And happy birthday Eduflack, truly my middle child.

 

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Community Colleges in the Trump Era

Earlier this month, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke on the possibilities of community college and the role these institutions can play in ensuring all students have access to pathways of success. 

Unfirtunately, we often hear politicians talking about community colleges, without taking specific actions. While one can hope that Trump’s focus on jobs and manufacturing and the middle class means good things for community colleges, will the actions ultimately follow the words?

This is the question we pose on the most recent edition of TrumpED on BAM Radio Network. So give it a listen!

On the Latest Episode of #TrumpED …

If EdSec Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education are interested in sparking meaningful action to improve the public schools, now is the time to begin to develop a “coalition of the willing,” those parents, educators, community leaders, activists, and all-around concerned citizens who can help move an idea into practice.

On the latest episode of BAM! Education Radio’s TrumpED, we explore this topic and the importance of building a coalition for action. Give it a listen here

A Coalition of the Willing

As the new Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos possesses an incredible – and rare – opportunity to truly transform public education. Returning decisionmaking to states and localities. Empowering parents to get more involved in decisionmaking. New ways to better use existing federal dollars. The bully pulpit. All are valuable tools in reshaping the next generation of K-12 education.

If we have learned anything from education policy transformations, it is that the best of intents will fail if those idea come via fiat instead of through collaboration. How many times have we seen the latest and greatest of policies never fulfill their potential because educators, parents, or both weren’t part of the process that brought proposal to policy?

Real, lasting reform demands a coalition of the willing. It requires all corners to come together and buy into the goal – improving student learning and boosting student success – and work together to achieve it. And while it is impossible to have all sides agree on all details, at least if it is meaningful change, all sides are working as they best can to achieve, not undermine, that ultimate goal.

We can often forget that in education and education reform. The coalition of the willing is forgotten in the pursuit of being the smartest person in the room, and then assuming all will just follow. We fail to see that by not having teachers buy into the process, and instead have them see improvement as something happening to them, it becomes near impossible for them to embrace the change, own the change, and ultimately be responsible for the improved outcomes on the other side.

Sure, one can tinker in operational issues without having the teachers’ involvement, but it is impossible to have real impact on the teaching and learning in the classroom without having educators – and parents – at the table helping plot the course to a shared destination.

Despite all of the vitriol and all of the negativity directed at her in recent months, DeVos now has an opportunity to assemble that coalition of the willing. While many may be concerned by her laser-like focus on school choice, few can question DeVos’ lifelong commitment to provide better, stronger opportunities to kids, particularly for students in need. And few can question her embrace of parents in educational decisionmaking. That provides something to build on.

If we can all agree on that ultimate goal: a strong education for all kids – regardless of race, family income, or zip code – maybe, just maybe, we can agree to try to work together on how we get there.

The next move belongs to the new Education Secretary. She has the opportunity to reach out and bring together a coalition that, while unsure, is willing to try. DeVos has the chance to extend an olive branch and work with parents and teachers to plot that new course. And they have a chance to accept it.

In the process, DeVos has the ability to both empower teachers and better involve families. She has the ability to truly transform teaching and learning for all, instead of just tinkering around the edges.

The big question now is whether the EdSec will take that chance. It is incredibly easy to talk to one’s friends on agreed upon issues. Impact only comes by engaging with your perceived opponents to find some common ground to make the positive changes that could impact generations of learners.

 

Reform Education Reform, or Prepare to Get DeVossed

Education reform itself is in dire need of reform. From the paucity of victories in recent years, to the growing number of groups doing and saying the exact same things as their predecessors, to the significant sums of money spent simply to “fight the good fight” without a reward, it is clear the the old model isn’t working. The DeVos process only provided a clearer blueprint for how to oppose such changes and turn communities, states, and even the nation against needed improvement.

The reform community can either learn from the past few years—and particularly the past few months—or it can stand by the dogmatic approaches that are struggling to resonate with policymakers, parents, advocates, and educators. The choice seems easy, no?

– Patrick Riccards, aka Eduflack, for the Fordham Institute’s Flypaper. Read the full piece, (please), Watch out, reformers, you’re about to get DeVossed