If this is water… what is education?

I was recently sent this amazing video made from a commencement speech title “This is Water.” The speech, given by David Foster Wallace, which was hardly known until it was discovered by The Glossary a few years after David had passed away.

 

In the beginning few lines of the speech, Wallace describes two young fish swimming past and older fish who says, “Good morning boys, how is the water?” The two young fish swim on and eventually one asks “What the hell is water?”

 

I’ve watched this video about 5 times now, and have discussed it with friends, co-workers and relatives. Now I ponder to myself, as a principal… if this is water, then what is education?

 

Let’s get the conversation started…. Tell me… what is education?

 

 

How about we let the kids figure out the achievement gap?

We started a Saturday program at my school in order to provide students with additional academic remediation, support, and some fun. I know that some of you might think this is just another “test prep” venture to raise scores considering we identified specific students, and it’s April…. You would be both correct and incorrect (or maybe it is just how you define test prep).

 

Here is a little information about the program. We have targeted about 30 students in grades 3, 4, and 5 to provide math and language arts remediation through a very effective tool. The tool that we use is SuccessMaker which is a digital learning curriculum that is designed to assess, remediate and instruct based on the Common Core and New Jersey Model Curriculum. In addition to the online instruction and assistance, we have teachers who work with students individually on their specific needs. SuccessMaker can develop specific lessons for the teachers and students to master. Additionally, SuccessMaker also facilitates 21st century learning as the students are required to use high levels of Blooms Taxonomy to solve problems while also providing them with the experience for taking the online assessments such PARCC.

 

But there is more to our program then SuccessMaker. First, team-building and cooperative learning activities are embedded within the structure of the program because we feel urged to not only address the academic needs but also the social and emotional needs of our learners. We want them to feel confident as they approach problems and situations that involve critical thinking.  Since we have the students grouped into three teams, we wanted to continue to push the envelope and challenge the students, and that is where Problem Based Learning comes in.

 

For our “problem”, the students are going to have determine why there is an achievement gap and what they can do to “solve” the problem. During the first session,  we presented them with the challenge and what the end result could look like (an invention, commercial, iMovie trailer, etc.). We also asked them to define what is a “problem” and why are some students achieving while others are not. For instance, in order to engage them in self reflection (we all know that kids like to point fingers), we asked the students this question, “Who is responsible for the achievement gap… is it parents, teachers, principals or students?” Most, if not all the students said the responsibility falls on themselves. Their rationale for owning the problem included items such as low self esteem, not paying attention, and not taking school seriously.

 

Over the next few weeks the students in PBL will be presented with data about the achievement gap as well as what adults say about the achievement gap. Ultimately, the students will solve this problem and present their findings to parents, teachers and other students at our culminating event on May 11.

 

I will make sure to report back on their progress each week as well as their solutions to this age old problem… why do some students achieve while others do not…..

 

 

Egg-Possible is Nothing!

“Doc” Bunny visited RM Bacon and had the kids estimate the amount of jelly beans in the jar for a clue to the Egg Hunt treasure

Ask any educator about the week before Spring Break and you will most likely get a similar answer. Even though it comes at different times each year, it always happens at the “right” time. Everyone needs a “break” from each other….

This year, we packed a few egg-tivities into our pre Spring Break Week.  We had a 5th grade math challenge, Students vs. Teachers Hockey Game, life cycle of a chick, egg dying, egg experiments,  egg tossing, scrambled eggs and the most intense Egg Hunt we have ever experienced (thanks to @mrsbensonsbunch for coordinating). The best part of the Egg Hunt was the prize waiting for each class when they finished… a new basket of toys for recess (courtesy of our Home and School Association).

In continuing with our schools’ dedication to “telling our story” we put together a video to show the lighter side of the week (the 9 minutes is well worth it because you see the Harlem Shake, the Wobble, and a lot of shenanigans)

Life Cycle of a Chicken

Mrs. Simpson also teachers students about Russian artifacts!

Egg-cited for Spring Break!

5th Grade Math Challenge

The 2012-13 theme for our school is “Impossible is Nothing!” but this week it was “Egg-possible is Nothing!”

Happy Birthday, and don’t forget your image!

Happy Birthday from the entire 5th Grade

Yesterday was a special day for me. It was my birthday.

 

The days started out as usual. I had to wrangle the kids out of bed, while my wife got their lunches together. Fortunately, the kids were “morning drama-free.” Once everyone was ready, they sat me down for my cards and presents. My family knows me all too well. Coffee mug, and coffee. Yes!

 

When I arrived at school everything appeared normal. I knew I had a weigh-in for our Biggest Loser competition. By the way, I love weigh-in day. Most of our school, who are competing in teams, gathers near the Nurse’s office. We are very competitive, so there is a lot of banter. I lost another 2 pounds, and considering the week I had, I was happy!

 

Office with tin foil everywhere

We had our announcements (Which I announced everyone else’s birthday, but conveniently forgot to mention mine), and security drill squeezed in before an administrator meeting at our BOE office. At the administrative meeting, my colleagues wished me Happy Birthday, and made lots of funny comments about getting older. After the meeting, I had a few folks to catch up with which proved to be very productive. I rushed back to school. I knew I had a busy schedule ahead of me with walkthroughs, meetings, and a bunch of loose ends to be followed up on (I had been out for a day and 1/2 this week).

 

As I walked through the parking lot at our school, I heard a few kids inside say, “Here he comes. Here comes Dr. Cook.” I entered the building and went up to the room where I heard the chatter. They were working on “math” and everything appeared normal. I went to my office and noticed that everything was NOT normal. While I was out, staff members (who have remained anonymous), tin foiled my entire office. Pictures, clocks, computers, chairs, papers, staplers, the list goes on and on were tin foiled. I went into my office bathroom and the toilet, sink, mirror, and anything else were tin foiled. Wow.

 

My bathroom was also covered with tin foil

As I mentioned earlier, I had a lot of walkthroughs to perform, meetings, and items to follow up on, so I just left my office with the tin foil all over the office. Then, as I walked around, a great deal of my staff gave me that Cheshire cat smile as they wished me Happy Birthday. They knew something, but no one gave up any names. The rest of the day was a blur.

 

After everyone cleared out at the end of the day, I finally was able to start making headway with getting rid of the tin foil. I just wanted to be able to sit in my chair and work. I left a bunch of the tin foil up for Monday. I then went through the cards from the students and teachers. Reading the cards was the best part of the day.

 

Before one of the suspicious jokester/teacher’s left, she reminded me that tin foil could be a symbolic message. “Dr, Cook, remember what you always say, Your Image is Our Image. Have a Happy Birthday!”

Our response ….

A few weeks ago I blogged about not knowing how I would deal with the tragedy of Sandy Hook Elementary school. Fortunately, I came to the realization that it was not about me, but rather WE.

 

I was contacted by Neil Haley of the the Total Education Network to participate in a discussion on the tragedy. In the podcast, I talked about how our students, parents, and staff were part of the response.

 

Here is the podcast, I hope you will find our response to the tragedy to be worthwhile.

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My 2012 Edublogs Nominations

After much thought and consideration I have filled out my Edublogs Nominiations for this year. It goes without saying that I learn so much from these people, and I want to do my part to have them gain recognition.

 

 

And the nominations go to….

Good luck everybody. You Matter!

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

What if our schools were like 5 Star Hotels?

source hotel images – google

Picture this- you walk into your child’s school and are greeted by a concierge, not a security guard. This person knows everything about the who, what, where, and why of the school. As you gaze around the walls and the floors everything is in tip top condition. Mirrors are clean, the floor is immaculate, and the artwork on the wall symbolically represents the culture and climate of the school. Not to mention there is  fresh water and you can see the mint leaves, and orange slices at the top of the jug. Ahhh, and its fresh!

Your concierge takes you to your destination, and for this day you need to pick up your child. By the time you get to the office, your child is patiently waiting, chatting with the receptionist about her day (Somehow it was communicated that you were there and to get your child from class – no waiting). You swipe your license and you are able to take your child. But, we are talking about kids, so she tells you that she forgot something, and you both venture to her class to get it.

As you walk to her classroom there is a staff member in the hallway who greets you with a smile and asks if there is anything they can help you with. While your daughter is getting her work, the  staff member talks to you about the school, and seems very informed on the educational goals and objectives of the school. She even can share an anecdote with you about how your daughter helped her clean up spilled milk the other day in the restaurant (cafeteria).

Then, as luck would have it you need to use the restroom, so the staff member personally takes you to the restroom and makes sure the students aren’t in there. You look around at this “student” bathroom and the fixtures are all polished, there is artwork on the walls, everything is clean, and smelling fresh. As you wash your hands with the automatic sink, the smell of cucumber soap waifs through the air. This is a student bathroom, you think.

In the hallway, there is another person waiting for you with your daughter and the three of you walk to the exit. On your way out of the door, the staff member reminds you to scan the QR code. You remember hearing something about this at back to school night, but you haven’t tried it yet. The  staff member scans the QR code for you and on her phone she shows you how to access the days events, the teachers blogs and a 15 second tout from the assembly earlier that day. She then helps you scan it and laughs, “Just don’t drive and watch the tout because we don’t want you driving off the road. Off you go to the doctor’s appointment, knowing that your daughter is getting the 5 Star treatment at school!e

You can do what you want, the result will be the same. However…

…You can influence the result by grabbing the opportunity when it knocks at your door. Kersi Porbunderwalla

Kersi and I after the interview

This morning, while at breakfast, I met Kersi Porbunderwalla. He is the Client Service Director for Resources Global Professionals. He was in Dallas, TX at a conference for his company. Originally from Mumbai, Kersi recently gave a lecture on Corporate Governance at the Govt. Law College in Thrissur, Kerala. He was intrigued by what he saw.

As we enjoyed the amazing food at the hotel, Kersi and I talked about everything. When we talked about education, he beamed with excitement. He told me of his daughter and how well she was doing at the University in Copenhagen. He is so proud of her! We talked about Sugata Mitra and child-driven education. Have you watched Sugata’s Ted Talk? You won’t be disappointed!

I asked Kersi why so many people of Indian descent do so well with education, especially math and science… and he replied, “Well, this isn’t a scientific or research-based thought, but I think it has to do with our language. All Indian languages require the learners to anticipate and calculate sentences as they read. In a country with over  75% literacy rate,  Kerala maintains a literacy rate of 99%. I feel this is because of the time they spend on reading and studying their language. This seems like a daunting task, but they do it, and I think that is why we are so math/science focused.” I was amazed. How can we get our kids to do this I thought? 99% sounds great.

 

He went on to discuss the amount of time Indian students spend on their studies. He felt that most Indian kids (even those who are in the United States) are studying 2 to 3 hours per night, not to mention the amount of time spent in the summer. Education is so valued in the Indian household that it trumps interest in sports, video games, or any of the other leisure activities of a typical American child. Could you imagine your students spending 10 to 15 EXTRA hours a week on learning more about what you are teaching?

 

Kerala, India

He went on to discuss how motivation is in the culture of the people of India, specifically the state of Kerala, where he is from. This state in India has always been important because of the spices, and trade. It required the residents to be aware of  other languages and globalization. Kersi felt that all of these factors contributed to high literacy rate not only with the the various Indian dialects, but the rest of the world languages too. Sure enough I went on You Tube and looked this up, and I found this clip:

As my interview came to a close, I asked him what the key to success in education was… he said, “Do your best. It’s a competitive world. Things can change in a second. Grab the moment, and seize the opportunity. You can do what you want, the result will be the same…however…You can influence the result by grabbing the opportunity when it knocks at your door.”

 

The rest is up to you!

Skypeing with my social media mentor @PrincipalJ

This is the tenth in the series about educators making a difference.

Jessica Johnson

When I first turned to social media to create my PLN, it was Jessica Johnson who was my guide. Without even knowing it, I spent the first month on twitter learning from her, and Curt Rees. I studied their blogs, read their tweets, and anything else I could get my mouse on. I can remember sitting in my office at work, talking with a teacher who was helping me understand all of this technology stuff, and he said, “I checked out PrincipalJ’s website, and if you want to do what she is doing, it is going to take a lot of time and commitment.” He was so correct.Jessica began her journey in social media in 2007. She tuned into the Principal Podcast that was being broadcast by Melinda Miller, and Scott Elias. She was following them, similar to how I was following her in 2012. She listened to the podcasts, read their blogs, and got her hands on anything they recommended. She wanted to learn. They kept talking about twitter, and how powerful the medium was in education. It took her about a year, and finally in 2008, Jessica Johnson became @PrincipalJ.

Jessica strives for “zero” inbox

As a brand new principal, Jessica was determined to be the best that she could be. Here she was in rural Wisconsin, with the new ability to completely open her world up to all that twitter, and social media had to offer. Yet, at first, she told no one, not even her teachers. When I asked her about this, she said, “It was my thing. I didn’t seek to have a lot of followers, or make a huge impact. I just wanted to learn, and connect.” Slowly but surely, Jessica found that she had to pay it forward. She finally decided to take off the “private” setting on twitter so she could at least re-tweet these wonderful ideas she was gathering. She ripped the Band-Aid off.

Jessica tries to get technology into the hands of her kids (this is her husband’s office)

Since she began to pay it forward, Jessica has grown her blog and twitter network, and has become one of the most respected administrators in social media. When I asked Jessica about her blogging process she said, “I would have to say I am more like George Couros. I like to write it down, post, and walk away. I think getting the right images sometimes takes me longer than the actual post.” She went on to say that she mainly blogs as a reflective tool for herself, and her teachers. Blogging forces her to be reflective.

Currently, Jessica is working on a book project with @shiraleibowitz and @KathyPerret as a result of her participation in the #educoach on twitter. Together they moderate the #educoach chat which happens on selected Wednesdays at 9:00 PM CST. Jessica, along with @shiraleibowitz and @KathyPerret said that the book is being collectively written from the coaching perspective of a principal. She feels connected with the coaching realm because that is the type of leader she is at her school. Jessica feels that her role is to make her teachers better by encouraging, and motivating them to get to the next level.

Reflections from an Elementary School Principal

Jessica’s passion, as exemplified in her tweets, blogs, and facebook likes, is reading. Her background on her blog is, you guessed it, books. In viewing her last 10 posts on her blog, she referenced her reading/student reading, or the importance of reading 80% of the time. Her most discussed concept of late is the Daily 5. She had completely integrated the Daily 5 into her school, but as you would guessed it, she did not mandate it at first, she allowed the teachers, and students to see the importance in their own way. As they moved forward, and she saw the positive impact, the Daily 5 is now the new normal.  She says that the Daily 5 has encouraged more reading at her school by teachers, parents, and students.

Jessica Johnson has been very influential in mentoring me (and countless others) in navigating the power of the PLN. She is always available to assist with technology, twitter, pintrest, and providing feedback on blogs.

The summer is winding down, and I will soon be on vacation. Look for the final posts in the series on other educators making a difference through my conversations with Curt Rees, Shelly Terrell, Lisa Dabbs, and Cool Cat Teacher.

Previous posts dedicated to educators making a difference:  George Couros, Justin Tarte, The Nerdy Teacher, Dwight Carter, Chris Wejr, Todd Whitaker, Erin Klein, Patrick Larkin, Kelly Tenkely

Resources:

#educoach

All things Jessica Johnson

Daily 5