Monday, July 29, 2013

Problem-Solving Delivery Model—Redefining Cyclic Teaching and Learning

By Dr. Vin Hawkins
Educational Consultant, Former District Leader

student problem-solving skills

In a previous post, I indicated the necessity of problem recognition and solution, going to the reservoir of real, current problems rather than contrived, pre-packaged ones. Problems were categorized as utilitarian, humanity, and global community. 

This post focuses on the optimal instructional environment for this higher-level learning. Problems that make the cut for consideration, and their subsequent solutions, have the following components: embedded content standards, critical and creative thought, inquiry and investigation, information gathering, analysis and synthesis, and collaboration and debate.

In the real world of the 180-day school year, labor-driven education budgets, and glacial movement toward true blended learning, the typical school year and use of personnel is modified the following way:

A cohort of 100 students is taught by four instructional advisors and supported by two learning coaches. Accommodating developmental appropriateness, these cohorts are found at the Foundational (ages 5-8), Exploratory (ages 9-13), and Focused Inquiry (ages 14+) levels. There are three competency tiers within each level: Novice, Intermediate, and Proficient.

This is a dynamic, not static, model. Each size-100 cohort rotates through a series of three interdisciplinary majors (IM) during an academic year, 12 weeks each. For example:

IM1: Mathematics, economics, engineering, science

IM2: Civics & international history, languages, literature, religions & cultures

IM3: Entrepreneurialism, environmental studies, health & physical well-being, performance & visual arts

Adapting the Saturation Learning model, a balance of leveled (Foundational, Exploratory, or Focused Inquiry) instruction and problem-solving occurs daily for 12 weeks for each IM.

Within each Level, students must progress through all three competencies for their particular IM (1st, 2nd, or 3rd) during their 12-week rotation. A demonstrated competency of “proficient” is a student's entrance ticket to the next level (i.e., Exploratory to Focused Inquiry). Cohort groups have the same four-member instructional advisor team and two learning coaches for at most four years (e.g., ages 5-8), an entire level experience. Thus, depending upon age or time-in-level, students can rotate through each IM as much as four times within a particular level, with increased depth at each experience.

An example:

September 1 - November 30: Cohort A experiences IM1; Cohort B (another 100 students) experiences IM2; Cohort C (a third group of 100 students) experiences IM3

December 1 - March 15: Cohort A experiences IM2; Cohort B experiences IM3; Cohort C experiences IM1

March 16 - June 15: Cohort A experiences IM3; Cohort B experiences IM1; Cohort C experiences IM2

Annual "proficiency evidence" determines advancement to subsequent levels, where cohort rotations continue. Each "novice-intermediate-proficient" experience within each level is, of course, more sophisticated and complex than that at the previous level.

Each four-member team's instructional advisors' content knowledge goes beyond one specific subject area in the interdisciplinary major. They are confident and adept at using technology within the context of developmentally appropriate levels, and are competent collaborators among colleagues.

The two instructional coaches are indispensable, and primarily responsible for the following:

· Behavioral support

· Real-time intervention (to prevent any subset of any IM 12-week experience to lag behind)

· Enrichment protocols

· Parent, community, business, higher-education liaison

· Internship and community service requirements

· Senior projects and e-folio monitoring

· Collaborate with the instructional advisor team to determine proficiency validation for level advancement

The advantages to this re-calibration model are compelling. The cumulative learning experience, for each interdisciplinary major, consists of approximately 5000 hours of skill and concept-embedded problem recognition, solution, and justification. Compare this with at most approximately 2300 hours of cumulative exposure to mathematics, 1200 hours of science, and 150 hours of economics in the typical current K-12 experience.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Common Core — Creating Experts in Our Field

Common Core Experts


By Deia Sanders
Master Teacher and Instructional Coach

Yes, we are seeing great teaching and new methods in the classroom thanks to the challenge of meeting the rigor of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and students are able to not only answer questions, but also discuss and communicate deeply on the process. But as an instructional coach, one of the most exciting changes I’m seeing is the improvement in our teachers.

I am in a district where we are currently teaching and writing units of study for ELA and mathematics. For anyone who has tackled this task, you know it’s a long road of pouring your heart, mind, and energy into creating something that almost immediately needs to be changed again. While it may be a daunting and frustrating task to some, it truly is inspiring to others. The growth we’ve seen in our teacher teams tasked with writing these units is unbelievable. They’ve become experts at teaching, merging, researching, and developing ideas, practices, and lessons. We’ve gone from a culture that simply taught the curriculum handed to them on a pacing guide they were forced to keep, to one in which we not only let kids explore and guide the pace of learning, but the methods we use to teach are ones that we’ve had conversations with grade levels below and above to know the level to begin and end the content on.

We no longer make a lesson plan from a guide in a book. We are sitting down with the standards, the Model Content Frameworks, viewing videos, looking at practices, pulling resources, looking at prototypes, writing tasks based on prototypes, talking to other grade levels, creating our own materials, etc.—each lesson is a research project that although may be exhausting, the process creates a true expert that stands in front of kids to teach and facilitate the learning.

When I entered a class last year and the teacher said “we’re just reading today,” it was always just that. This year when I enter a class and they are “just reading,” it’s amazing. The kids are reading alright, but they are charting characters and their traits, making inferences and notes as they read, and coming together on deep discussions on anything from the plot of the book or chapter to if “grandpa” is a character or not because they haven’t had interaction with him yet. Yes, 11-year-olds using the word “interact” to describe a personal experience with a text—and this is “just reading.” In math, the kids are exploring, teaching, developing methods, sharing, and discovering unlike anything I’ve ever seen. The lessons differentiate themselves because almost everything they do is a visual or conversational formative assessment that drives their next step.

I’m thankful for the CCSS and excited about what it’s doing for our students. But the process of digging into the CCSS and expectations of the assessment has created unmatched job-embedded professional development. This experience has taken my colleagues and me from teachers to experts in our field, and that is going to have an unmatched impact on our students!

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's About Problems

By Dr. Vin Hawkins
Educational Consultant, Former District Leader

Isaac Asimov once stated, “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be…” He continues to imply that everyone must assume a science-fiction way of thinking.

Recently, Jon Stewart invited Michio Kaku, City College of New York professor of theoretical physics, and author of Physics of the Future, to The Daily Show. Dr. Kaku’s interesting discussion about asteroids nearly colliding with earth (recently, a large one) and hitting it (in Russia, a small one) set the stage for informing us that a large asteroid could (theoretically) hit the earth in 2036, after making a rather close pass to our atmosphere in 2029—a viable solution to prevent such a cataclysmic event? Physics indicates that a force of substantial magnitude, like a rocket or hydrogen bomb set off on or near the asteroid, could be used to alter its trajectory out of earth’s path. Now that’s an example of tackling one huge problem by some very smart people.

The electronic revolution has spawned instant access to all the content knowledge and underlying minutia one desires. Solutions to 21st century problems, albeit more earthly than the one cited above, are just as compelling. Previous generations debated what knowledge is of most worth (Spencer), and what content is of most worth (Elliot). Students today (and we are all students), must address what problems are of most worth. Problem recognition and solution must assume a prioritized position in our educational enterprise:

By the year 2025 the number of countries that will experience water scarcity will increase by nearly 100%. That translates to about 10% of the earth’s population. Problems: Governance, etc.

It is projected that by the year 2043, the minority will be the majority in the United States (50.1% non-white). Problems: Geographic shifts, etc.

By the year 2030, 60% of the world’s population will be urbanized. Problems: Public transportation, etc.

By the year 2040, 50% of the world’s countries will be using renewable energy. Problems: Economic, etc.

Problems such as these, categorized as utilitarian, humanity, and/or global community, are indicative of the engine that needs to drive instruction. Problems that are skill-embedded, interdisciplinary, real (not contrived), collected from respected sources, as well as personal curiosity and motivation are best addressed by students who are astute in problem-solving skills such as critical and creative thinking, debate, time management, ethics, rapid-change adaptation, inquiry, dilemmas and decision-making, and are comfortable in integrating historically diverse subjects (content convergence).

At a recent TED talk, (Sir) Ken Robinson stated that a longitudinal assessment of divergent thinking showed a rather stark decrease in student ability in this area between kindergarten and high school. No surprise, given the traditional, industrialized factory model of compartmentalizing both student and subject that contribute to the moribund state of far too many classrooms and schools. Students need to be emancipated from the inertia that restricts their entrepreneurial spirit while balancing characteristics that define an educated person.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Are Teachers Prepared? A New Test Could Be the Way to Find Out

For many occupations, there is at least one overarching test that gives aspiring professionals the credentials to work in their respective fields. No matter the level of education received, if a lawyer doesn’t pass the bar exam, he cannot practice law.

In December, CNN published an article that discussed a report advocating an entry exam for all teacher candidates, like the bar exam taken by aspiring lawyers, issued by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

The AFT report, titled “Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession,” included a statement by AFT president Randi Weingarten:

“We must do away with a common rite of passage, whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they (and their students) sink or swim. Such a haphazard approach to the complex and crucial enterprise of educating children is wholly inadequate. It’s unfair to both students and teachers, who want and need to be well prepared to teach from their first day on the job. At a time when we are raising the standards for students through the Common Core State Standards, we must do the same for teachers.”

The report recommends that the exam be multidimensional and include subject knowledge as well as pedagogical knowledge. In other words, in addition to having to know the subject they teach, teachers would have to demonstrate that they had the qualities to be “caring, competent and confident.”

The test, which would be required of all future teachers nationwide, would be given to candidates regardless of whether they enter the profession through traditional means or “an alternative route.”

What do you think? If an exam like this were to exist, would it make a major impact on the preparedness of teachers in classrooms?