Brainstem screens “Most Likely to Succeed”

IMG_8127Thanks to Michael Fox, we were able to show the video, “Most Likely to Succeed”. There were ten of us tonight. Not bad considering it is the last week of classes.

It started out talking about how AI is going to fairly quickly make the middle class obsolete and then what? It talked about the conflict between getting good grades and scores on SATs to get into college vs having the skills to perform once you are there and/or in the work force. If you don’t have the scores, will you get in? What good does it do to get in if you can’t perform when you are there? Do you have to take one option or the other?

This conflict of grades is one of the reasons why we have purposefully eliminated all enriched science classes and created a new system of essentials and extensions. Previously, there were student who should be in the enriched class, but chose not to in order to take the easy way to an inflated grade. Likewise, there were students who would sign up for the enriched class, but quickly figured out that they were over their heads and were now stuck in a class. Our Essentials-Extensions model makes is possible to anyone to get what they need to just pass for those who are struggling and forces ALL students to perform at an enriched level should they want to get their high mark. There is no easy way to an inflated grade anymore.

At High Tech High, the idea of students getting their variety of topics and disciplines comes not from their choice of a variety of classes but rather in a more personalized way by carefully assigning tasks to students within a multidisciplinary project. So one gets to behave like a director, while another gets to behave like a graphic artist and still another gets to be a mechanical engineer, all inside a history project.
I like how they started taking video at the start of a year and then periodically returned to get the whole picture. I truly think we should do this with a couple of students coming from the middle school. I think that the new sequence we are preparing for them as they travel from our new Math-Science 9 and 10 and the new way we are doing English 9 to Armand’s Modern History and my chemistry in their grade 11 year, and finally Armand’s world issues, and my physics 11, 12 and Science 12 in their grad year, will provide a step towards the right direction while staying inside the confines of our current system. Someday, maybe I will get asked to help us be free of the current system. Until then, we are looking for some steps in preparation.

The Science 12 class has been trying to do this multidisciplinary project for a while. The Science 12 classes entered two projects into the Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge. One of them placed third. They did not really need the money, but they did need the mentorship. Next time, we will make sure that the mic is on before their time starts and that everyone is paying attention so that they do not have to drop their most important sentence that they actually engineered their own automated hive that should help combat the pesticide and mite problem experienced by the bees.

The documentary talked lots about skills versus knowledge. I believe that there are lots who are on the bubble who would switch to competencies/skills IF there was some way to measure them and assess them, more that just a gut intuition “feels like”. When I can measure it, then I will teach it.

The documentary stirred a great conversation that lasted almost 1 hr afterwards on a school day, past supper time on the last week.

Brainstem Symposium

brainstem symposium
From Coach K
I recently attended the BrainSTEM Symposium at Riverview High School (RHS). This was a multi-day event held during school hours to showcase how a school can look, feel, and operate when faculty shifts focus from teaching subjects and students to growing humans.
The symposium’s focus was not to tell educators about a fancy new methodology but rather to show how a real school is growing, how students are responding, and developing, and how it can be done. The how-to happened on both a micro level (individual student successes and different classes) and a macro level (whole school changes, and organisational strategies.
I was able to speak with teachers and students, in their classes, about some issues critical to student success:
1. How RHS teachers focus on a finite number of curriculum outcomes in each class (the ones truly necessary for later success in life) for students to pass the course. While others (the ones necessary to behave like a chemist/historian/mathematician) are EXTRA and require boat loads of work to make up the mark between 60-100.
1. The FOCUS is the important part. As students can no longer just get random marks here and there that add up to 60%. 60% is a defined set of skills and knowledge
2. How RHS Teachers spend small portions of each day helping students in a “Working Period” that is optional for students. Teachers alternate between working periods and class specific teacher meetings each day. This allows students to get regular help when they need it. Get extended breaks when they do not need help. While also giving teachers time to meet with each other during school hours.
3. I was also able to see how students are given real opportunities to grow themselves, regarding passions and soft skills. These students work on semester and year-long projects that focus on real world issues and interests. The students actually build solutions to problems. They mix chemicals, carve wood, wire robots, call municipal officials, MLAs, MPs, and professionals and more.
1. These student-led projects aren’t the same old school projects with the option to choose between making a powerpoint presentation, movie, or website. This is an entire learning experience with a purpose.
The BrainSTEM Symposium was more than an interesting experience. The highlights I listed are just a sampling of what was going on at RHS. However, the lessons of the symposium are bigger than lesson plans and projects.
School can be different; School HAS to change. Our students are living in an ever-changing world. We can no longer pretend to know what their working and personal lives will look like. We do not know what knowledge and hard skills the students need. However, we know they need to know how to change. They need to know how to make decisions, solve problems, find knowledge, learn skills, create new things.
School has to change, and RHS is trying to show us how it can change.
Coach K
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass

Global Collaborations between high school students in Canada and primary students in the UK

This year, Pheasey Park Elementary students in the UK asked my high school physics students to collaborate with them on their “inventions that changed the world”.

They spent some time making models of inventions that changed the world and created a SPAN Canvas. The canvas was large enough that all three Grade 3 classes had space to present each individual model.

My high school students conducted a similar activity and came up with their own list. They were quite different.

Is the UN an invention??

Then my students got to work with the Y3 UK SPAN canvas and were able to make comments and ask questions. The UK students were going to use our questions and comments to make improvements.

While presenting the work at #FETC in Orlando, there were three teachers who got teary eyed when we showed the canvas and talked the walk.

Ian at Nureva Booth FETC 2017

RHS Team travels to Orlando

I have been to lots of conferences all over the world, but almost always by myself. This time, we were able to bring a small team, my Vice Principal and a Grade 10 French Immersion Science Teacher. Although they have travelled before, they had never really been to a large conference before. Our Science teacher soaked everything up. Her eyes were huge the whole time, both physically and metaphorically.

I think it was inspiring and encouraging to know that RHS is “in the game”. It was fun to be one degree of separation from JK Rolling, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. The fact that we placed 2nd, showed that other people think we are doing great things. We can compete on a large scale and people are interested in what we are doing. It was also exciting to see all the cool directions that are possible.

Our Science teacher was beaming all day long leading up to the Karaoke.  She was awesome!! Unfortunately, she was placed 1st in the roster. So many people came up to her afterwards and talked about how she should have won. She lost to ice-ice Baby and Baby Got Back.

Nureva was particularly attentive to my friends. After long days on the floor, the Nureva crew took time to come and see our science teacher perform at Karaoke. My two friends were so impressed that  Nureva showed up. I have been working with them for a while, it did not surprise me at all. It is just another example of the fine people that they are.

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RHS top 2 Finalist for FETC High School STEM award

RHS was the first international submission to the FETC High School Award, where we placed top 2. In our presentation, at an ed tech conference, we talked little about technology, rather how we structured our school day and how we do our assessment. Some of the Keynotes were there and tweeted when we discussed how we find time during the school day for teachers to get together and collaborate, and how we find time during the school day to provide tier 2 interventions for struggling students without pulling them out of classes.

dave at FETCIMG_6882

Because teachers have time to plan and we are confident that students know the essentials, we have some time, creativity and freedom to take some short detours including passion projects.