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.
“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” – Frederick Douglass
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.
Last year, Armand’s class in my classroom was featured on a Nureva brochure talking about how we used the SPAN Wall. This year, two of my students are on the brochure describing how the SPAN wall works.
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.
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.
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.
RHS is a top 3 Finalist in the FETC STEM award… a whole school contribution.
We are up against some pretty big competition, science academies in the US. I can’t wait to hear what cool things they do.
If the judges are looking for advanced STEM where we are doing university word problems or research in high school, then I think we will get Bronze. However, if they are looking at how STEM is integrated into the whole school and how the other disciplines infiltrate STEM, if they are looking for a more Renaissance Education, then I think we have a great shot.
After 9 months of pondering, consulting, and planning, it looks like the BRAINSTEM Educator SYmposium is a go for MAY at RHS. How do we teach the whole child in a school of silos? There will be one day of STEAM focus, ONe day of structures, PLC, practices and culture and then a third day at the various break out sessions of Council. We are very luck to have Michael Furdyk to give a keynote, thanks to the high school council.