On the Digital World and Culture

When we look ahead to the sorts of things that could be happening (especially where every learner is saddled with an Internet-capable device) in our classrooms and beyond…

Online in 60 Seconds

I just caught this image in a Facebook post by Will Richardson and it made me return here to record and share a few thoughts.


I think the infographic above begs this question:

“If this is already happening- if this is a truly a baseline average of what is currently happening online in a rather generic way, how do we harness the power of participatory culture for learning?”


It begs questions relating to relevance. It also begs for discussion about meeting kids where they are. It also makes me reflect on the theme of a rather powerful meeting this morning regarding “culture.” Is the culture we seek to create in school… from scratch and of our own doing? Or are these questions also an element of the debate? How can we also credit the culture being created today, and not only bring students into the fold of our vision, but also join them in new places to co-create a culture of learning for the future?

From where I sit, it is no longer a question of if we should. It hasn’t been. A few are already embracing these channels for good, and have been for some time. In my reality of classrooms soaked in the ubiquity of personal computing, I could easily be misled into thinking this is already the norm in many places. I’ve seen some pretty wise examples of this firsthand with teachers I work with. Yet, the reality is:  the sort of smart, purposeful embrace of new media for learning I’m talking about is still existing only in pockets.

And yet, I think that if we aren’t yet at least asking these tough questions, we’re behind. Television captured attention in its day. Digital gaming was perhaps the next cultural crack to vie for the attention of youth. Today it is the web. Each of these entities was potentially more all-consuming than the previous…  or potentially liberating. Yes, much of what is in this graphic is still little more than noise. That says little of the potential here. I believe it to be your mindset that largely frames the issue.

Delaney With Hermit Crab


Do I think life and learning does or should exist solely in a virtual world? No. Not even close. Trolling back through the hundreds of posts here will show this to be true. I have been a life sciences teacher for 21 years. I have been a parent for the past six. I want all children to learn by touching, smelling and interacting with the real world. I want them to learn deeply and rather slowly at times.

I also want to credit the modern world that currently engulfs us. I want smart teachers leading the way. I want balance in these things. I have long been of the opinion that playing “defense” and plugging away on a path that doesn’t credit modern communication channels is just, well…  nearly malpractice. Truly embracing these changes might be down the path for you and your organization, but that doesn’t mean you cannot engage in these tough questions as you strive to build a nimble and complete learning environment for the young people you serve.

Thank you………..  drive through.



*Will Richardson, who has pushed my thinking for well over half a decade.
*Dr. White’s Leadership Team address today that heavily featured the topic of school culture.
*My wife, Erin (pictured above) for being that kind of Mom to our girls.



Online Learning Networks in Science – An Interview

In keeping with the concept of using this blog as not only a synthesis of what I think, but also of what I do, I add this post. Last week I recorded a telephone interview with the folks at natureEDUCATION on the topic of online learning networks in science education. The time I spent on the phone with Ilona Miko, Senior Scientific Editor for Life Sciences, made me realize why it is that she is doing the podcast and I typically stick to the printed (digitally) word. She’s a pro from the word go.

You wouldn’t think I have a fear of publishing or sharing in any way. And yet, I’ve always had a distaste for the sound of my own voice. I cherish real human communication. I thrive on face to face chats…  even virtual versions via Skype, etc. However, hearing a recorded version of my voice always reminds of of Kermit the frog with laryngitis. Perhaps even share-junkies have their Achilles heel. Now that I think about it, considering my avatar, some of you might even see the first image of my mug where I appear sane.

Nature EdCast

Scitable is an open online collaborative learning space within the nature publishing group. If you are a science teacher, or you know one, you’d be doing a favor by forwarding the link to a friend or colleague. NatureEdCast is a podcast featuring some interesting folks from many perspectives.  If you get a chance, check out some of the previous twelve episodes here.  I’m honored to have been selected to share a few minutes on this program. I think I sound like I’m having a phone conversation (complete with near giggles a couple of times), but hey… I guess I actually was. By the end I think we hit on some issues that are important to the world of education, and even science education in particular.  See what you think.

If I had to pick the one thing from the episode I’m most proud of, it would be the fact that although the title features the text “Online Learning Networks,” a significant portion of the program is about students being outdoors, on-site, in nature, and learning with all five senses. Living online is not my style. I’d never want to build a name for that. Although, if done well, extending our classrooms through space and time into the digital world can enhance learning for all students. For that, I’ll sign my name.


Principals as Teachers Part II – Early feedback

Once again

Yesterday in “Principals as Teachers” I pitched a general proposal that would encourage and empower principals to cross some artificial lines we have created in the business of public schooling.  Sure, we could have allowed building principals all along to retain the teacher hat and with it-  many of the potential benefits I spoke of yesterday.  I’m sure it’s done somewhere.  Odds are, it almost has to take place, right?  We’re a big, diverse country that has invented more than one way to tackle a problem.  Actually, now that I think down this line, it must be at least a strange enough idea that I don’t personally know a school system that has done this.  I’m sure they’re out there.  There’s no way the idea of allowing an administrator to retain a classroom is that bizarre.

Surely the entirety of our public school system isn’t as monotonously vanilla as to not have any school system at least experimenting along these lines.  It’s an info-rich world out there.  In my experience, if you can think it, there’s a good chance that you’re not the first…  and that makes someone out there somewhere…  your potential best friend to come.  Or hey, perhaps it’s that out-of-bounds.  Perhaps I finally found a really edgy proposition that rides the true margin of what is being done.  Not likely.  I understand statistics better than that.  I’d love to chat with administrators who have retained the “teaching” hat in their school.  I’d love to hear the pros and cons from someone with insider knowledge.  Anyone?

Earth Science Distance Learning Event

The whole thing reminds me to the “distance learning” discussions that were once had in my district (and elsewhere) once the technology to allow such a thing had finally matured.  If a gadget is out there…  I can promise you we have one somewhere in a closet.  You know the drill:

  • Step 1) Plop a teacher in front of a camera in one building.
  • Step 2) Sit kids in rows around a massive TV monitor in the same place in another building all at the same time.
  • Step 3) Essentially add electricity and awkwardness to a nearly century-old instructional model that has outlasted its match to society.

I avoided that scenario like the plague in its day.  To some it sounded edgy and forward-thinking.  To me, it would have stifled the open classroom environment that I work so hard to create.  I’m glad the shine of that promise has dulled a bit.  Don’t get me wrong, if you’re in a rural area with little else to do in order to get the coursework your students desperately desire, that approach might still be worth the effort.

Fast forward to the past five years or so when freely-accessible, digital, two-way communication tools became ubiquitous.  Many of those tools allow a pretty slick asynchronous connection as well.  At the very least, the addition of read/write digital tools today could add an element of interactivity and presence “outside of class” to make such a venture meaningful today.  It is the advent of these various simple tools that allow an interplay between synchronous and asynchronous communication modes that I believe brings us to the realm of feasibility.  And by feasibility here, I mean… getting some smart cookies back into a classroom experience of sorts.  Getting more smart folks into the game at the ground level will help keep us from ever heading recklessly down a path of fully online instruction until we can do so to a high standard.

Barbershop Quartet

Initial feedback

Before pitching ideas that seem to come from fuzzy internal space, I tend to find my favorite filters.  By “filters” I mean trusted colleagues who will shoot me straight.  I think it’s important not to filter everything you wish to assert, but when stepping out of the box a bit, it helps to seek the advice of friends in the know.  Having smart and passionate friends is a good thing.  I highly recommend it.

The first person I pitched these ideas to was Roberta Dias, a friend of mine and principal of Bode Middle School in Saint Joseph.  She’s been a trusted friend and a model administrator for years.  Roberta said that she agreed on many of the aspects of such a plan.  However, she added a really excellent addition with regard to collaboration and personal learning.  In her feedback, she said that rather than teach a course she was personally certified in (Business Ed.), she would rather team with someone teaching science since that is the subject area where she is charged with facilitating district professional development.  To me, that idea was golden.  No better way for an administrator in charge of PD to see the ground floor aspects of its application.  Roberta seemed to think that even though some might balk at the additional work load, this might be valuable enough to warrant such a thing.

Luke McCoy is the Assistant Principal of Benton High School.  I’m pleased to say that I’ve been able to work side by side with Luke for the past couple of years.  He is a thoughtful and considerate leader.  He rarely jumps to conclusions and often returns to a discussion after much thought and reflection.  That is exactly what Luke did in this case as well.  In his words, “…after I got past the whoa, dude, I have three little kids and zero extra time…  night supervision, committee work, etc., I came up with the following.”  Below is a synopsis of Luke’s replies:

  • I would LOVE to collaborate with another administrator on something like this.  I think we’d learn a ton in the process.  Talk about breaking down some walls.  Our district needs those walls broken down, in my opinion.
  • I think we could also offer PD to staff in such a fashion.  We’re not far from that.
  • Collaborating with a teacher on an online course would be very interesting.  The conversations that are limited because I am no longer a direct practitioner anymore would suddenly have more juice.
  • Credit recovery courses?  (and not from a can!?! <=my emphasis)
  • What about a summer course for incoming freshmen when we go 1:1 that really preps them for the upcoming adventure of high school?  That would certainly be a hook for getting the computer early.  If the first taste of high school was such positive instructional interaction (in their world) with a master teacher or administrator… can you imagine?
  • This might also impact my relationship with staff members.  I would be forced to talk instructionally with a variety of folks beyond what I currently do.  Asking questions, seeking advice, the opportunity for real collaboration.  Takes a principal “from the wheelhouse to the rail.” (Deadliest Catch reference).  This could help change the climate of a building.

Deadliest Catch's Sea Star

I’ll let Luke comment on any of the rest, as he continued to stream in new thoughts and ideas via email after our initial back and forth.  The final featured feedback I will mention come from Corey Vorthmann and Jeanette Westfall.  The initial feedback from Corey & Jeanette was more focused on the inability to devote their true attention to teaching when they have such a steady list of duties already.  To be honest, this is more of what I thought I’d receive from building administrators.  I’ve seen what they face during the day, and I understand the hesitation to look at wearing another hat…  even if it is a favorite hat from days past.  Corey and I chatted via Facebook chat and forgive me for not taking notes, but we were likely both tired.  It was late.  In busy times, I could only connect with Jeanette, co-principal of Benton High School via a series of emails.  Again, Jeanette’s first reply was closer to what I thought I might get from many building administrators.  At the end of a long and frustrating day, she provided an excellent litany of the potential frustrations and challenges of principals as teachers.  Like I said, these are people that will tell me I’m off if I’m off.

The very next day I received another email that started out “oh wow…,” that sought to deliver a more rounded appraisal of such an endeavor.  She said, “I find the idea very intriguing.  I like the connection with kids.  That in itself lures me.  I do wonder if I would enjoy doing this outside of the scheduled school day, but I suppose if I were compensated it would be much like teaching a college class.”  She then went on to say, “Does that change what my teachers think of me?  I don’t necessarily think so.  I think that can even work against you in some ways.”

So at least I now have this idea “on paper” so to speak.  I tend to use this blog very personally and do not market it in such a lean way as to draw a large readership, nor to get everyone to read every post to its intended end.  I use this space as a way to think…  to reflect…  to share…  and sometimes to lay out the foundation of projects, beliefs, assertions, or policy changes I’d like to see.  If you’re reading this far into this two-post adventure, you are in too deep.  I promise lighter and more universal fare next week.  ;)


*”Earth Science Distance Learning Event with Dr. James Hansen” by NASA Goddard Photo and Video on Flickr
*”Barbershop Quartet” by Eric Kilby on Flickr
*”Deadliest Catch’s Sea Star” by Shawn McClung on Flickr

Principals as Teachers

Defining a title

In my neck of the woods, we have a state & foundation-funded organization (Parents as Teachers) that supports parents in their quest to educate children during those crucial first three formative years.  Far too much data suggests that being significantly behind by age four can all too accurately predict failure in our current school systems.  I don’t need to tell you that.  Decide for yourself what that says about our educational system vs. the biological importance of learning as an infant/toddler.

That said, here’s my personal take of the program’s mission:  support parents during these years.  It’s not that we don’t inherently know that parents are a child’s most influential teacher — particularly when young.  But, we do know that many parents can use the support at this critical juncture.  From what I’ve seen personally, folks associated with this program work within the very homes of the community they serve, not to tell parents what to do, but rather to provide powerful support for them as they undertake one of the most important roles of a parent.

our girls reading

In this case, the name of the initiative is as succinct as it gets.  Parents as Teachers. What I would like to entertain in this post is the idea of allowing principals to once again be teachers.  At least in my neck of the woods, principals are teachers…  and importantly, still hold certification to directly do so within a classroom.

The carryover

So what about this role principals currently have as school leaders?  Again, I can safely say that in my world, school leaders have been well vetted as of late as true instructional leaders.  Likening that to the mission of Parents as Teachers, our principals have a rather similar role in many respects.  Our school leaders really do support instructional growth.  They do this not only through the classical “Performance Based Teacher Evaluation” system, but also through direct development and implementation of professional development in both formal and very informal settings.  Our principals wear far…  far more than just the “manager” hat of old.  I’m sure that’s true in other places as well.  It may or may not be the norm just yet.

Principals still aren’t typically labeled as “teachers” any more than parents are. However, their roles are similar in that they both actively promote and support learning.  In my opinion, the main thing both can do to promote learning is to help shape the environment so that learning can take place.

Our district, like many in 2010, is actively engaged in learning about shifts in culture and communications, and yes…  a significant element of that is the role modern technology plays in supporting learning goals and environments.  With Will Richardson’s direct input and facilitation, together we will be exploring the role technology plays in the shifting of our school and societal culture as we embark on new school improvement plans for the future.

If you can safely say that principals are strong instructional leaders and self-reflective learners in your system, then what I’m able to pitch won’t seem such a stretch…

Doing leads to deep understanding

Our leaders are sound leaders in the methods of classroom instruction.  They also have the benefit of instructional coaches who provide direct, in-classroom support for teachers and their professional development goals.   During the past few years, each of our principals has also teamed with curriculum coordinators to plan and facilitate content-based professional development for all of our secondary schools.  Our curricular goals are problem-based, they are inquiry-oriented and they are of the workshop model.  That means that if you’re a TPACK fan, we’re getting 2/3 of the way to a really sweet spot at the center of teaching and learning today.  We need the other 1/3.  We are ready to turn a focus toward gaining the understanding and skills we need to foster deep technological understanding within our teaching force.

In a nutshell, just as pedagogy and content weigh heavily in our support of teachers and administrators, technology must also receive its due.  It’s high time, and locally…  I think we’re ready to roll.


The third integral puzzle piece

We choose good teacher leaders to ultimately lead schools because, well…  it just makes sense.  Many of my colleagues have moved on to administrative roles, and their current roles now arguably have a wider influence.  And really, to take it to the most basic level…  principals evaluate teaching.  We want that evaluator to possess an intimate awareness of an effective classroom.  Thus drives the move of a teacher-leader out of the classroom and into the world of Administration.  As teachers we have often seen the direct and immediate short-term loss of value for our students when good teachers move out of the classroom.  There is nothing like the face to face interaction with students in classroom.  Ask an effective administrator if he/she doesn’t often miss classroom interaction with students.

Missing it certainly doesn’t equate to having time for it in a terribly strenuous schedule.  I’d venture a guess that in this world of hyper-accountability by federally-mandated exams…  few school systems allow for their administrators to retain at least one classroom with kids.  I personally can’t imagine asking a building administrator to do “one more thing.”  But yet…  what if the tools existed that might allow a principal a small role again working directly as teacher, or co-teacher, to a group of students?  If the situation could be made feasible, would principals find value in returning to the role of a teacher in a small but new capacity?

The virtual classroom

There is no doubt that a significant sector of the educational world has moved to an online venue… for better or worse.  I, for one, have never viewed fully-online courses as anything but a necessity in certain cases.  I’ve taken a few in grad school.  Frankly, those went over like a tray of turds at a cocktail party.  I have personally been an aggressive adopter of online tools into my classroom as a way to extend conversations and to empower students as independent learners.  There is too often a palpable difference between “online course” and “online learning.”  All too often the overlap of the two is inadequate in the world of online education.

That said, it appears that as a nation, we’re ultimately going there in some fashion.  I think it is too easy to see the future of this.  Without outlining all of the pros & cons, it is clear that online options would allow more student choice and flexibility.  The cons are pretty simple in my opinion…  there just aren’t many folks out there right now who can do this well.  Essentially:  just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you can do it well.  If my district is to embrace fully-online learning environments (or even blended courses- interesting commentary on that in this post) at some point in the future, you can bet that we’ll do so after careful consideration and study.  Again-  I’m pretty sure this is a quality control issue that no one wants to fail.  However, I doubt it is any more of a serious quality control issue than it is in purely face to face classrooms.  Perceptions of strange new things tend to be far scarier than the familiar.

Here’s one thing I know, as a district we can sit the bench and ultimately swallow the future options that arise from the state level or worse…  or we can get really smart and make our own breaks on the local level.  The way I see it, we’re on a pretty steep peak when it comes to things like this.  Moving a certain amount of “schooling” into completely online formats will either be a really powerful thing, or a really big fail.  I doubt there will be much room for “meh.”  When new ventures begin with such a strong level of skepticism, it’s easy for folks to call for scrubbing the mission before the messiest parts have even subsided.  And when the futures of children are at stake, it is tough to be skeptical of the skeptics.

Enter the principal

We’ll form a committee.  We’ll develop action plans.  We’ll create a vision for what we would want out of something like this before it ever starts in earnest.  But here’s what we need on that committee…  a wide and diverse set of stakeholders with varying levels of experience in such matters.  Crowds of decision makers can be smart, but according to James Surowiecki, they must be diverse and capable of independent input.  It has also been shown that all members of such a decision-making group need not be experts.  However, it is crucial that some are.  How do we gain experts?  We support our people and allow the environment to grow expertise.  In this venue, I would define experts as those folks who have ground-level experience fostering student learning through online environments. Frankly, this “expert” input should be diverse as well.  It cannot be just one or two teachers.

I would argue that we also need representation from the administrative set.  Those folks directly involved with designing and developing professional development need to be in that room.  Those folks charged with assessing and evaluating the performance of teachers in the classroom need to be in that room.  They need to be in that room-  and they need to have their hands dirty with experience.  These won’t be “your grandfather’s” classrooms.  How do you evaluate something you’ve never done?  We are fairly comfortable allowing former teacher standouts to move into administrative roles and assess teacher performance.  We know they have “walked the walk” themselves.  This is a different case.  This digital shift will be a profound one.  It is one that will affect nearly everything from curriculum to pedagogy to…  well, if done well, it might just challenge the sacred Carnegie unit.

How do students measure up?

Just imagine for a moment, principals empowered to take on at least a share of a for-credit online course in your local district.  Imagine this being done solo, or co-taught with another principal in a neighboring building, an instructional coach, or any other teacher for that matter.  It’s easy to allow the “yeah buts” to come rushing in.  It’s natural for that to happen.  But once you’ve had time to allow that to settle, think of the potential positives in your learning communities.  Think about the “cost vs. benefit ratio” if you’re so inclined to such language.  Aside from building tech-savvy assessors & consultants, I can think of a solid list of purposeful fringe benefits that might also be true in our district.  Might these be true in yours?

  • Administrators would have a small way back onto the ground floor of teaching and learning.  Asynchronous digital tools can help a busy principal.
  • In the building where a principal is also a teacher, skeptical teachers or students might more readily see the instructional leader as just that.  Enhanced credibility.
  • Deep, positive relationships with the students of your building… the sort of relationships you sometimes lose when moving into administration.  Good for the passionate soul.
  • An ability to intimately explore new PD initiatives alongside staff on a more “level playing field.”  Credibility and empathy.
  • Allow more freedom of choice in student course selections during a jam-packed master-schedule during the day.  The economy is rough.  Student choices are down.
  • Foster potentially powerful relationships amongst leaders across content and school lines.  The walls need a few bricks removed in my corner of the world.  Yours too, huh?

Take an hour, a day, or a week to let this bounce around.  After that time, come back and let me know what you think.  Sure-  bring the noise on the things that would hold back such an initiative.  But also, bring your creativity.  What have I missed?  Who or what would someone going down this path want to know, read or listen to?  I’d love to see our leaders afforded this opportunity.  I’d also love to see the benefits our kids would get from such an endeavor as well.  It’s a strong hunch.  I’m not married to the idea, but let’s just say, “we’ve been seeing each other pretty seriously as of late.”

End of Part I

Come back tomorrow for Part II where we’ll read a few of the early thoughts on such an initiative through the eyes of several of my colleagues who happen to be current principals.  You might just be surprised…

National Tree Day


*”our girls reading”, yep…  my girls…  photographer:  me.
*TPACK framework diagram, Drs. Punya Mishra & Matt Koehler, MSU
*”How do students measure up?” by Krissy Venosdale on Flickr
*”National Tree Day” by Powerhouse Museum on Flickr

Is This a Sluggish Strategy?

The following verse was created in response to and in reflection on the following mass-media story:  Sea Slug Surprise: It’s half-plant, half-animal.  Overall, this post starts with a bit of participation and play, continues with the story of how the “Sci-Po” fun began, how I gave it a shot in the classroom, and why this sort of thinking matters.  It then ends with a few specific resources for biology teachers.

Elysia chlorotica

Is this a sluggish strategy?

Thieving genes seems crazy to me
When seeking food in the mighty sea.
It doesn’t take a Phd
To locate a parcel of green algae.

And yet this shell-free busy bee,
A sea slug with a far lesser degree,
Attempts to boost his MPG
By somehow producing chlorophyll b.

My thoughts on this: In harmony.
I appreciate getting food for free.
Many beasts have green devotees
With sugar secretion their docking fee.

It isn’t merely charity
This molluskan peculiarity,
For algae ultimately die in this
Symbiotic irregularity.

This may seem like barbarity:
Genetic coup of the highest degree.
But I’d bet when we search we’ll see
Biological regularity.

Though no degree from MIT,
I know a fair bit of biology.
I’m nowhere near insanity,
This twist: a slant I just I failed to foresee.

Perhaps we’ll get some new study
That changes the rules for you and for me.
Starvation ebbs, but we shall see:
Would we submit to our skin being green?

What is a “Sci-Po”

Sci-Po.  You read it correctly.  A digital (thus far) friend of mine, Dr. Punya Mishra (who is an associate professor of Educational Technology at Michigan State University), recently wrote a post on his blog about a little project that his daughter had been working on. Shreya is ten years old and writes at Uniquely Mine, her blog. Give it a look- I think you’ll like it.

Punya wrote about the blog and the “Sci-Po’s” within it as a comment on this blog post of mine about some truly ugly mathematical poetry within Mother Goose.  Everything up to and including these two blog posts was completely unrelated.  Months later, another comment to this post was made by Sue VanHattum, a community-college math teacher in California. She then wrote a blog post challenging her readers to write a positive poem about either the beauty or significance of math. Even her first comment by a reader named John is rather impressive.

Punya then responded to this whole woven set of communications by people from all over…  and of very diverse ages. His post on this emerging phenomenon: “Poetry, Science & Math, OR why I love the web.” He was then inspired enough to write a few Math-Po’s of his own.

What’s a guy to do?

At this point, I had to shift my personal involvement in this issue over to my teacher identity and present this little instructional sub-genre of poetry to my students.  By this point in the year, they are likely rather comfy with new.  Be sure to check out the developing thread on our classroom network regarding SciPo’s.  At our last meeting, I invited my students to play along.  I suggested finding any single reading from this past semester as a starting point.  Below is what I personally see as the anatomy of a “Sci-Po” (or a “Math-Po” for that matter).  Allow me to suggest a protocol:

  • Read an interesting article in a field of science (I teach biology, thus the more specific origin of our work).
  • Re-tell the article in your head.  This is summarizing folks.  It is not an autonomic reaction.  Many have published this fact.  At the very least, demonstrate this for your students before you assign it.
  • Reflect on why the article matters.  If it doesn’t have lasting impact, then don’t use it.
  • Retell the main ideas from the article in poetic verse.  You may choose to go back to the original Mother Goose verse and spin yours as well with a sing-songish rhyme.  Somehow I think this even adds a step in the challenge direction.  Try it yourself, you’ll see what I mean.  The poem above is my shot at a Sci-Po.  It came from an article we used for a read aloud earlier in the week.  I cannot imagine expecting students to do something you aren’t doing along with them.  You shouldn’t either.
  • Link back to the article in your post.  My students seem to have taken to creating this link within the text of their poem.
  • Publish in some open Internet forum.
  • Reflect.
  • Communicate.
  • Rinse.
  • Repeat.

The other thing you must understand at this point is that as a classroom project, this one was thus far done in a vacuum.  During this first trial, my students were provided virtually zero instruction toward composing poetry.  Several remarked that they had never actually been required to author their own work in a related genre.  I say this to be fair to those students.  This is experimentation out loud.  As a science teacher, I feel that it is imperative that I give my students the opportunity to explore biology through many other lenses that carry the potential for personal engagement.  I say this because, as of now, that thread includes scientific poetry that is the result of 100% inspiration and 0% instruction in terms of constructing poetic verse.

Let’s get this straight:  I’d love to provide this instruction.  Time is always the issue here.  Even students who feel comfortable with this genre could learn from content instructors with differing vantage points.  However, our current NCLB-influenced curricula almost inhibit such a crossover approach.  Disclaimer:  My Dual-Credit Biology curriculum currently permits experimentation.  My students earn one-university-semester worth of work (5 credit-hours) in an entire high school year.  We have time to enhance and explore.

Personally, I’d find a way to make something this rich work in my classroom at some point regardless.  However, as an instructional coach who has worked with many teachers in the course of the past four years, I would understand the hesitation to do so.  Since NCLB, our core curricula have become more broad, and yet more screwed-down to specifics.  This tends to inhibit innovation.  And yet we must push through that somehow.  The more these content goals are lasered, the more rich pedagogy gets clipped in a vain attempt to meet such specific goals.  The more pedagogy gets clipped, the more student engagement is allowed to plummet.  Lack of student engagement is the first step toward disaster.  Anyone care to talk graduation rates with me?  How did we get to this topic from…  scientific poetry?

simplicity is hard

At this point in my life as an 18 year educator with two toddlers, I seem to see fewer silos and restraints on what we do during the day as teachers than many folks do.  I realize that perhaps the best thing I can contribute to education (outside of what I do in the classroom) is to show folks that there is an alternative to shooting disparate facts into the heads of kids.  In writing that sentence I realize that I intend to stand up for a philosophy of education that pushes beyond segmented practice and into a space where students can find something that inspires them to thinking deeply about new things… whatever those are determined to be.

I believe in and I am certainly analytical enough to help teachers hone in on specific curricular goals with laser precision.  However, I somehow seem to find myself more frequently asking, “why wouldn’t you consider connecting this to that?”  I hope our national system doesn’t soon drive us all to the point where those connections go the way of the dinosaur.

If you are still rather rigidly delivering disconnected lectures in secondary science and mathematics…  find a way out.  If doing anything else feels too fluffy or out-of-sorts, grab a constructivist colleague by the sleeve.  Sit with someone doing things differently.  Find a consultant.  Give another approach a try.  If you really are that traditional, then I certainly recognize the potential for this blog to annoy the daylights out of you.  For another… since you are still reading, I wish you’d have seen the faces of my kids during the 30 minutes of class time I allowed them to explore this on Friday.  I am accustomed to engaged kids, but these were the furrowed brows of surgeons in a pinch.  I love it.  I plan to continue working on it.  I’d love to do so inclusively.  Anyone want to play along?

Content matters?

For the biology educators:  this blog post is a rather nice outline (more content than MSNBC above) of the ecology of the aforementioned little critter.  New Scientist does this one nicely as well.  Even better, Dr. Mary Rumpho, at the University of Maine has a nice little website advocating, as well as supporting, the use of Elysia chlorotica as a model classroom organism for study.  There seem to be a ton of positives to this.  I once had a student keep a colony of hundreds of Hydra viridissima alive and thriving for months (until Christmas break) for an independent research project… and those are some delicate beasts to keep.  Biology teachers: (and perhaps many elementary educators) I suggest giving them a try.


*Image of Elysia chlorotica.  This one is now all over the web, and sadly, it is tough to nail down the origin.  Therefore, no citation, nor linky.  Anyone?
*”simplicity is hard” by Will Lion on Flickr