Tuesday, May 24, 2016

10 reasons why it's a great time to be in #education

As many of us are ending a hopefully successful school year, it's a great time to reflect on where we are as educators. Additionally, it's never too early to start looking toward next school year. Having said that, we have much to look forward to and much to be excited about. Here are 10 reasons why I believe it's a great time to be in education:

1) - Global competition is increasing and the pool for career opportunities is becoming more fierce. As the world seems to get smaller, students are being forced to compete with an even larger pool of applicants for colleges, for jobs, and for life in general. It's my belief that through this increase in competition, both schools and students will rise to the occasion to ensure all kids are prepared to be successful regardless of what path they choose in life.

2) - Everyone thinks they know what is best for education. Now, some would argue this is a bad thing, but the reality is, everyone and their mom (I love you mom) seem to think they are an expert in education. On the positive side, this has brought education to the forefront as one of the most important and pressing issues facing society. The fact that everyone has a past education experience means education will always remain a top priority.

3) - Technology is changing the way the world does business. Technology is enabling things to happen that were never before possible. This has huge implications for education as a whole. Education systems are no longer limited to what they can or can't do; they are limited to their creativity and their ability to think innovatively.

4) - Students are bringing more and more knowledge and experience into the educational setting than ever before. When in history have students been able to teach the teachers and be an instrumental part to the educational process as much as they are now? This shift has continued to push the mindset that educators are no longer simply dispensers of knowledge; but rather are facilitators and instigators of self-directed learning by students. In this environment, educators can learn just as much from their students as the students can learn from them.

5) - College education programs are getting better and better. Now, I'm not saying we can't continue to improve here, but I believe college education programs are doing a better job of preparing young teachers to be successful in an education career. This includes moving education programs away from just theory and approach to actual hands-on learning alongside mentor teachers. More college education programs are getting future teachers into classrooms earlier on and pairing them with more experienced mentors. Not perfect yet, but definitely getting better.

6) - More and more districts are collaborating with local businesses. This is a very exciting aspect of education now. Local businesses and the overall business industry have a vested interest in seeing kids who are prepared and are ready for the work force. The more partnerships that are formed between school districts and the business industry, the better prepared our kids will be upon entering the job market.

7) - We are learning that money is not the single determining factor for student success. It's easy to believe and often misleading when people say that money is the most important factor when determining overall student success. First off, we need to discuss what 'student success' means, but secondly, there are countless examples of schools and districts that are finding success who would not be characterized as 'wealthy' schools or districts. Of course, money does help, but don't assume if you don't have money you can't find success. Success may not be easy to find, but I assure you it comes in more forms than just the green type.

8) - Schools are once again becoming the center and hub of the community. Too often there is a disconnect between the schools and the communities in which they serve. This is slowly but surely changing. Our schools in our districts are becoming centralized hubs of not only student learning, but also learning for parents and people within the community. If schools aren't there to serve the community, then how could we ever say we are truly serving our students?

9) - Innovation and creativity are all around us. Keep your eyes and ears open because there are a lot of great things happening in education. As schools and districts continue to do a better job of telling their stories, the positives of education are becoming more and more prevalent. What once was a story dominated by all the negatives, is slowly shifting toward a story that emphasizes the positives and the opportunities around us.

10) - Every single day educators get to impact, influence, encourage, support, guide and help students become the best they can be. If this doesn't make you feel that it's a great time to be in education, then perhaps it's best you make room for someone who does...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Financial savvy with Earn Your Future Digital Lab

Personal finance continues to grow in importance. Though the importance and relevance continue to mount, unfortunately, there are still far too many young folks who struggle with the concept and frankly lack awareness. Furthermore, it's these younger years that often prove to be the most critical, so it's in the best interest of schools to continue our focus on teaching personal finance.

The PWC Charitable Foundation has put together a financial literacy program called Earn Your Future Digital Lab. This program is level/module-based and provides students in grades 3-12 the opportunity to gain valuable skills related to personal finance. 

As an educator, you can sign up and explore the different levels and modules, as well as get your entire class set up.

There are three different levels that are each designed for a different age group. Level 1 is designed for beginners in grades 3-5. This level is currently not available, but should be soon. Level 2 is intermediate for grades 6-8, and lastly, level 3 is advanced for grades 9-12.

When you start exploring the different modules within the levels, you start to see the true value in this program. Whether it is related to mortgages, saving money for that cool new phone, dabbling in the stock market, or applying for that first credit card, there's something for everyone within these levels and modules.

Another really neat feature of this program is the 'badge' system where students acquire new and different badges based on their learning and progress. When students go through the levels and modules, they will experience relevant and applicable scenarios that all students can relate to. Additionally, the modules provide students 'drag and drop' scenarios along with some basic and simple math computation scenarios.

Lastly, at the end of each module, students get a 'key learning points' summation to bring it all together. It's a great way to recap all the highlights from the module to ensure the information is retained by students.

In closing, this program does an excellent job of ensuring students can work at their own pace. There's nothing limiting the students to one level or module at the same time, which is critical to creating a personalized learning experience for students. 

PWC has created a viable program here which undoubtedly can help us as we work to provide key exposure and learning for our students when it comes to personal finance.

This is a sponsored recommendation and I have received compensation for writing this blog post.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

5 ways to make your classroom student-centered

A student-centered classroom allows students to be an integral part of the assessment development process. This doesn't necessarily mean every assessment is created and designed by students, but it does mean there is a collaborative and joint venture of teachers and students in the planning and implementation stages of assessments. Students who help to design and create their assessments will find the assessments to be more meaningful, and typically students end up creating assessments that are more challenging than what teachers would have created anyway...

A student-centered classroom focuses on finding solutions to real-world problems. Too often our classroom focus is on solving problems that lack relevance and purpose in the eyes of students. The student-centered classroom addresses real-world problems that affect or will affect students. This in turn will provide meaning and context to student-driven learning, which then will increase levels of engagement and overall student involvement.

A student-centered classroom is not about what the teacher is doing or what the teacher has done; it's about what the students are doing and what the students can do in the future. We all have experienced the teacher observation model that focuses just on what the teacher is doing, but more and more models are now focusing on what the students are doing. Obviously, what the teacher does affects and impacts what the students are doing, but the most important piece is what the students are doing or are able to do as a result of what the teacher is doing.

A student-centered classroom embraces the notion that there are multiple ways to accomplish an individual task. When we limit and confine students to following a certain and specific path, we ultimately end up limiting their levels of ownership, innovation, and creativity. A student-centered classroom allows, encourages, and embraces the multitude of paths one can take to solve a given problem. This also allows for students to follow their strengths and their interests when completing a task.

A student-centered classroom firmly believes that there is a partnership and a strong level of trust between educators and students. The teacher no longer is and hasn't been for a while the 'smartest' person in the room. Because of this, we need to continue forging a partnership between the teachers and the students and accept an equal playing field when it comes to learning, exploration, and discovery. This partnership is built on trust, and trust happens when we are vulnerable and open to learning with and from others...

Sunday, February 28, 2016

10 reasons it's time to move beyond textbooks

1). Paper is getting more and more expensive and textbooks frankly aren't very environmentally friendly.

2). Because the typical history book has just a few pages on the Civil War and when I google the 'Civil War' I get 870,000,000 results in .047 seconds.

3). I have never seen a textbook that wasn't written with bias or written free of errors. So all the folks who believe that textbooks are 'reliable' and 'unbiased' resources, are sadly mistaken.

4). Textbooks can't be adapted and can't be updated once they are printed.

5). There are so many relevant and up-to-date resources that are available for free or for very low cost. When it comes to personalizing and differentiating instruction, textbooks aren't the best choice because they offer a one-size fits all approach.

6). Let's be honest, kids aren't going home and 'reading' textbooks. Also, if kids are doing worksheets and answering questions from a textbook, it's time to reevaluate your instructional practices.

7). Textbooks are quite expensive when compared to similar resources and instructional materials, and when school budgets are being stretched, the money should be spent elsewhere.

8). Textbooks are heavy, bulky, taste good to dogs, and lead to student back problems... I'm not seeing much positive here!

9). Real life doesn't come with a textbook, so why are we so focused on believing that kids need a textbook to learn...?

10). 1,000 different textbooks on 1,000 different topics can be replaced by one single device with access to the internet... enough said.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Kids don't need to be ready for school... schools need to be ready for kids

Dan French shared this wonderful tweet that really got me thinking:

This really got me thinking because we spend so much time telling kids they need to do this or they need to do that so they can be successful in school. We project this mentality that if kids aren't prepared to experience this and aren't able to handle that, they're doomed to fail.

We inadvertently transfer the pressure and accountability onto our kids and all the while, we tend to forget that they are just that... kids living in a rapidly changing world.

We also, somewhat arrogantly, assume we know exactly what is best for kids and know exactly what they need to do to be successful in life.

But, what if it were reversed and schools spent their time ensuring schools were ready for what kids were bringing to the table...?

What if kids started talking to schools about what schools needed to do to be prepared for them...?

What if schools were feeling the pressure from students rather than the other way around?

We know life and the world around us are changing more quickly than ever before. And, it's these kids who come to our schools wanting, needing and DESERVING a system that's ready for them and is able to meet their needs.

And as a new parent and educator, I have no idea what my son Emory will need in 5 years when he starts his formal schooling... but I hope at least someone will ask him and consider what it means to be ready for him.

So, the next time you get together with your colleagues, focus on ensuring your school and/or classroom are ready for kids and not the other way around.

Maybe the conversation will be the same... maybe it will be completely different. :)