Friday, August 31, 2007

Changing the World

You may have read or watched the story of a 17 year old in New Jersey finding a way to change the new iPhone so that it was no longer tied strictly to the AT&T network. Tracy Weeks writes on the LeaderTalk blog that this could be an example of a student using 21st century skills and provides us with motivation to extend the learning that must occur for our students to be successful.

We have seen our country evolve, quickly I might add, from an industrial economy, through the information-based age, to what could be called the innovation age. Daniel Pink writes in his book A Whole New Mind, that creativity will be of utmost importance for success in the future. Psychologist Robert Sternberg states that analytic, practical, and creative skills will be required in this new economy.

Looking at the learning elements that the Partnership for 21st Century Skills sees as essential, one sees creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, and communication and collaboration. The iPhone change provides us with examples of all of those skills. (According to the student, this is legal based on his knowledge of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.)

For example, what was the motivation that compelled this student to try to change the iPhone? In his interview with MSNBC, the student says that the problem was that he couldn’t use the phone on his network. But, he also says that he wouldn’t have done it had it not been fun for him to do. The motivation came from a problem that was relevant to the student and was in an area of interest. This provided the focus to spend 500 hours on the project.

In addition, this student, from New Jersey, collaborated with others around the world to come up with a solution. Technology is allowing people from around the world work together to communicate, learn, and solve problems. As educators, we must find ways to help students not only learn these 21st century skills, but to demonstrate the learning as well.

The combination of merging strengths and interests with 21st century skills provides the intrinsic motivation for students to seek the knowledge needed to solve authentic problems as well as the skills to find the solutions. It should make for interesting times ahead.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Great Questions

I have had the wonderful opportunity to read many books and articles over the past several years. The book I am currently reading, “What the Bleep Do We Know?” is an interesting look at the similarities that exist between spirituality and quantum physics. One of the concepts I found most enlightening was the idea of asking great questions to help change the direction of our lives. The examples given were directed primarily toward individuals, but I thought about how that concept would easily extend to groups and organizations. So, I started our pre-service talking about reflecting on great questions, including asking lots of What? Why not? How?

Some of this is evident in Rick DuFour’s work with professional learning communities. What do we want our students to know? How will we know they’ve learned it? What will we do if they don’t learn it (or what will we do if they already know it?) But I also think that we can go deeper than that. Included among many important questions we must ask of ourselves as an organization are, What is our purpose? What is essential for our students (and staff) to be successful? And, for myself as I look at the 21st century skills framework, what great questions can I ask our staff, board, community, and most importantly, students, to develop the best educational system possible?

I look forward to the conversations that develop from these questions.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Back to School

It’s hard to believe that the new school year is just around the corner. As we look forward to another successful year, I would like to reflect on where we’ve been and some of the challenges that lay ahead for the district.

This past year, Guernsey-Sunrise schools began the process of becoming a strengths-based organization. The focus on strengths started in the fall, with the teachers taking a survey that provided them with their top 5 signature themes. These themes provide individuals with potential strengths – areas where a person can excel. The idea is to focus on strengths and manage non-strengths, which has been shown to lead to more productivity and better engagement at work.

Students in grades 5-12 have taken or will take a similar survey, which will enable Guernsey-Sunrise staff to better differentiate instruction. By varying the type of teaching, a variety of learning styles – seeing, hearing, hands-on - are addressed and ALL students learn better. Knowing strengths and interests helps students and staff establish better relationships, a key to school improvement.

Another way I believe strengths will help our district is in helping students achieve 21st century skills. As the world of technology creates a different world from the world I remember growing up in, our students will have to be prepared to adapt to an ever-changing business and career environment. Some of the skills necessary include working together, critical thinking, self-direct, technology literacy, the ability to gather, assess, and interpret information, and cultural competency.

Those that read Mr. Griffith’s article in the August 14 issue of the Guernsey-Gazette will see that he focuses on effort. By focusing on our strengths, those things that we individually do well, I believe we can amass the effort to provide a bright future of education at Guernsey-Sunrise schools. Everyone giving their best effort – students, staff, parents, and community – gives the district an advantage that few districts will find. As we seek input on a strategic plan that will carry us into the future, no matter what that future may bring, I look forward to seeing the excellent results that working together can bring. We want not only our students, but the district itself, to be prepared, in order to provide success for all.
(this article also runs in the August 14 edition of the Guernsey-Gazette)