This last week I was invited to attend some presentations in one of our elementary schools. The invitation was an opportunity to go and see how technology is being used in schools. On Tuesday morning I made my way over to the Primary Years Academy, pushed my way through a crowd of proud parents outside Ms. Matty’s first grade class, and was amazed. Kids were grouped around their little tables, in teams of two or three. Each table had a bunch of props representing aspects of the country the kids had researched. The kids were in costumes, respectfully representing the traditional clothing of that culture. Each team had a Chromebook the kids were going to use for their presentations. They were getting ready.
As the kids were getting logged in to the Chromebooks, the problems started. Something had changed on the network the night before, and kids were presented with a screen they had never seen before. They didn’t know what to do. With a crowd of parents outside the room waiting to get in, and Ms. Matty busy with all the details involved in a day like this, I watched a boy and girl interact:
“Hmmm, That’s not right” the boy said.
“Try clicking here.” said the little girl.
“That didn’t work. I’m going to log out and try again.”
This went on for a few minutes before word spread among the kids on how to solve the problem. It was really impressive. Remember, these were first graders! Six year old kids! They had run into an unexpected problem, and were doing a fantastic job of problem solving. The kids solved the problem, and went on and gave their presentations to a room full of parents, and then repeated the performance for classes of older kids.
The kids did a great job. I saw really wonderful presentations. Kids were using technology in an authentic way, blended with realia to make a meaningful learning experience. I just wish everyone could see what is happening in Ms. Matty’s room. Great things are happening in that class. Ms. Matty is my Edu-hero.
Let me start by saying that I have never actually worked in a charter school. I have spent my whole career in public schools in high poverty urban settings. I have always spoken out against the charter school concept. It appeared to me that they cherry pick kids. If they don’t get to pick the kids they take, because of a lottery system, they get to pick the kids they keep, through a variety of ways. They are a threat to public education. That’s what I thought.
But lately more and more the schools that I see as doing things right are charters, or at least these schools have a charter component. Locally there is the Venture Academy. It is in the same extended neighborhood as the school in which I work, so it is convenient to my students. It is close enough that untill this year they used our gym for their after school sports program. My school looses a number of kids each year to this school. We rarely get kids that come to us from the Venture Academy. I don’t wonder why.
Yesterday I attended an edtech conference at Natomas Charter School in Sacramento, California. While I have much less experience with this school, it was evident from walking the campus, sitting in the rooms, and talking to some of the teachers who work there that they are doing a lot of things right. They aren’t cherry picking kids, and from everything I can see, they aren’t kicking kids out. They seem to be doing really great things in the classrooms.
I frequently ask my PLN on Twitter to recommend schools I can visit. The recommendations that come back are always charter schools. I have yet to have a person recommend to me an awesome public high school that is not a charter. Why is it that no one can recommend to me a public high school that serves a high poverty population that isn’t a charter? These charters must be doing something right.
So I am officially saying it. I was wro… I was wrrooon… Dang it, I was wrong. There I said it. I was wrong about charters. They arent a threat to public education. They are one of the few promises of public education. They have to compete for students, so they have to do a good job, or they can’t stay open. Because they have to compete, they can’t just do the same old, same old. They have to purposely do things to compete, to keep up. They have to keep up with the times, the technology, and the community. And that is why I have changed my mind about charter schools. There. I said it.
For the last several years I have been on a one man campaign to end the use of scissors, glue, and cardboard trifold science fair type project boards in high school. It hasn’t been a very successful campaign. I reasoned that kids in high school should be creating things that look like those they will create in the workplace. I don’t know of any careers that involve printing pictures from the Internet and gluing them to cardboard. It seems to me this might be an appropriate activity in 3rd grade, but by the 9th grade we should have moved on, for sure by the 12th. We should ban glue. We should ban scissors. We should ban cardboard. That was my reasoning.
Along comes #caedchat on Twitter. (Every Sunday night at 8:00 pst) The topic this week was innovation in the classroom. You can imagine my surprise when the topic of scissors and glue came up. Innovation, scissors, and glue are just three things that I never thought of as going together. But this exchange got me to thinking:
I always tell people its not just about the tech. I tell them not to just add tech for the sake of the technology, but to view it as a tool. But I have been dismissing the use of scissors and glue as low tech, and not worthy of high school. When I stop and think of some of the conversations I have recently had with people about entreprenuralism, prototyping, maker faire and the like I realize there may be room for scissors AND glue in the high school classroom.
Its not the tool, its what you do with it that makes innovation.
But I still draw the line at cardboard trifolds!