Friday, January 30, 2015

Mr. Greg Redner @NorthstarBand talks about his day in the life of a @WaukeshaNorth1 student

Today I had the opportunity to be a Waukesha North “Northstar” student for a day. Many friends and coworkers of mine would say, “haven’t you spent enough time as a Northstar student” referring to the 4 years I spent in this building as a student over 10 years ago; but I never spent a day like this.

For those who do not know me, I am the head band director at Waukesha North, graduated from North High School in 2004 and was a student at Butler Middle School and Summit View Elementary before that. That being said, if I were to go back to high school for a day, I think I chose the right student to follow; a second semester senior who has an interest in the arts. Here was my schedule:

Hour 1 - Wind Ensemble
Hour 2 - Student Aide (In my classroom)
Hour 3 - Ceramics
Hour 5 - Graphic Arts
Hour 6 - Student Aide (Art room)
Hour 7 - AP English 12

Without a doubt Matt has set his schedule up right. He has made some clear decisions about what his interests are in school and the schedule has allowed him to spend a majority of his day in those areas. I did miss one of his classes today, specifically his 4th hour Pre-College Math course (Sorry Mr. Johnson).

Throughout my day in Matt’s shoes I have come to a few observations:

Observation 1: If you want to learn this is a great place to do so.

In watching Matt through his day it is very clear that he is a student that has made a choice to learn. As I sat in his Ceramics course or watched him learn to clean a printing press in Graphic Arts I soon understood that I have no idea what is going on almost immediately. I have taken electives, gone through years of education but these are areas I simply don’t know. My interest was sparked.

The students of North High School have many more opportunities to learn than didn’t exist 10 years ago. From the advancement of technology and online classes, to the hands on labs and learning that has developed, it is clear that a student who wants to learn in this building can do so.

On the contrary, if a student doesn’t want to learn it is difficult for the instructors. As seen in each room, the students have a choice with what they would like to work on; if they don’t want to work...they don’t. Many students have taken the flexible learning environment for granted, become procrastinators and therefore struggle in classes that, if more structured would yield higher achievement.

Observation 2: Electives make the high school experience.

Ok, I know. I’m a band director and elective teacher so my input on this topic seems to be a given but, I mean it. Matt has shaped his learning through elective classes. He has had good core teachers (Math, Science, Social Studies, English) and strong work ethic that has allowed him to complete his necessary education but what has really made him a standout student is his involvement in the “high school experience.”

Matt is enrolled in music, arts and tech. ed courses that give his day a different shape from many others. This is his first year working in the tech. ed department but his attitude toward learning and prior knowledge have allowed him to be a high achieving student in this area.

I cannot stress enough the unique things that Matt has experienced at North High School.  He did his work, achieved what was necessary as a Freshman, Sophomore and Junior, then had a chance to choose what he wanted to do during his senior year.

Observation 3: We do things differently.

Throughout the day one thing was very clear: we as educators have changed the way education looks. I have not attending a high school class in over 10 years and from what I remember it was a bit of discussion, a lot of lecture and some other activities mixed in. After re-reading the blog post that was an inspiration for this adventure (Student for a Day) I also realized that some schools still structure education that same way.

It’s not all for the better and much of it needs some work but we have gone out on a limb and tried new things in education. Some of the real positives include students working on their own “passion projects” that they have found interest in, the variety of learning environments and different use of devices in the classroom.

As mentioned prior the biggest downfall is the ability to go unnoticed and not “do the work” necessary. What is refreshing is that the student is expected to take ownership over their learning, they are in a learning environment that simulates real life...with a safety net of teachers who care about their achievement.

This experience wasn’t new to me, I had been a student before and I like to think it wasn’t that long ago but, I must admit, the students here have opportunities we didn’t. Many of them see it, understand it, and run with it. To the others, open up your eyes and get the experience out of North High School that can be; leave here with an education. Our educators and administrators have provide a safe environment to try something new and exciting, go do it.

Guest post from @MissL_Tweets on her shadowing of a @WaukeshaNorth1 student for a day

Ever since I’ve started working as a high school teacher, I’ve always found myself thinking,  “What would it be like to be a high schooler again?” My immediate thought is that of course I would be so much ‘cooler’ than I used to be, but when I really start thinking about it, I wouldn’t even be able to compare. High school today is not the high school that it was when I was a teenager (a couple hundred centuries ago).

During this one day of being a high schooler again, I ended up learning more about myself. But, through this, I also can transfer this knowledge to my students. Going through a variety of classes, ranging from Biology to Choir, I realized that I’m very much a kinesthetic learner. I need to be hands-on and constantly moving in order to be engaged. I know that not all students are like this and many are the exact opposite of this. But, admittedly, at some points I had difficulty paying attention to what was going on in class.

When I see students starting to doze off in my own class, I internally roll my eyes, and now I find myself looking at it in a new way. If I see kids disengaged, then I need to make sure that I’m engaging them, it’s really as simple as that. If something’s not working, fix it immediately. Make the students get up and move. Let them go and direct their own learning so they are almost forced (we’ll call it motivated) to work.

Will this work all the time? No. Of course not. That’s not reality. Every student at Waukesha North comes into school every morning with a million things on their mind and one of those things might be school. This may sound simple and condescending, and I certainly don’t mean it to be, but we need to remember that students are just people too.

As teachers, we are not robots. We simply can’t walk into school every day and systematically go through our lessons perfectly and not think about the outside world. Our students are the same way and we can’t expect them to be any different. Students are not robots. They can’t simply walk into every class and systematically complete all of their tasks perfectly and not think about the outside world. I find that most students separate school and the “outside” world. That shouldn’t be the case.

The student that I was shadowing told me this morning, “As I’m sitting here in school every day I’m thinking, ‘yeah, I’m here right now, but I could be in Disney World.’”

I’m not going to lie, I 100% relate to this statement. And with the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, we need to make sure that we’re bringing Disney World to them. Take the time to find out what they want and make sure we incorporate it into the skills that they need.

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's About the Process by @mrdelponte

People. Process. Product. In one of my favorite Hulu Plus addictions, I have been watching the CNBC show called The Profit. In The Profit, entrepreneur Marcus Lemonis, a Marquette University graduate, turns around failing businesses by investing his money in them and innovating the way they do business. He often focuses on three aspects of the business: the people who work at and run the business; the process that is used to produce the final product or service; and the actual product or service that is sold to customers. As I spent January 15 shadowing a freshman at North, I couldn't help but think, "What would Marcus say if he were hired to innovate a school?" Would we pass his test?

Very often, Marcus discovers that the people behind a business--except for the occasional self-absorbed owner-- are motivated, passionate, and driven to succeed. Without a doubt, he would think the same of everyone at North. In my shadowing experience, I observed a phy ed teacher motivating students to try their best; a math teacher equipping students to lead in-class exam reviews; and students who asked questions, monitored their reading progress, and led insightful conversations. Marcus would agree: The people are not the issue here. The people are the lifeblood of our school's success.

Well, maybe the product is the issue? Maybe the actual results of the efforts put forth by these great people just don't add up to meaningful outcomes? In education, we can debate this question to the point of endless frustration, but think about this: If you observed students programming computer code, demonstrating Level 5 (yes, Level 5!--at right) geometry concepts to their class, and designing and defending their own human geography projects, wouldn't you say that the product is pretty good...even on our worst of days? I think Marcus would, too.

Frequently, in the realm of educational debate, we fixate too much on people and product. Maybe we do this because these are the visible parts of education. Maybe we do this because it is just easy. Or, maybe...just maybe...we do this because we are entrenched in a process that is rarely challenged and just passively accepted. As he does in many businesses, Marcus would challenge the process that governs how we "do education" in our schools. It is the process that needs innovation; the process that needs to be examined.

Think about the following process-oriented questions, as I did during my shadow day:

      Why have we accepted the fact that a regimented 6-8 period day is best for learning? By about 1:00 pm, students are mentally drained from all the transitions (as I myself experienced)...especially if they have a 10:15am lunch. I was famished! (Soap box time...What could we seriously do to innovate a student's day at school? The possibilities are endless!)

      How can we ensure that each and every student can make at least one meaningful connection with an adult or student group in their time at North? The student that I shadowed said that this has made the most positive difference in her transition to high school.

      How can we build on the innovative work already being done at North? Yes, we can fix process issues, but we are already starting to! The student that I observed really likes it that collaboration is increasingly becoming part of her classes and that teachers are taking the time--through surveys, conversations, etc,--to truly understand learners and meet their needs. Think about the initiatives, conversations, learning spaces, etc. Students appreciate these things, and they appreciate our efforts!

Today was truly a great day to experience the life of a student. I am really appreciative of this opportunity to change my perspective for a day. Personally, I think Marcus would be happy with the efforts North has made to empower motivated people, produce a quality educational product, and analyze and innovate our educational processes. As I discovered today, these efforts truly lead to more dynamic experiences for our learners.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mrs. Forecki becomes Northstar student for a day!

Please enjoy this guest post from Waukesha North Art Teacher, Christina Forecki:

When I heard that we could be a “Northstar for a day”, I thought that it would be a great opportunity to see what students were like outside of the classroom and to see things that other teachers do differently.
I asked one of my sophomore students if I could follow her around for the day and was happy that she didn’t mind me tagging along. The classes that I went to were AP History, Drawing & Painting, Gym, Chemistry, Spanish, and Geometry.

Even when I was asked by students if I am a new student or a student-teacher, I had fun and feel like I learned alot. Students like the smaller classes better because it isn’t as noisy, they can get more help from the teacher, and transitions go smoother. They like being given choices, even if it’s between two things that might not be fun to do, and I was impressed with how much all of the teachers did that. In other classes, just like mine, iPads are great because students don’t need to carry around books and can access materials, but it’s difficult when the iPads are restricted or not charged. I also got to watch students review for a test, using a website that I had never seen, called “Kahoot!” where students could answer the same question using their different iPads. They enjoyed that a lot, and it seemed similar to some of the trivia-type games many of them have on their iPads.

I was impressed with how respectful students were – both of each other and the teachers. When I was walking around the halls as one of the students, I didn’t see students being loud or inappropriate – even during lunchtime in the commons, which can get very crowded. It’s great to see that the school norms really are in place, and I think that the students’ responsible behavior speaks volumes to their good relationships with teachers.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Teaching for Deep Comprehension

"I do workshop", "We do workshop", what is workshop? In an effort to learn more about what our elementary and middle school friends are working on for literacy achievement, I asked +Robert Antholine to give me one of Linda Dorn's book so I could explore reading workshop a bit further.
My first aha, was that the core principles of workshop could really be implemented at the high school level as well. In the @WaukeshaSchools we all have the same commitment to our leaners and that is to make a real difference in the literacy lives of all.

Deep comprehension involves creating problem-solving conditions that will prompt learners to process information at deeper levels. If we do not have the background experience to relate to the reading event, the message can be meaningless. This is true for third graders, seniors, or senior-citizens. It is vital for the reader to construct mental bridges between the author's message and the reader's experiences.

Dorn and Soffos have identified four essential conditions for enabling deeper comprehension:
1. Adequate background knowledge
2. Meaningful, relevant material
3. Sufficient time
4. Talking with interested others about the content

So, what type of literacy environment have you set up in your classroom? In your household? What conditions have you created to foster inquiry and create a culture of literacy learning? Helping children develop the habit of reading is probably a teacher's most important goal and should be a parent's number one priority, because a reading habit is a tool for lifelong learning.

The ultimate goal of a workshop approach is to enable learners to acquire strategies for self-regulating their learning. The workshop is based on a conceptual framework that includes five components, which work together to scaffold student knowledge:
1. Mini-lessons
2. Small-group instruction
3. Independent practice or working with peers
4. One-to-one or small-group conferences
5. Share time

A reading habit is a critical condition of reading achievement.

IF we believe in the power of language for literacy learning, THEN classrooms should burst with opportunities to talk about literacy.

What is your theory of action?
What is your theory of learning?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Unmistakable IMPACT

Jim Knight, from the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, has always advocated for clear school improvement focus, and touted the value of well-designed professional learning. Being deeply committed to improving student learning, means being deeply committed to improving instruction.

As important as high quality instruction is, nothing will transform education if we fail to cherish, and challenge the human heart that is the source of good teaching.

Leading wide-scale change requires relentless focus by leaders. A focus to create an organization that has achieved clarity and has a sense of unity around everything it does. This is certain to make a positive impact on student learning.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

@dalevankeuren talks about ETAP data from @WaukeshaNorth1

Three years ago when we started collecting data as it relates to technology integration it was was not a strength.  It is hard to remember, but it was only 3 years ago that the following conditions existed:
  1. No devices for students
  2. Teachers had desktops and not MacBooks and iPads
  3. It was the first year for Google Apps for Education
  4. Everyone still used the “H” Drive...remember that???
  5. Minimal use of Blackboard
  6. Something here on instructional practice

In the process of Waukesha One we have seen tremendous growth in all of these areas. Opening, using, and collaborating on a Google Doc is now common place at Waukesha North.  Now, technology integration, and the doors that tech can open have become a strength for teachers at Waukesha North.

While we collected data on many of the processes outlined above, we also collected data on the following areas. Below are the trends since Spring of 2013.  
Green means percentage went up, and yellow means percentage went down.


After looking at this data here are a few of my takeaways.

No doubt some of our data has either flatlined or taken a dip.  I attribute that to a couple of factors.  
  1. I think many of the teachers at Waukesha North have a better understanding of SAMR and its levels.  When we began gathering this data, teachers had just began to understand SAMR and apply it to their classroom.  Today, teachers have a much more through and deeper understanding of SAMR and how to apply that framework to planning lessons.
  2. We have had some turnover in staff in the past 3 years.  I wonder how much we have NOT done with SAMR has had an effect on this data?
  3. I wonder if staff at North are their harshest critics? What was once a milestone event before, is now commonplace.  (Google Docs, Collaboration etc.)

We need to keep talking about the common language of SAMR, tech integration, and improving instruction.  The end goal is simple, we talk about lesson design and improving instruction and NOT technology integration.  Technology integration done well is seamless and a part of the normal planning, instruction, and assessment.  Just like anything else in education and life, balance is the key.

In the end, these numbers can tell a story of a high school going through change.  In 3 years Waukesha North has made great strides in improving teaching and learning.  
I am confident that improvement process will continue as we move forward.