September 2010

School change: the shift from knowing to doing.

by Steve Wyckoff on September 30, 2010

As I talk with individuals about school change one of the issues that always arises is the sense that teachers get that they are being criticized for not being good teachers. I always try to point out when I talk about school change that teachers are doing the best job they’ve ever done, at what we’ve always done in education.

The issue is this, the needs of our kids after they graduate have changed dramatically. And therefore what we do in K-12 schools needs to change dramatically.

One of the fundamental changes that has occurred very subtly over the last several decades, is the need for our students to be able to do something with what they know, not just know something.

There are a couple of different aspects to this need. First of all, for decades and decades, it was sufficient to just know a lot of stuff. That’s what separated the educated from the uneducated. And that was okay because the uneducated could still go out, and if they were willing to show up every day and work hard, they could earn a good living.

And Americans are known for their work ethic. So that worked well.

But gradually the need to be able to do something with what you know became paramount. In 1950 65% of jobs were unskilled. They required no post secondary education. Just show up and work hard and you could be successful.

Today those numbers have changed dramatically. In fact about the same percentage, 65% of jobs, require the individual to have acquired some type of technical skills in order to successfully do their work. The real kicker is those necessary skills are always changing. So the need to not only be able to do something is important, but the ability to learn new skills and apply them is now extremely important.

Howard Gardner in his latest book, Five Minds For The Future, does an outstanding job of describing the need for our students to not simply know about a subject, but to practice the discipline of that subject. It isn’t enough to know about biology. We must allow our students to practice the discipline of a biologist. That same logic can be applied to any subject area.

Obviously, it’s impractical to have every student practice the discipline of every field. There simply isn’t enough time. So we need to be figuring out how to allow students to sample the various disciplines and then begin to choose those fields that are most personally interesting to them.

This solves another major issue that we face in schools. By my estimation less than 5% of our kids are authentically engaged in the educational process in our schools. And according to Gallup’s research, 50% of our students are either going through the motions at school, or are actively undermining the teaching learning process.

There is ample evidence to show that students who are given the choice to choose fields that are interesting to them, and are allowed to learn by actually practicing the discipline of that field, are dramatically more engaged than the students who were not.

This means that schools must begin to analyze their entire curriculum, and learning experiences, and figure out ways to move to a learning by doing model.

So I’m not criticizing teachers’ effort or results when I say they need to change. But I am criticizing leaders for not “leading” their schools to models that are more beneficial to our students. That’s what I mean when I talk about school change.–Steve Wyckoff

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School change: KBOR just doesn’t get it

by Steve Wyckoff on September 28, 2010

Not all school change is good.  For example, the Kansas Board of Regents is considering adding an additional year of math in high school for students to meet qualified admissions for the regents universities. They think that having kids sit through another year of math class is somehow going to prepare them better to be productive members of society.

It may better prepare them to sit through another math class in college but there is little evidence that another math class will benefit more than a very small number of Kansas high school students. And the reality is it will cause more students to drop out, and probably lead to more students being disengaged from the educational process.

What the Kansas Board of Regents doesn’t get is that we don’t need to have students learn “more about” any subject. What we need to have Kansas kids learn is the discipline of particular fields.

Let me explain. I was in a conversation last week with four Kansas school districts who are collaborating on creating entrepreneurship programs in their schools. They were very clear, they don’t want kids to know more about entrepreneurship, they want kids to be entrepreneurs. They want them to learn and practice the discipline of being entrepreneurs.

Our kids don’t need another math class they need to understand the discipline of what it means to be a mathematician. You don’t get that by covering more math absent the context of the real world. That’s a major issue with our entire core curriculum. We have kids learn about the social sciences, and we have them learn about the language arts, and we have them learn about communication, and we have them learn about science, and we have them learn about math.

What they don’t learn is how to practice the discipline of being a social scientist, or the discipline of being a communicator, or the discipline of being a scientist … You get the picture.

Want an example? A young lady at Erie high school, the project-based learning school that I’ve talked about many times, developed her project around cloning cattle. She found a mentor in the area who is a world renowned bovine geneticist. She actually practiced the discipline of being a scientist. Specifically a geneticist. She may not have covered all the content that other kids covered in a traditional science class. But she has a far greater understanding of science, and what it means to be a scientist, than any student who has simply sat through a science class.

If the Kansas Board of Regents really wants to improve the education of our kids, and better prepare them for post secondary education, they should start a dialogue with K-12 education to dramatically change the educational experiences our students receive in K-12 education. And also change the expectations that they have for what students will know, do, and be like when they arrive on campus.

Unfortunately, I don’t see real school change happening if KBOR is involved. If anything they are more entrenched in a decades old system, perhaps centuries old system, then K-12 education. –  Steve Wyckoff

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School change: some advice to the Commissioner

September 27, 2010

I’ve never been short of  opinions or advice. And I’ve never been reluctant to share either one. Fortunately, I’m not all that sensitive, so I don’t get my feelings hurt when people ignore my advice and opinions. So I want to give the Commissioner of Education some advice. The role of Commissioner, in the minds […]

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School change: an interview with the commissioner.

September 24, 2010

I’ve embedded an interview with the Commissioner of Education, Dr. Diane DeBacker. Deb Haneke does an outstanding job of asking really important questions of Diane. I would urge all Kansas educators, and even educators outside the state of Kansas, to listen to the entire interview. Diane touches on some very important topics. I’m especially interested, […]

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School change: my car is a university!

September 21, 2010

One of the points I try to make when I talk about real school change is that educators must continue to be learners, and they must be learning about life in the 21st century. In fact, when I speak to groups of educators I often tell them that if they aren’t reading at least one […]

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School changed: can rural schools collaborate with their community and economic development?

September 20, 2010

I’ve been involved recently in several very interesting conversations that demonstrate the need for school change but also bring to light the myriad of possibilities for rural school districts to collaborate with their communities to increase the economic well-being of their communities. It can be a rather complex puzzle but let me try to put […]

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School change: did Facebook create helicopter moms?

September 17, 2010

While I normally talk about school change, I just finished the book, The Facebook Effect by David Kirkpatrick and it prompted several thoughts. The idea of a “helicopter mom” being one of those thoughts. “Helicopter mom” is a relatively new idea. It describes the mom that hovers over her children with much greater knowledge and participation […]

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School change: Are we doing anything right?

September 14, 2010

I speak to groups often about school change and I frequently hear the same question, “Don’t you think were doing anything right?” The answer is “yes” with a great big BUT. That “BUT” is this. We are doing the best job in education that we have ever done, at what we’ve always done. The problem […]

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School change: Social media, it’s everywhere … except schools.

September 13, 2010

The whole world is changing, and one of the biggest changes involve social media. But for some reason social media isn’t even on the radar of school change. I am fascinated by the impact that social media has had on our lives. It’s affected how we communicate, how we stay informed, and how we stay […]

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School change: The entrepreneur in us all

September 8, 2010

School change means different things to different people, but one of the things that I believe we have to change in schools, especially in rural areas, is a focus on entrepreneurship. If our rural towns are going to survive, and the kids who stay there  live a decent life, then we have to grow our […]

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School change: Will schools suffer the same fate as other traditional media?

September 3, 2010

I’ve recently been reading a lot about how traditional media are changing. I think there should be some parallels with school change. It appears that listenership on radio is changing dramatically. First of all, satellite radio allowes individuals to listen to their favorite radio station whenever and wherever they are. Secondly, iPods allow individuals to […]

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