We Know It’s Broken, But How Do We Fix It?

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It’s March Break.  It’s beautiful outside, but I am inside researching.  And I am frustrated.

There is plenty out there telling me that we need school reform.  Granted, most of it is actually aimed at the US, but as a current secondary principal, I know Ontario secondary schools have to be a target as well.

The question is, what do we do? As a Principal, what do I do?  The system still supports old thinking, and we need massive structural change if we are going to make a real difference.  The change we try to implement at the secondary school level is opposed by the structure of the “credit” system, the need for “high marks” to get into university, “awards” and scholarships and competition rather than collaboration.

What small changes can we make to engage students and improve learning while working to change the system as a whole?

As I work through this question, I will share my thinking and my challenges here.

In the meantime, here is some of the reading and listening I have done today.  I hope it challenges your thinking too.

Resources:

Children Stressed to the Breaking Point Due to Standardized Testing

Recently New York City made public teacher evaluations based on student standardized test scores.  This proceeded the state of New York’s decision to change how educators are evaluated, in part by connecting the standardized test scores of students into final ratings.  The following letter was shared with me by a friend whose daughter is in the New York City Public School System.  She plans on sending this to officials in the NYC Department of Education to inform them of the potential that more standardized testing will have as a result of recent reform efforts.

Ben Levin’s book: How to Change 5000 Schools http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/93

Carol Dweck: Mindset Podcast http://blogs.hbr.org/ideacast/2012/01/the-right-mindset-for-success.html

Rethinking School: http://hbr.org/2012/03/rethinking-school/ar/1

“The test of a successful education is not the amount of knowledge that a pupil takes away from a school, but his appetite to know and his capacity to learn” Sir Richard Livingstone, 1941 (p. 28).

“No curricular overhaul, no instructional innovation, no change in school organization, no toughening of standards, no rethinking of teacher training or compensation will succeed if students do not come to school interested in, and committed to, learning.” Steinberg, 1996 p. 194

“The need, rather, is to free ourselves from the collective conceptual blinkers which the existing apparatus of educational assumptions represents.  At the heart of such a project for comparitivists, I suggest, must be the recognition of the central role of culture in facilitating and shaping the process of learning and thus, of the need to study the part played by the perceptions and feelings of the individual learner.

Broadfoot, 2000 Comparative education for the 21st Century: Retrospect and Prospect Comparative Education 36(3), August 2000: 357-371

Considering How We Teach Science

Tree Frog
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Harassing phone calls, personal threats, intrusions on personal privacy – this is what scientist Michael Mann has endured.

He was interviewed yesterday on The Current, by Anna Maria Tremonti.  His new book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars”, chronicles his personal journey, attempting to deliver an unpopular message to the American public.

He faces climate change deniers to this day, and the interview highlights the struggle to sell science to a public that does not understand it, a public that will believe what they hear from politicians or talk radio over the results of scientific inquiry, if it suits their purpose or supports their current belief system.

What does it say about our education system when people will so easily believe what they want to believe?  When people confuse science and belief?

Science is about inquiry.  Science is about questioning.  Science is about getting to the truth.

What are we doing wrong in the science classroom?

When politicians can convince the public that they are right and scientists are wrong, the school system has failed.

Have we so conditioned the public to simply listen, memorize and regurgitate that we can tell them anything and they will believe it?  If a myth is repeated often enough, the public will see it as truth.  Why do so few people even question the validity of what they are told?

Is it because they have spent thousands of hours in classrooms being taught to listen and memorize rather than to question and explore?

Michael Mann has lived the result of this type of indoctrination.

Grant Wiggins* questions the entire idea of a standard curriculum.

Broadfoot**, back in 2000, writes about how our current system of education spread throughout the world and as such, is not questioned, even though it was developed for a world that no longer exists.

Promoting student inquiry*** in our schools will encourage our students learn to examine and investigate rather than to simply believe authority without question.

References and Resources:

The Current on CBC Radio: Anna Maria Tremonti interviews scientist and climate activist, Michael Mann. http://podcast.cbc.ca/mp3/podcasts/current_20120314_79182.mp3

Follow them on Twitter @MichealEMann @TheCurrentCBC

Michael Mann’s website: http://www.meteo.psu.edu/~mann/Mann/index.php

*Grant Wiggins:  Granted, but…
Everything you know about curriculum may be wrong. Really.
http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2012/03/13/everything-you-know-about-curriculum-may-be-wrong-really/

**This article: Broadfoot, P., ‘Comparative Education for the 21st Century: retrospect and prospect’ (Comparative Education, 36(3), 2000) though I cannot find it online outside of a library.

***Capacity Building Series: Getting Started with Student Inquiry: http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/CBS_StudentInquiry.pdf

by Donna Miller Fry (@fryed)