Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Teaching 21st Century Skills Looks Like

A former student of mine, Cara Glew Hetrick, works as an integrated math and science teacher at High Tech High, a public charter school in San Diego, CA. Tonight on her Facebook page she posted the below video and a link to this web article, Is This the Best High School In America?. The school started in 2000 as a single high school dedicated to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics but has expanded in the past 10 years as a conglomerate of nine schools (five high schools, three middle schools, and one elementary school) that serve approximately 3500 students. The mission of the schools is "to develop and support innovative public schools where all students develop the academic, workplace, and citizenship skills for postsecondary success." Watch the below video: there's a lot going on here to successfully meet that mission.

I am struck by the comment at the beginning of the video by Mr. Riordan, the "Emperor of Rigor" of HTH. He states, "There are three axioms of public education in this country, particularly in high schools. They are that you separate students apart from another based upon their perceived academic ability, you separate hands from minds, and you separate school from the world beyond." HTH is all about the antithesis of this, where their curriculum is all about integration: integrating all of the students (regardless of ability level), integrating traditional college prep content with career and technical skills, and integrating student learning with real-life applications.

The premise of this school is amazing: give all students career and employability skills that they need to be successful in the 21st century workforce. In this short clip you can see the 21st century skills- problem solving, critical thinking, and collaboration to name just a few- all successfully being delivered in the context of project-based learning. Most importantly, the students know their teachers, and know them well, so there is a strong sense of personalization in the school setting. Much of the school's success can be attributed not only to the curriculum but also the established relationships.

You could argue that HTH is a charter, and yes, the kids and their parents want to be there. The school has also been blessed with many corporate connections that have infused great technology into the school. However, I believe the success is all about the school's structures and commitment to 21st century skills through non-traditional curriculum and instruction. This school is committed to "meeting kids where they are" and is finding the best ways to teach them meaningful content and skills. This school has found one of the new paradigms that all public high schools must adopt if we are truly going to improve student learning.

When Cara posted the link to the above article, she commented how proud she was that High Tech High was the place she worked. She should be!!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Mansfield Healthy Futures Family Fun Night

Many thanks to the students, parents, and community members that came to last evening's first annual Mansfield Healthy Futures Family Fun Night at MHS. Thank you also to Rep. Jay Barrows, Pat Harrison, and the Hockomock YMCA for putting the evening's events together. As I promised during my presentation, here is the PowerPoint with the Communities that Care Youth Survey data from last spring. Keep in mind that this data collection is only the first step; we must consistently keep the message about good decision-making in the fore throughout our schools and community.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Why Geology Education is So Important

This video that has been making the rounds on the Internet has left me dumbfounded. It features Congressman Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on a budget request to relocate naval personnel to the island of Guam, a US territory. Check it out:

Guam might tip over??? You're kidding me, right???

To be fair, the day after the hearing Rep. Johnson issued a statement claiming that his "tip over and capsize" comment was made strictly in jest. He wrote, "The subtle humor of this obviously metaphorical reference to a ship capsizing illustrating my concern about the impact of the planned military buildup on this small tropical island." He also reiterated that the "tip over" comment was actually in fact, a reference that Guam would reach its "tipping point" with added stress on the island's fragile ecosystem.

Uhhhh..... I don't know about you, but I don't see that in the video. Watch the admiral's reaction!

Did someone miss that day in the fifth grade when we learned that islands are actually mountains whose bases are below sea level, and anchored to the sea floor?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

All Hands on Deck

I got a call from Superintendent Brenda Hodges around 11:00 am on Tuesday in the midst of the deluge of rain that we received Sunday night through yesterday. She said, "Joe, it's a real mess out there. The governor has declared a state of emergency, and there's some spots in town that are in real bad shape." She proceeded to tell me that a dump truck filled with sand was en route to MHS and town officials were looking for some help in filling sandbags to be used at various locations in town where flooding was occurring. Thus, we decided that students 18 years old and older could volunteer, provided they had parental permission.

Now mind you, it was the first time in my career (and presumably the last) I have gotten on the school's PA and requested volunteers to fill sandbags! However, in a very short time I got approximately 60 students who were more than willing to give their time and efforts to help out during a critical time. From 1:00 to 4:00 pm they filled over 700 sandbags in the front student parking lot (in a driving rain I might add) and loaded them in DPW trucks and emergency vehicles. Some of these students also went on a school bus and delivered the sandbags to those flooded homes. The school department also used its mass-calling system to enlist parents and their children to help out, and yet another 700 sandbags were filled into the evening hours.

It is always nice to see a community come together, particularly during a difficult time. To all of these students who helped out- THANK YOU!! You did it with great spirit, and once again, you have done MHS proud! Thanks also to our ladies who work in the main office for organizing the students and procuring parental permission. Great job by all!