City as Our Campus Website

December 13, 2011 § Leave a comment

In January I started working with James Acklin, a local designer, and a small group of colleagues and students to design the City as Our Campus website. We have come a long way since then.  I’m in the midst of readying content in order to make the website live in early 2012. As such I will not be posting to this blog so that I can focus on the website launch. I will be sure to announce when the website is public. Thanks to all of you who helped along the way!

Open Badges and Learner Memory

April 1, 2011 § 1 Comment

Students everywhere are capitalizing on educational opportunities outside of the traditional schooling framework. Twenty-four hour access, virtual worlds, grassroots community centers, peer networks, and a student-centered Edupunk movement (in all its incarnations) have prompted the need for a new kind of accreditation framework that takes into account this expansive “connected learning ecology.”  I stumbled on this phrase when reading about the Mozilla Open Badges Project, which seeks to create a system of accreditation that would capture learning within informal environments.  An initiative of Peer to Peer University and Mozilla in collaboration with the MacArthur Foundation, the project promotes a system that allows learners to collect and display different badges online that demonstrate achievements traditional transcripts and resumes often leave out. The badges would capture both “hard” skills, such as programming, and “soft” skills, such as critical thinking. The idea is based on popular frameworks like the Boy Scouts or Foursquare, which have proven to spur motivation among participants. You can read the working paper here.

I found this all very interesting. Truthfully, I haven’t been considering badges in terms of informal or even online learning, but in terms of the community-based learning framework that my school supports through our City as Our Campus program. City as Our Campus is a K-12 initiative that connects the community and the curriculum, ensuring that each student is challenged by real-world issues and is exposed and responsive to their community. As we move forward with this program, we’re considering how to provide students with a way to reflect on their community-centered learning. The badge framework is promising and could highlight important learning moments that occur outside of the classroom, and therefore not usually summed up in a simple grade.

Significantly, badges are not top-down – meaning that what badges exist and how they are distributed could be determined by a larger community, including students and community coeducators in addition to faculty. What I find most interesting is that something like an open badge framework would give students a “fun” item (the badge) linked to an artifact (document, video, etc. perhaps in the form of a portfolio) that would evoke reflection as they move from lower to middle to high school. Badges could build on each other and connect the often separate learning experiences in each division. It could make for a more cohesive K-12 City as Our Campus experience. Obviously, this is a seed of a thought, but I’m definitely going to keep an eye on the research over at Mozilla.

NAIS Conference Reflections: PLNs, Speed Exposure, and Choices

February 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

No Weekly Roundup this week. We didn’t have school on Monday (President’s Day) or Tuesday (snow day!), and on Wednesday I traveled to National Harbor, MD to attend the National Association of Independent Schools conference. I attended several workshops, general sessions, and did my best to stay on top of the Twitter stream. Speaking of Twitter, personal learning networks (PLN) were frequently discussed as a great way to stay connected with new ideas in teaching and learning (one small step to being a networked school). You can create a PLN by joining Twitter and strategically choosing who to follow. Karen Blumberg, Technology Integrator at the School of Columbia University, suggested that PLNs are becoming “an industry standard” despite the fact that many administrators and faculty are not on Twitter. I think PLNs offer tremendous potential in teacher professional development, and I’m wondering how educational technology specialists are working to move their colleagues in this direction.

I was able to learn more about PLNs during the Speed Networking session, where I attended three mini-sessions from independent school “movers and shakers.” I loved the format for this session, which consisted of three intimate, 10-minute “dates.” I think this is a great way to expose educators to interesting ideas, and it would be a wonderful addition to a school’s professional development agenda. Fun too. In addition to PLNs, I had the opportunity to talk about disruptive innovation and design thinking (great topics for future blog posts).

Several other sessions addressed the power and difficulties of successful partnerships. I met several people I’m looking forward to connecting with more, including Jason Gregory, Director of Community Life and Public Purpose at Sage Hill School in California. We talked briefly about the need to create a network of educators in positions like ours, a topic I also discussed with colleagues from the Westminster Schools in Atlanta. Hopefully, we will see that develop over the next several months. As for partnership making, the necessity for independent schools to understand the needs of our partners was front and center. I have already shared my enthusiasm for this process here and here.

I enjoyed the general sessions by Sheena Iyengar and Dan Heath. Both made me think differently about how I approach faculty and community partners in terms of change management. Iyengar discussed the Art of Choosing and spoke about how some of us work better with many choices while others succeed with fewer choices — it is the job of a leader to know the difference. I never thought about how the level of choice affects our performance, but I certainly will as I move forward. Dan Heath reminded me about the role of emotion in change and made me consider how to simplify the goals of a program like City as Our Campus, which requires us to rethink the ways we teach, in a manner that embraces that emotion.

It is the difference between this:

and this:

Ahead of the NAIS Conference: The “strategic” in the “pursuit of public purpose”

February 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

I just read the article “Partnership Now: A Paradigm Shift in Education,” in the most recent issue of Independent School. The article explores the growing role of public/private school partnerships in education. As Director of a partnership-based program, I’m excited to see all of this attention paid to the power of collaboration. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Gwendolyn Brooks,  “We are each other’s business; we are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.” It’s true. Increasingly, educators are recognizing that innovation rests in the expertise of the collective, not the individual, and that the betterment of society comes from community-wide engagement (across schools, organizations, parents)  that goes beyond traditional service learning.

The article got me thinking.

Mostly, I appreciated the author’s attention to the “strategic pursuit of public purpose,” a topic I hope is explored in workshops and conversations at the National Association of Independent Schools Conference this week in National Harbor, MD. I hope to attend the authors David Drinkwater and Jacqueline Smethurt’s session. Being able to strategically define what partnerships make sense for your school is difficult. Do the partnerships grow organically from your curriculum or evolve from a specific community need? Both are key. We tend to know our curriculum, and with the help of others usually identify where an external partner makes sense. On the other hand, we don’t usually know our communities as well as we should.  I think a broader conversation about how Independent schools can reach out  and “listen” to their communities would be helpful.  I’m positive schools across the country are utilizing different tactics; it’s time to collectively share and refine the strategies. Events such as community forums or town halls can lead to more strategic partnerships instead of partnerships for partnership’s sake.

Secondly, I was reminded of something Milton Chen said during an Edutopia webinar. In discussing the importance of partnerships, Dr. Chen mentioned the need to refer to our partners as coeducators rather than partners. I thought this was brilliant. I tweeted it right away (and it was retweeted repeatedly). This recognizes the larger learning process happening when we create learning experiences with external individuals and organizations. It’s no longer just a field trip. I know it’s just a word, but words come with powerful connotations. Besides, maybe a new paradigm of community engagement needs strategic new terminology to go with it.

SEQ and K-12…it’s about solving problems, not generating ideas

January 10, 2011 § 2 Comments

A recent Huffington Post article claimed that more and more students pursuing business degrees are doing so with the non-profit sector in mind. It’s true. Social entrepreneurship is booming with Foundations such as Skoll and Ashoka and organizations such as Echoing Green leading the way. According to NPR, 500 professors are teaching courses on the subject worldwide. Despite buzzword status, most high school students go blank when they hear the term despite the much advertised turn toward civic engagement by Millennials, evident in many community-based programs like the one I oversee. Social entrepreneurship emphasizes many 21st century skills such as collaboration and creativity. One would think that it has a place in K-12 education. As such, I have been considering how to bring the world of social entrepreneurship to the K-12 classroom. What foundation can K-12 education build for future change agents?

Last October I attended a Solutions for Society event where Cheryl Dorsey, President of Echoing Green, discussed the idea of Social Entrepreneurial Intelligence (SEQ). SEQ, which is still in development, details the attributes commonly found in social entrepreneurs. She emphasized that social entrepreneurs need to be solutions-oriented, which means they are passionate about “solving problems, not generating ideas.” They need to know how to listen to a community and not presuppose community needs based on prior knowledge of social ills. I’m reminded of an assignment I was given while attending an undergraduate architecture program in New York City many years ago. Walking around the Bowery (then and now a hotbed of gentrification and urban reform) I interviewed current residents about the transformations in their community intended to improve their living situations. They let me know that they wanted nothing of it and went on to describe what they actually needed.

Over the past few weeks I have worked with several of our seniors who are developing community engagement projects as part of WT’s new Urban Research and Design course, a year-long action-oriented exploration of issues affecting the Pittsburgh community. They are doing amazing work and their projects show great promise but I’m wondering — as we move forward with this course — how we can emphasize the importance of “solving problems, not generating ideas” by requiring that the students perform a community needs assessment. It’s not that the students haven’t, to some extent, inquired about community needs but many of their projects are  based on their interests and research into recognized social problems. Learning how to perform community based participatory research (CBPR) may increase students’ sensitivity to community stakeholders and produce projects that will have lasting effects on our city.

Secondly, in her talk Cheryl Dorsey also emphasized the need for change agents to get the “right people on the bus.” While these qualities can be innate community outreach skills can be nurtured and taking the time to teach students how to search for community contacts, write emails that will get the attention of experts, host community forums, write and administer surveys, is needed and important. As is often the case in education sometimes the skills get consumed by the content. Convincing a professor at a major university to take time to speak to a high school student takes a certain amount of skill that will transcend the immediate project and help the student make connections in general. Teaching our students how to do “outreach” well will increase the likelihood of them becoming “resource magnets;” a worthwhile pursuit no matter what discipline the student is interested in pursuing in college.

The SEQ indicators (I only touched on a few) are guidelines for educators as we further integrate these skills into dynamic new curriculum. I plan to keep these two  main ideas (CBPR and outreach skills) in mind as my school moves forward with CAOC programming. I would love to hear from other educators on how they are integrating social entrepreneurship into their curriculum.

Education News: The Creativity Crisis

August 18, 2010 § 1 Comment

This Newsweek article talks about declining creativity scores in America. It got me thinking about what role creativity plays in City as Our Campus programming.  According to the article:

The potential consequences are sweeping. The necessity of human ingenuity is undisputed. A recent IBM poll of 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future. Yet it’s not just about sustaining our nation’s economic growth. All around us are matters of national and international importance that are crying out for creative solutions, from saving the Gulf of Mexico to bringing peace to Afghanistan to delivering health care. Such solutions emerge from a healthy marketplace of ideas, sustained by a populace constantly contributing original ideas and receptive to the ideas of others.

If creativity is the No. 1 “leadership competency” of the future, how do we design learning experiences that embrace and sharpen student creativity?

You may also be interested in this TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson:


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