Monday, February 29, 2016

Help Children Succeed

The American education system was developed over 100 years ago to prepare students for jobs of that time.  So why has that system remained virtually unchanged when our culture and economy have dramatically shifted to an age of information and technology? Most Likely to Succeed is an edu-documentary which will change the way you think about “school” and how it can prepare us for the future.

Join us at 6:30 pm on Wednesday, March 9, 2016, in Pickard Auditorium for a free public showing of Most Likely to Succeed and a discussion with education experts Oliver Schinkten of Linkedin and Dr. Joshua Garrison of UW-Oshkosh.

Learn how the Neenah Joint School District is embracing the revolutionary ideas in the film through the Arete Academy at Neenah High School and how it prepares your children for success in the 21st Century.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Is It Most Likely to Succeed?

In October of 2015, I went to see the edu-documentary Most Likely to Succeed at the Downer Theatre in Milwaukee as part of the Milwaukee Film Festival.  The theater was filled with people of all ages, and possibly socioeconomic and political beliefs. I assumed that these people came from all over Metro Milwaukee and that we would have a scintillating conversation afterwards. Except we didn't. Ushers cleared the theater immediately after the film because another started 20 minutes later.

In the week leading up to the festival, I watched the trailer and checked out the website for the film and I was impressed with the concepts presented. I followed that with the excellent article from Fast Company Create, which provided extra background information. Despite my background information, I failed to recognize the film magnifies the discussion I have had with my friends for years--essentially that everything in the world has changed except the education system in the United States.

Even while I was still watching it,  I knew we had to screen Most Likely to Succeed in Pickard Auditorium at Neenah High School and that we had to have a discussion afterwards. There are too many questions raised by the film not to engage the audience in discourse and provide a way to debrief, and to hear the perspectives of those with different backgrounds and experiences. I wanted to know what business owners and others in HR would feel about the hiring employees with the skills developed by the featured students. Would they say that memorization was more important than problem solving, collaborating, organizing and being creative?  Would they say that through employee training at their business, group or organization they teach employees the content skills they need for the job, but that they expect employees to come to them with the "soft skills?" What other thoughts would people have about the film, the portrayal of teachers, students, parents and others featured in it. And ultimately, what will people say in regards to the same type of education that we provide in the Arete PBL Academy at Neenah High School?

We have two dynamic speakers who will discuss their experiences with education which emphasizes skills directly applicable to the world. The first speaker, Oliver Schinkten, is a former teacher who felt strongly enough about changing education that he spent a year writing about reforming education, creating instructional videos and traveling the country as an educational activist speaking about the need for education reform.  He found that most people, whether they are in education or not, feel like education needs to change, but just don't know how to go about making it happen. . 

Dr. Joshua Garrison is a Professor of Education Leadership at UW-Oshkosh.  He did his undergrad work at Evergreen State College, a progressive liberal arts college in Olympia, Washington. He brings the perspective of having experienced a project based learning environment as an adult and now, as a professor, can speak about the too frequent attitude of students who don't care about learning, only their grades. 

So, as we screen it at 6:30 on Wednesday, March 9 in the Pickard Auditorium, my biggest question is:  Is it likely to succeed in convincing people that education has to change here?  Now? If the film doesn't convince them, then I am hoping the radicals Dr. Joshua Garrison and Oliver Schinkten will be the catalysts.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Learn to Be Disruptive

Seth Godin is one of my favorite authors. He is a disruptive force in the world of business and marketing, but I see his writing as directly applicable and disruptive to education as well. Depending on the situation, clients may be students or parents, bosses might be students, parents, or actual bosses. It is really all a matter of being able to see the connections.

Recently I have started Godin's Freelancer class on Udemy, a place for online learning. The classes on Udemy are not for college credit, but are for general learning of any kind. People make their own courses based on their expertise.

Because we are only in the second year of the program, by my way of thinking as members of our PBL program,  Arete PBL Academy at Neenah High School, all teachers and students are freelancers because we do not have an automatic clientele. Students often join us based on student or parent word of mouth, our presentations at other schools or our public displays of learning.

In the last three days, teachers and students in the program have presented at both Neenah High School and at Shattuck Middle School to inform families about our program. It really struck the  teachers in our program, Suzy Weisgerber, Emily Bennett, Tara Meinke, Lynn Heyn and I how impressive it was that students were willing to give up hours of free time to go to school and talk about how important our program has been to their lives.

One of the most effective lines that our students used while talking with families was, "Do you like tests?" The question usually stopped every kid in their tracks. Every student knows that for most classes and for most tests the goal is to get the highest grade possible and then forget the information as quickly as possible. In response to Godin's suggestions of how to increase demand, by asking that one question our students initiated a need in younger students. I feel it is the need for a way to do school that doesn't include tests.

Students followed that question by telling the story of our program, the way they learn, the learning outcomes both in terms of the academic expectations which all students have and the "soft skills" that they learn as part of how they are learning and showing the evidence of their learning.

Another element of Godin's (@thisissethsblog) freelancer course is to be an instigator, which is someone who decides what they are going to do rather than waiting for something to happen. Our students have instigated change in their lives and are encouraging others to do the same. It will be interesting to see how many students eventually join our program based on the student storytelling and instigation.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Christmas in the Trenches--The Best Assessment Yet

On December 22, 2015 Arete PBL Academy at Neenah High School had their assessment for the World War I unit. Despite extensive studying in the days leading up to the assessment, students were excited and nervous. Except that instead of taking a written test, their assessment was in the form of a play...performed for the entire freshman class of 500. Then, an hour later, they performed another for their parents, school administrators, school board members and upper class-men.

In a two week period, the play, entitled Christmas in the Trenches, was conceived, written, directed and performed by Kassidy Schmidt and the 10th grade students in the Academy.  In addition to the creation of the play, the set was also built by students.

As I look back on the year and a half of our program, this was, by far, our greatest success.  We had students who, in September 2014, would barely speak above a whisper, stand on stage and perform entire memorized scenes.

Our kick off event was to attend the professional production of All is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914 at the Appleton Performing Arts Center. After seeing the professional production, students learned about World War I scientists, poets, military and national leaders, events, inventions, discoveries.  They displayed their learning by writing scenes including the most important aspects of the war.

Throughout the two weeks of working on the production, many students were exposed to a world they had not previously and likely never would have experienced had it not been for the play. It was exhilarating, exhausting but ultimately a source of pride for everyone involved in the production.