Tag Archives: education

COVID-19 and School Re-opening

What will “school” look like in the Fall?

This question has been in the minds of administrators, teachers, staff, and students. Will schools be able to go back to the way they were before (and should we?), will we still be operating under “remote learning”, or will we have some combination?

If the current (Ohio) Department of Health recommendations hold until school resumes for the 2020-2021 school year, here are my thoughts on how to best make use of available resources while taking steps to provide a safe environment for all.

— Some of your students will do just fine under “remote learning”. They have the skill, the means, and the support to achieve expected outcomes without setting foot in the building. Let those students stay home and learn with remote feedback and support.

— Take the rest of your students, and put them in 3 or 4 groups. No, don’t “ability group” or “level” them. Mix them up. Let’s say you have 3 groups, and we’ll call them “A”, “B”, and “C”. Bring Group A in for the first week of school. All day, all week. The “core” subject teachers should expose the students to new material, and preview what they will learn for the next two weeks. Arts and other specialized subjects should be a big part of students’ experience. Groups B and C will stay home this week and participate in online instruction. For Week 2, Group B comes to the building and Groups A and C participate in online instruction.

— For a small percentage of your students, uninterrupted daily presence in the building is essential. These students need the most support, and depend on many specialized services they receive at school. These students should be scheduled to be in school every day. Every. Day. Scheduling them for two days a week while scheduling the gifted honors dual-credit senior two days a week sounds “equal”, but it is by no means equitable or fair.

— Allow students to have more than whatever the minimum state requirement is for lunch.

— Forget the seven or eight equal-timed class periods. Divide the day into twenty-minute segments and have a different small group of students moving at those twenty-minute intervals. Some classes may only meet for 40 minutes (two twenty-minute segments). Some may meet for three or four. Just don’t put all of your students in the hallway at the same time. Teachers in “departmentalized” schedules shouldn’t have to be in class with students for more than half of the school day under this system. The rest of their day can be used to provide feedback and assistance to remote learners. Students in self-contained classrooms should still have about half of their day in specialized courses, recess, literacy/library support,

— Most of all, remember that the system is supposed to be there to support the students. The students aren’t there to support our system. We must not try to force our comfortable routines to fit an extraordinary situation, and then complain that the job can’t be done when we find that we can’t do things the way we’ve always done them.

We can do this. We can do things we’ve never been able to do before, if we are willing to make the best use possible of what we have available.

The Opposite of Tech Integration

“Technology Integration Specialist” is the title on my business card.  I like it.  It speaks directly to what the primary focus of my job is – how to use technology to intentionally increase achievement for all learners and close gaps for historically underserved subgroups.

Explaining what that looks like can be difficult.  It’s as difficult as explaining what “good teaching” really looks like, especially once you get beyond definitions that are all about compliance (“students are quiet”, “desks are in neat rows”, “assigned work is turned in on time”) and get to definitions that actually reflect learning (intellectual, emotional, and behavioral advances made by the students).

Sometimes, we can get a clearer picture of what something is by defining what it isn’t.  So, what would be the opposite of Tech Integration?

How about “Tech Segregation”?

“Tech Segregation” separates the technology from the learning process, or relegates it to its own learning path.  Learning to use technology becomes a separate subject, like English, math, social studies, or science.  Or maybe even more like a foreign language.  And anytime learning in one field helps a student make advances in another field, the effect is a happy accident instead of an intentional outcome.  We are misusing students’ time when students in a Technology class learn to create PowerPoint presentations about topics with no explicit connection to the curriculum, and then type or hand-write a book report for Language Arts.

“Tech Segregation” relegates technology to extension activities, only for students who have already achieved the day’s academic goal.  Or, the technology becomes a reward for compliance – something students get to do after they finish the stuff they don’t want to do.  In that system, students have to find a way to perform without the technology before they can use it.  It’s as senseless as making kids prove they can walk all the way to school before they’re allowed to get on a bus.

“Tech Segregation” makes kids achieve a standard or pre-qualify before they can have access.  Access to technology is seen as inherently motivational for students, but that attribute is used as the carrot on a stick to get kids to do things the old way, instead of transforming the way we teach to take fuller advantage of the way we learn.

“Tech Segregation” preserves the rank-and-sort, label-and-identify system that has resulted in significant gaps for students who don’t fit typical socio-economic and cultural norms.  Kids who are “good at school” get the bells and whistles.  Kids who don’t are told to try harder, while we turn away and suck our teeth at the sad state of their homes and families.

Conversely, Tech Integration acknowledges that quality tools in the hands of practiced learners makes amazing things possible.  When that position is paired with the belief that every student can learn, then it becomes unconscionable to keep those tools out of the hands of the very students who need the most support when it comes to accessing the general curriculum.

End Tech Segregation.


Learn Like The Rocket Boys of NIH

Terence Boylan and Bruce Cook did something awesome.  The year was 1957, and the two neighbor boys were interested in model rockets.  Terence and Bruce knew what they wanted to do, but they didn’t have the financial resources to make it happen.

And what could have ended right then and there in disappointment turned into something amazing!

If you’re not familiar with their story, go watch this video and/or read this little book.  Then come back!

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FnsPOtRqz-c

Online Book (PDF): 

Click to access rockete1.pdf

Here are five important lessons we can learn from the true story of The Rocket Boys of NIH:

1) Kids of different ages and abilities can work and learn together.  Terence was a fairly typical nine-year-old, but Bruce was 14 and in a wheelchair.  In 1957, likely the only time these two boys would have had to pursue their common interest together was after school or in the summer.  Fortunately, they were neighbors, so it was easy for the boys to find time to be together.  Do students who have little more in common than their interests have the opportunity to pursue those interests together?

2) Asking an expert can be a good strategy.  Terence knew that his father got money to do what he did.  That is a gross oversimplification of the process, but it led Terence to ask his father, not for the money, but for some expertise.  Terence then applied his father’s answer to his own situation and made his own funding request!

3) Use failure as an opportunity to ask “How can we improve?”  When early versions of their rocket didn’t launch, or hit the car, or got stuck in the tree, Terence and Bruce were still so enthusiastic about their project that they didn’t let the setback stop them.  They learned from observing and analyzing their failed attempts, and tried again, and again.

Terence Boylan's letter to NIH.
Terence Boylan’s letter to NIH.

4) Don’t be afraid to ask.  They had no official form or insider contact at NIH for their request.  They just had an interest and an idea for a project. Then, most importantly, Terence wrote and mailed the letter.  Without that, none of the rest would have happened.

5) Support someone’s dream, even if it isn’t “your field”.  The NIH (National Institutes of Health) had nothing to do with funding experiments in space travel, either in 1957 or today!  The NIH couldn’t fund Terence and Bruce’s project, but the reviewers decided they could, privately.  In 1957, ten dollars would have bought about 32 gallons of gasoline.  Knowing that they had received a “grant” to work on this project gave Terence and Bruce even more urgency to see their project through to completion!

Do something awesome!