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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

from Brick and Mortar to Click and Order

The transformation of schools and instructional delivery systems is a challenge that is characterized by the clash of the past ("brick and mortar") and the present ("click and order").

At my age, I can remember film strips featuring social studies and science information with pictures and accompanying narratives, vinyl records for music class, SRA kits for Reading, the enviable chore of cleaning the chalkboard erasers, and many more memories.

I recall how exciting it was in 1982 to open boxes containing brand new Vic Commodore 20 computers and later Commodore 64 version. Wow, it was unbelievable what those units could do! And the hand held calculators that replaced the large boxy desktop calculating machines? How would have thought? Digital watches, are you kidding me? During a break in a conference I attended in 1991 I felt compelled to inform a friend of mine who was a presenter that the people at my table were so curious and intrigued by how he was delivering information that unless he explained how PowerPoint worked they would unconsciously allow the messenger to obscure the message.

And today, I also grapple with social media, interactive white boards, informative youtube videos, tablets, and a host of other new and exciting technological learning instruments.

It's been a thrilling roller coaster ride across nearly four decades in education.

Here's a four minute video on 21st century education that is both scary for those secure in the past and promising for those anxious to chase the future.

Monday, February 11, 2013

40 Minutes: 40 Years Later

I enjoy the study of history and the story of civilization.

History was my favorite subject throughout high school. My interest in famous events, people, places, and pivotal points in our civilization prompted me to extend myself well beyond the confinement of a 40 minute period each day of school. However, I graduated from high school 42 years ago this June and despite the exponential growth in the content of social, economic, political and military issues, our learners today still have a single 40 minute period each day to study and learn about all of the important historical information I had to learn, plus whatever has happened in the world or our nation since I graduated. Think about it. The same can be said about Literature, and especially Science, a discipline that has experienced an incredible growth in content and skill.

How can you do it? How can we squeeze the ever-growing body of knowledge available today into the same amount of time that learners had generations ago? What is of most importance? Surely, you can't expect that the learners of today are learning everything I was expected to learn 42 years ago AND everything that has occurred since then! So, what is left out? Who decides what is left out?

Educational researcher Larry Lezotte refrred to the process of organized abandonment. He cited the overwhelming burden facing schools with an expansive curricula delivered in a fixed and finite amount of time. He discouraged people from adding anything to the curriculum unless something is eliminated in kind, so we no longer try to pour ten gallons of water into a five gallon container.

The question remains - who decides and how do they decide?

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Crossing Guard

Despite the frigid weather, with a wind chill dropping the temperature to five above zero, many of our secondary level learners patiently lined both sides of the street in front of our school today. They were paying tribute to the former crossing guard who not only shepherded them safely across the busy intersection adjacent to the school, but also performed the same ritual for most of their parents.

Dorothy "Dot" Jordan passed away on Tuesday. She was in her eighties when she retired at the end of the 2010-11 school years following thirty-four years as a crossing guard in Green Island stationed at that same traffic intersection. During that time she fulfilled her duty no matter the weather. Her last year as crossing guard coincided with my first year as superintendent. I shared her post, separated by ten or fifteen yards as I welcomed our learners into school each morning.

I marveled at her resilience and her compassion for children. She bore seven of her own. In addition to her position as a crossing guard she also worked as a seamstress. There were times when I met her in the morning with a pair of pants that needed to be hemmed or some other modification. She always smiled and waved to me each morning. She knit mittens for many of the younger children and gave them small gifts just before breaking for the winter holidays. She had candy treats for them at Halloween. She could be counted on each and every school day to diligently watch over those navigating that intersection. She was consistently cordial to all and persistently dedicated to her responsibilities.

Her generosity has extended beyond her years. Rather than flowers, her family had requested that contributions be made to the "Mrs. Jordan's Kids" program to benefit young children at Heatly School who may need a helping hand. She was that special.

In her honor, three of the members of our senior class served as honorary crossing guards, ushering the hearse and funeral procession through that very same intersection outside our school while other learners stood solemnly as they flanked the road and watched the parade of vehicles slowly advance. It was a fitting tribute in the memory of someone who served the children of our community for over three decades.

Good bye Dot, and thank you for all you've done for the kids of Green Island.