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Changing Education One Post At A Time

Every once in a while I like to write a small review of a movie I’ve seen.  Since Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now the fastest movie to ever reach $1 Billion worldwide, it seems fitting to write a little about my feelings about the movie.  If you have not seen the movie yet, this is a good time to click over to another site, because it is littered with spoilers throughout.

Still here?  OK.

First of all, this was a good movie.  It was entertaining, included great special effects, and harkened the older viewers (like myself) back to 1977 and our first visions of the Skywalker clan.

And yet, I came away feeling the hype was way over blown, and my friends who thought this was the greatest movie ever somehow got it wrong.  It took me a bit to process it all, but it came down to this: I was watching more of a 1977 remake than a franchise reboot.  And that disappointed me.

We see these same kinds of scenes played out in both movies:

  • Luke Skywalker is an orphan raised on a desert planet riding around on a hover car and desperately wanting to get off the planet.  Rey is an orphan raised on a desert planet riding around on a hover motorcycle-looking contraption and desperately wanting to leave the planet, but afraid to do so because she hopes her parents will return someday.  Granted, from there the two characters diverge radically.  Luke is a whiny teenager prone to temper tantrums while Rey is a valiant, no-holds barred, strong character who evidently knows a lot more about mechanics than she could ever have learned picking over old ship debris.
  • Although he didn’t need the mask and voice manipulation, Ben Solo takes on a persona reminiscent of Darth Vader with his black helmet and flowing black clothing.  They both talk to holographic images of their dark lord leader.  Darth Vader feels a disturbance in the force when Luke is nearby.  Ben feels one when Han is nearby.  Again, their characters diverge hugely as well.  Darth is strong-willed and confident in his role within the dark side of the Force.  Ben…well, Ben is the equivalent of Luke Skywalker’s snot-nosed, little boy tantrum, self who has no real identity of his own other than some teenage rebellion that never really got out of his system.
  • Princess Leia has a really weird scene in a bikini with Jabba the Hut.  In this new movie the spy for the bad guys is a prostitute in a bikini next to a Jabba type character.  Did we really need reminding as badly as that?
  • Darth and Luke meet on a catwalk for their final light saber duel before Luke’s hand is severed.  Ben and Han meet on a catwalk for their final time before Ben runs him through with his light saber (like we didn’t see that coming).
  • One has a Death Star.  One has a Death Planet. Its odd, because with all the technological advances necessary to build the Starkiller in 30 years or so, none of the military weaponry has advanced at all.

And then there is just simply the bad parts of storytelling.

  • Out of the hundreds of thousands of stormtroopers, there is only one, Finn, who still has a conscience.  Is he the son of Lando Calrissian?  I’m not really sure we care.  He has great heart, but he’s not courageous the way Rey is.
  • When Han is killed, Leia knows.  While she has some connection to the Force through her own lineage, this just seemed contrived to me.  It would have been so much better for someone to return and tell her.  The way it was portrayed there is little drama associated with her feelings.  Something was lost for me.
  • People can walk for miles and miles in the space of about 2 minutes.  Just before the Starkiller is set to explode, Rey and Finn have walked at least a mile in 2 minutes flat.  Even in space fantasies we shouldn’t have to suspend ALL of our disbelief.

And let’s not forget the ONE thing Disney left out that would have made the entire movie better:

  • When Han and Leia finally talk about their feelings for one another in the original trilogy, Leia tells Han she loves him.  Han replies, “I know.”  It would have been SO cool during their reunion in this movie for Han to tell Leia that he loves her and have Leia respond with, “I know.”  What a missed opportunity.

Of course, with all of that, it was still a very good movie.  It opens us up to questions we all want answered.  What happened to Luke?  Did he go into self-imposed exile because he was afraid of going over to the dark side himself?  And who is Rey?  Someone online has speculated she is Obi-Wan Kenobi’s granddaughter.  It would explain why she has such a powerful understanding of the Force before receiving any training.  Will Ben Solo ever really grow up to be a true villain?  They need one.  In this movie he wasn’t really it.  And, of course, the question all of us want to know, will we ever see the Ewoks again?

Your thoughts?  Feel free to comment below.



Posted by Tim under Personal

Steve01Today marks the 2nd anniversary of my brother’s passing.  Steve was 6 years older than me, so I know he must have gotten tired of me as a “hanger on” younger brother when we were kids.  But I don’t remember him ever showing that to me.  He left home right after high school graduation to play piano for a Southern Gospel trio.  I had just left the 6th grade.

After a stint with the Gospel circuit, Steve wound up at Lee College (now University) where he was popular (I’m told by his friends) and was most known for performing “Colour My World” by Chicago at student events.  After it was suggested that he leave the college for playing piano in nightclubs to make extra money, he started on the road to stardom, a path that proved to be elusive and slippery.

He alternated between playing solo as a “piano man” much like the one Billy Joel sings about and working in various groups and just as many genres.  My favorite memory of those days is going to Atlanta to see him play and sitting around the grand piano with a bunch of drunks (I didn’t drink at the time) singing “I’ll Fly Away” and other songs from our old Red Backed Hymnal days.  My least favorite?  Getting asked to come on stage by Cortez Greer (an opening act for Bill Cosby) to sing because I was Steve’s baby brother.  The sound was so incredibly loud that I couldn’t find my pitch and was horribly off key.  But Cortez was kind about it as I recall.Steve02

Steve may not have achieved the fame and glory he sought as a musician, but that did not diminish his talent or the love and admiration of those that knew him.  He has two beautiful children, two grandchildren, and his music as a legacy.  And today, two years on from his departure from a life of constant physical and emotional pain, he has been on my mind.

For those that did not know Steve, you can learn a little about him in the links below.  If you knew him, may these bring back the fondest of memories.  Please feel free to comment in the Comments section if something touches you.

Steve03Steve can be seen briefly in this YouTube video from American Bandstand when Dick Clark interviewed Paul Davis.  I used to have the performance uploaded to my YouTube channel, but Dick Clark Productions made me take it down years ago.  You can see his performance on Solid Gold with Paul Davis on my Channel here.  It has now been viewed 135,000 times.

For Steve’s own music, he wrote and performed love songs like I Love Loving You (mobile) and Loving You Makes It All Right (with a little piano improv) (mobile).  He wrote songs of pain such as I’m The One Alone (mobile) and So Alone Without You. (mobile)

It wouldn’t be a Steve tribute without his rendition of Floyd Cramer’s Last Date (mobile) either.  Or a look at his more funky side with She’s Mine (mobile).

But I think my favorite song of his has to be Looking for a Light (mobile).  There is a cassette somewhere that has him and Paul Davis doing this as a demo duet.  Its so hard to tell them apart at times.  I remember a female artist put it on an album she made that Steve produced, but I can’t remember who that was.  I would love to record it sometime as my own tribute to Steve.

And if you are looking for some simple, elegant Christmas piano music, feel free to find his album in this folder.

We miss Steve terribly.  But he left a legacy that can be passed along for years and years to come.


BF Skinner wrote the book, literally, on operant conditioning.  And while there are many reasons not to offer extrinsic rewards in an education environment (students should want to learn for the sake of learning, right?), there are ways in which we can utilize the approach in, perhaps, a productive manner.

RewardsIn his interview on the Curious Minds podcast, Nir Eyal mentioned this idea of random rewards as it relates to marketing and creating habits among buyers or app users.

In an early study on operant conditioning a chicken was placed in an environment with a target on which to peck.  When the chicken pecked on the target, a food pellet dropped out.  Whenever the chicken was hungry, it pecked.  When it was no longer hungry, it stopped.

Then they changed the conditions.  Now when the chicken pecked on the target, the food pellets were dispersed randomly.  Sometimes they got a food pellet.  Other times they did not.  There was no order to the dispersement.  It wasn’t every 10th peck, or every 3rd.  It was random.

The result?  The chickens who received random rewards pecked more times on the target.  They worked harder for the reward.

When you tie this to the IKEA Effect mentioned in my last post, you get a very powerful way to create a habit of work.  We are more satisfied with things we make ourselves (IKEA Effect), and with random rewards we will work harder.  Could it be that we would be more satisfied as well?

Random Rewards does not equate random consequences.  If a student misbehaves in class, the behavior needs to be addressed quickly, fairly, and consistently in order to bring order back to the possible chaos.

But rewards.  That’s a different story.

Recently, in a faculty meeting at my school we had this discussion.  Some teachers felt that they needed to grade everything they assign.  Without a grade, the student would not be “conditioned” (my word, not theirs) to do the work.  They would let it slide.  Other teachers felt this was just making the burden too hard on the teacher.  Not everything, they argued, needed to be graded.

So, what if we did Random Rewards for grades?  What if they never knew which assignment would receive a grade?  What if grade book input happened in a totally random fashion?  I’m assuming here, of course, that the assignments would be equal in value, so you wouldn’t randomly choose a 20 point quiz over a 100 point test.

What if we did Random Rewards for the bulletin board?  Totally random.  Not just the best work.  Not everyone’s work.  Draw a circle on the floor, throw the assignments in the air, and put up only the ones that fall inside the circle.  Or use a random number table.  Would students be more apt to do better work knowing that, at some point, what they turn in will be seen by the entire class?  Or, perhaps, by the world if your bulletin board is a class blog?

Are there other ways the Law of Random Rewards could benefit your students?  Your class?  Your own sanity?


The IKEA Effect

Posted by Tim under Personal

In the last few days I’ve discovered the Curious Minds podcast.  In one episode, the guest was discussing marketing “hooks” that draw people in.  A lot of that conversation has been resonating over and over in my mind.  So much so, that I will have to listen again soon.

Screen Shot 2015-11-27 at 12.15.00 PMIn the discussion, he mentioned The IKEA Effect, named after the furniture company.  In an experiment, people were given Legos and asked to build something.  When they were finished, they were offered their creation and another that was already made for them.  Then they were asked which they valued more.  The overwhelming response was the one they created for themselves.

This explains IKEA as a popular store (and, hence, the name of the effect).  IKEA is not great quality furniture.  Yet people hold great value for items purchased there.  Why?  Because they had to invest of themselves in its creation.  There is much more perceived value in a chair assembled from IKEA than there is in one purchased already built.

And this is true in education as well.  Students are much more heavily invested in learning that requires something of them in the process.  Learning that requires effort is more valued than that which comes easily…or handed over whole cloth.

And that led me to several questions:

  • If we know this is true, why do so many of us still rely on worksheets that require little to no effort?
  • If we know this is true, why are we not doing more Problem Based Learning in our classes?
  • If we know this is true, why do so many parents try to minimize the work done by their children by nearly doing it for them?
  • If we know this is true, then what place does standardized testing actually have in education?
  • If we know this is true, why don’t we require all students to create something…anything…to demonstrate skill.
  • If we know this is true, how do we utilize technology in the learning process in order to bring about more effort and not less?
  • If we know this is true, how can we more fully integrate student effort into real world scenarios?

My list of questions is growing, not shrinking.

High school came easily for me.  I put forth minimal effort and maintained a solid B average.  I remember little of what I did there, or why I did it.

The last two years of college, on the other hand, required great effort.  I worked 2 or 3 part-time jobs at a time while taking between 16 and 18 hours of credits.  I was married with 2 children, all of whom depended on me to be fully present with them whenever I could manage it.  There was a brief time when I got up on Tuesday mornings and went to bed Thursday nights because there was only work and school in between.  And I truly valued everything I was learning.  I soaked it up like a sponge.

I’m not advocating for homework.  I’m not even using the dreaded “R” word – rigor.  But learning should require effort in order to bring its value to the learner.  And that, to me, is where individualized instruction is so important.  It is truly a struggle for some students to gain the basics while others have to be pushed beyond even our own limits as teachers to fully engage them in the learning.  And assessments should be reflective of the effort required, not standardized with a same-size-fits-all mentality.

What have you built lately?


Books Are Not About Language

Posted by Tim under Personal

This is Banned Books Week sponsored by the American Library Association.  It is a time for us to think about books that have been banned, or attempted to be banned, over the years.  You know, really, really bad books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Kite Runner.

VonnegutMy first experience with a banned book was Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.  I was already a fan after reading Player Piano.  I was in junior high (middle school for the younger generation).  I had no idea it had been banned in some places.  I only knew three things.  I knew Vonnegut had quickly become my favorite author.  I knew there was a moving coming out based on the book.  And I knew there was nudity in the book because Valerie Perrine’s nude scenes were featured in Playboy, a magazine to which I surreptitiously had access from time to time.

As I read the book, I realized that the nudity was a necessary part of the storyline (as an early teenager I was disappointed that it was just there, and not more gratuitous).  I also realized that, even though I was not a frequent user of profanity (at least at the time), the profanity was a necessary part of the dialogue.

Even in junior high, I knew this book was about ideas, about pain, about struggle, about war and its profound effect on the human psyche.  Its out-of-sync narration was jarring. But also necessary to its idea.

Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time.

Vonnegut was present during the WWII firebombing of Dresden, Germany.  That may have been our military’s first, true, shock and awe campaign as countless planes dropped thousands of bombs on this city.  That real-life event forged Vonnegut’s views on war, politics, religion, and so much more.  It created a depression that comes out in nearly all of his writing.  A sarcastic humor that touches the soul. A hopeless resignation to the events that shape our lives.  And so it goes.

Books are generally not banned because of words.  Language is almost always secondary.  Books are banned because people don’t like the ideas presented in the books.  Books make us think.  OK, important books make us think.  They bend our minds.  They warp our perceptions.  They fundamentally change our worldview.  They shake us out of the doldrums of the life to which we’ve become comfortable.

And nearly every book that has been banned, or attempted to be banned, has turned out to be an important book for these very reasons.

Authors, good authors, carefully choose their language.  They carefully choose what stays in a story and what gets thrown out.  They remove anything that doesn’t progress the story.  Anything that doesn’t help explain the story.  As an English teacher I understand the difference between using words and using the right words.  Sometimes the right words are the very ones that jar our souls and awaken in us the need to really pay attention to the idea.

Limiting access to books based on age-appropriateness is not the same as banning a book.  A parent asking teachers to provide his daughter with an alternate text because of personal, family, or religious objections is not banning a book.  Its called acting responsibly.

Trying to be the parent of every individual in a city, a town, a community, or a school is an obscene attempt at mind-control and a power trip no single human being should ever be allowed to complete.

You cannot stop an idea whose time has come.

Not even if you burned every book on the planet.

Books are not about language.  They are about ideas.  And ideas live in the minds of people.

You can’t stop ideas.



The Immortal Life of a Facebook Post

Posted by Tim under Personal

Recently, a parent from our school made headlines when she contacted WBIR to complain about a book on our summer read list, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.  She made it clear that her complain was not with our school, our teachers, or our administration.  Instead, she was upset by the process of approving books for use in Knox County Schools and stated that she would like to see the book taken off the reading list for all high school students.

This book has been our required summer read for sophomores for five years.  While I have not read it personally, I am intrigued by its exploration of medical ethics, science research, racial and poverty insights, and a host of other things that directly relate to the kinds of discussions we want our students to have surrounding their STEM education at our school.

Yes, the book is forthright about a number of things.  I would even go so far as to say that it may not be developmentally appropriate for some students (I’m told there is a middle school version of the book, but I have not researched that yet).

Ironically, on the day after this news story hit one of our English classes was beginning a discussion of the text.  This passage was one of the close reads conducted in class:

It was no surprise that she [Henrietta] hadn’t come back all those times for follow-up [medical treatment].  For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a  foreign country where she didn’t speak the language. She knew about harvesting tobacco and butchering a pig, but she’d never heard the words cervix or biopsy.  She didn’t read or write much, and she hadn’t studied science in school. She, like most black patients, only went to Hopkins when she thought she had no choice. (p 16)

Students were already aware of the news story, and it was brought up in the context of this discussion.  According to their teacher, some made connections about informed consent stating that signing the transfer papers to come to the L&N STEM Academy was kind of like Henrietta signing the informed consent form at Johns Hopkins.  An in-depth discussion of informed consent followed with the question (by students) of whether anyone can ever truly be fully informed.

Other students felt that, like the Lacks’ family suffered from scientific illiteracy students who did not read the book could suffer as well.

These are the kinds of discussions our students have about the texts they read.  They are deep, thoughtful, and informed.

facebook-icon-logo-vectorFor me, I decided to post the WBIR article to Facebook without comment.  It didn’t take long for those that follow me, many of them educators, to wonder why anyone would want this book banned.  They were all in agreement (as am I) that the mother certainly has the right to ask for an alternative text for her child if she feels it is necessary.  But making that decision for all parents simply went too far.

And then the story took off.

It was picked up by the LA Times, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, and even Entertainment Weekly among others.  I posted a few of those links as well.

Today the phone call came.  I was halfway expecting it, but had hoped we were beyond it.

I was asked to remove my Facebook posts related to this incident.  And I did.  Without hesitation.  Without question.  I understood the reasons, even if I didn’t totally agree with them.  And it came from the superiors of my superior and that was all I needed to comply.

But here is the problem.

Just as the HeLa cells carry on the life of Henrietta Lacks forever, those posts cannot really be undone.  Others have shared them.  And others have shared those.  And on and on.  People take screenshots and share them (well, I do, so I assume others do as well).  They copy links and email them (me again).

I try to make sure that I can defend anything I post online.  I have deleted comments to others’ posts on many, many occasions before actually posting them because I felt it would be viewed as over the top, too angry, not funny, and more.  So if you see a post from me on Facebook or Twitter or this blog, you can know I’ve thought about it before sending it.  (OK, not when I’ve posted something as true that actually turns out to be a hoax or an article from 5 years ago I thought was current).

But there is an important lesson in this beyond the lesson of this book.  Facebook posts live forever.  They are immortal.  Deleting them will not end them.  I was asked to delete mine.  No problem.  Others get fired over theirs.  Oops.

Some in our system would use this issue to explain why Facebook should continue to be blocked at school.  I would use it to explain why transparency and openness has won the day here and argue to have it unblocked.

So, if you are reading this post, take a look at your social media footprint.  Can you defend every post?  Can you defend the language you’ve used?

They are immortal you know.


Thinking of Food

Posted by Tim under Personal

In my boredom on a Sunday afternoon, I stumbled upon a new (to me) series on Netflix titled, “Chef’s Table.” The very first episode featured 3-Star Michelin chef, Massimo Bottura, from Modena, Italy.  I was hooked.

Chef Massimo Bottura

Chef Massimo Bottura

While every episode features a totally different style of chef with very different philosophies of food, this first episode harkened me back to a time when I was enmeshed in creating ritual and memories.

Chef Bottura talked about life being slow, and the enjoyment of food should also be slow.  This resonated with me mainly because I have never fully enjoyed the slowness of food.  I love food. All kinds of food.  But I have not mastered the art of truly “enjoying” time at the table.

He also discussed having a certain reverence for the food.  As they were cutting open an aged wheel of Parmesan cheese they talked about “listening” to the food.  They tapped the wheel with a small hammer on both sides and around the edges listening for a certain sound that would indicate it was aged properly.  When it was cracked open slightly there was the smell of the cheese that met them as well.  Long before tasting they knew it was going to be great.

This idea of reverencing food, of the slowness of food, I sat there thinking about how terribly opposite my life is. I grab fast food in the morning on the way to work.  If I’m too tired to drive straight home, I will stop somewhere to get something fast and get back on the road again.  I’m trying now to get back to cooking at home with fresh ingredients, but its a difficult paradigm to change.

There are memories attached to food that should also be reverenced.  Some food speaks to you in ways nothing else can.  Lasagna is one of those foods for me.  I don’t remember exactly where I was, but I remember being seated at a children’s table in a basement of someone’s house (could have been my own, but I don’t think so) when I first tasted lasagna. I thought it was food from heaven.

No matter where I have fried catfish (and I try it a lot of places), it takes me back to family fish fries where an uncle of mine would produce some of the most mouth-watering food I’ve ever enjoyed.  And it reminds me of church fish fries where we laughed and ate and talked around the tables creating a true sense of community in the same way the early church did when they met in people’s homes.

Obviously, at nearly 45 pounds over my idea weight, I have a certain enjoyment of food.  But it is a false enjoyment.  It is one based on the act of eating and not the experience.

The closest I come is on vacations.  I look for places to eat that I can only find in the place where I am.  In that regard, I am looking for an experience with food that will tie me to the place and embed my memories deeply.  But even then I am inhaling food more than enjoying it.

As with most parts of my life, I need to slow down my eating.  I need to raise the level of experience.  And I need to combine the visual with the nutritional values of what I’m eating.

So stay tuned for a new page in the food pictures I post to social media.  Different foods.  But also a different perspective of the food in the camera to go with a changing perspective of eating.


Another Milestone: Our First Week Over

Posted by Tim under Personal

At the L&N STEM Academy, we finished the week strong.  Despite all that has worked against us this year (its always different every year, so it keeps things fresh and fun!), students are settling into schedules, teachers are settling into classes, and the administrative team is keeping the coffee hot.

We have been in Advisories all week during lunches, and our student Gryphon Guides have done a phenomenal job of creating and presenting ideas and plans for those groups.  Last year, that fell to me (self-imposed, of course), so I’m very thankful to have one thing off my plate this early in the year.

Screen Shot 2015-08-16 at 11.14.46 AMMonday starts the newest part of our schedule: Labs.  Labs is a fancy name for a space where students will meet to catch up on homework, practice writing skills, do math, collaborate on projects, get 1:1 help from teachers, and more.  We set up Writing Labs, Math Labs, Science Labs, Digital Labs, Art Labs, and Latin Labs.  We also have Reading Intervention and Math Intervention for those students are struggling with either the content or the schedule.

Our philosophy of education has finally made us put our money where our mouth is.  We believe that as students take ownership of their own learning, their learning will accelerate.  We encourage students to self-advocate.  We encourage parents to let them struggle in the process.  We encourage teachers to be guides along the journey.  And Monday is a time to demonstrate that.

Here is my take on what we are calling Mastery Monday.

  • First, we have a few classes that still meet 3 days per week.  Students in classes like Chemistry 1 CP, Biology 1 CP, and a number of AP classes will meet with that teacher on Mondays in their 3rd class time of the week.  They are not allowed to bypass that class time.  It is required of all students.
  • The labs help us accomplish several things.  Take a math lab for example.  It isn’t subject specific.  In other words, they aren’t just Algebra 1 students or just Geometry students.  They may come from different grade levels and various math classes.  It is not a teaching time.  It is a Mastery time that falls to the students.
  • Students will meet in Advisories on Fridays each week.  During that time they will decide the priorities of things they need to do on Mondays during their labs in order to excel in each subject.  On Mondays they will share those plans with their Lab teacher.  The teacher’s job is to make sure they stay on track, monitor their progress, and help them succeed in a personal learning plan.
  • Some students will do just fine without the lab time.  Not every student on campus is in a Writing Lab, for instance.  But we have also scheduled some top students in some labs to act as tutors and collaborators with students who may be struggling.  Student-to-Student tutoring is often more effective than Teacher to Student tutoring.
  • At the end of the first 4 1/2 weeks we will look at grades for all students.  Some students may indicate to us that they would do just fine if we took them out of a Monday Lab.  Others may indicate they should have been in one from the beginning.  We will make some adjustments and move forward.

I’m looking forward to seeing where we are with this by Christmas Break.  I think we will be amazed.


(Image Credit: I don’t know who made the Lego L&N in the picture above, but it sits on our front desk.  It was too good not to take a picture!)


Our Official First Day

Posted by Tim under Personal

It is 8:10 on Monday, August 10 (see what I did there?), and we are preparing for our first official day of the new year.  Last Friday we had new students walk through their schedule and find their bus routes.  Saturday was a student and family Carnival where our clubs and other organizations got to vie for the attention of new students, and we raised a little money for St. Jude.  Today, though, is the real kicker.

We are staffed for 580 students.  We have room to seat 500 students each period.  As of the moment of writing this sentence, we have 632 students enrolled.  Yes, its going to be an interesting week.

We know we will have a handful of students who decide in the first few days that this school is not what they expected.  Some will return to their zoned schools. And we’re told that a few are already known to be moving away from us, we just have to wait for the people at the district office to remove them from our rosters.  As a result, that 632 should come down over the next few days.

Fingers crossed.

After my last post, a few people commented to me that the narration of how our new schedule is going to go was fairly complicated.  They still did not totally understand it.  We also have students and parents (and a few teachers) who also don’t really see the big picture quite yet.  So, I created this short video to help outline what it will look like on a student’s schedule.  If you still have questions, feel free to email me, or leave me a comment.

Let the learning begin!


And So It Begins

Posted by Tim under Personal

On August 6th, I realized I had started working at the L&N STEM Academy exactly three years earlier on that very day.  What a whirlwind those first few days, weeks, and months were!  On August 7th, we hosted all of our new students at the school to walk through their schedules, meet their teachers, and figure out where their busses are in the afternoons.  Today, on my 58th birthday, we are hosting our Fall Carnival and Movie Night on the Plaza.  It is a time for all students and their families to come together and learn about the various clubs and organizations on campus, pay school fees, spend some money on fundraisers (we are raffling off an Apple Watch), try to dunk various teachers and administrators (not me) in the Dunking Booth, and eat burgers and hotdogs.  Monday all of our students come for a half day.  We will walk through the schedule again.  We’ll find even more problems with room assignments and over crowded classes.  And when its over, we will be so happy to have seen our kids again.

And so it begins.

This year we are working on a different schedule than anything I’ve ever experienced before.  It is both exciting and frightening, wondrous and wild.

We operate on an alternative block schedule, so our kids take 8 classes all year long.  They have 4 classes on L days and 4 classes on N days.  At least, until this year.  This year, we’ve made Tuesdays and Thursdays our L days and Wednesdays and Fridays our N Days.  Mastery Monday stands on its own for the most part.  So let’s see if I can explain this in a way that makes any sense to those reading this post.

We have classes that meet 2 days per week.  These are TR and WF classes.  We have some that meet 3 days a week.  They meet MTR or MWF.  These are typically some of our more strenuous AP courses, Biology 1 and Chemistry 1, and music classes (for extra rehearsals).  And then we have some classes that meet Monday only.  The vast majority of these classes are for no credit.

Our freshmen all have 8 credits that fall in the regular L and N day schedules.  Every period TWRF has a class.  But they are the only ones.  Once you get to be a Sophomore, Junior, or Senior, you would take a Science Research Class on Mondays for 1 credit.  As a result, out of the 8 class slots on TRWF, students only have 7 taken up to earn credits.  They all pretty much have a free period in their schedule where they can listen to music, watch videos, play games, study, do homework, or any number of other activities suitable for school.

It isn’t the schedule we set out to create, but its a pretty close replica (we envisioned fewer 3 days classes with more freedom to move kids around on Mondays).  It is a pilot.  A prototype.  It was born out of the process of ideation, sympathizing, prototyping, building, and now testing.  Some teachers love it.  Some despise it.  Some are in quiet desperation about it.

This year, from time to time, I’ll update our progress here.  It is an exciting time to be an educator.  We want it to be an exciting time to be a student as well.  I guess we’ll find out.

And so it begins.

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