Schooling Outside the Lines - book launch

Tonight, we as the EDL 662 Course are launching a book! Yeah, for real!! 

The book is called Schooling Outside the Lines. The links to download and read are below.  



PDF (cleanest version)

ePub (for reading on tablets) 

Google Docs: 


This book emerged from our EDL 662 investigations into teaching and learning in the digital, global world. Along the way, students wrote blog posts on a variety of topics that helped us question what we are doing in schools and how we can improve these learning systems. The 5 chapters in the book address: 1) Meaning of the Diploma, 2) Technology, 3) Culture, 4) Assessment, and 5) Growth Mindset. I wrote the opening and closing, but the rest is their work. 

Next, we picked chapters and assigned pairs of students to curate and edit each chapter. Thus, everyone had a part not only in writing the book, but in bringing it together. We also assigned additional roles like building the index, the cover art, marketing, etc. It was certainly a group effort. 

Students used various blog platforms to do the initial writing and sharing. We read and discussed those in our LMS, Canvas. Once we picked a direction for the book ... we used Google Docs to bring it all together into a single place as students made their curation decisions. Students then engaged in about 2 weeks of curation and editing. We had a pair of managing editors, Kyle Curry and Bailey Ubellacker, who kept everyone on track and managed the whole process. They did great ... thanks to them! 

Once we had a full edited copy ... it was time for exporting. Google Docs allows exports to both PDF and ePub. I used Calibre to do a reformat, though, between the PDF and the final ePub. Then, I used that ePub file for upload into the iBooks store. We will also publish a paper version, just for ourselves, through Lulu. 

reminding myself that all lives matter

I am at UCEA in Detroit ... and I'm getting a wonderful reminder that: 


Kudos to the thoughts of outgoing UCEA president Mónica Byrne-Jiménez. Her analogy of the lotus which blooms beautifully but is only possible because of the mud was compelling. Our work will not always be clean, but it is the hard work in the mud amongst leaders that makes the beautiful possible for kids.

I love UCEA in particular and working with my academic colleagues in general because I get to be reminded and get to recommit to our communities ... everyone in our communities. While working at STEAM and at UK, I get to work closely with schools daily to recode learning systems to privilege all learners. But, fighting for social justice is not the same as understanding the lives, hopes, fears, and passions of my neighbors who are not white midwesterners like myself. It is a superb reminder that while I love the fight and want to take action everyday to improve learning systems ... there is massive value in just listening and learning. Perhaps now more than ever. The expensive education and entry credentials that has put me in a position to recode systems is not an opportunity available to many of my fellow Americans ... but their lives matter, and their ideas matter, just as much or more than mine. 

So, it is a good reminder to all of us, perhaps, to be intentional about listening. To actively seek out situations that make us a bit uncomfortable, whatever your background, in connecting with the lives that matter. We can't let our own fear keep us from the conversations that really matter. 

A good place to start ... is in the tweets emerging from the conference on the hashtag #UCEA16 ... and connect with these folks. Start a dialog. These are all passionate people about making lives better for all of us and they really want to connect with you also. 

10x can be easier than 10% ... seriously

Make no mistake what I am personally going for at STEAM ... I want a 10 times better high school experience for kids, not just a 10% better high school experience. Most of the innovation I see in schools are people looking for a 10% better solution. They are mostly trying to maximize the efficiency out of existing models. There is nothing wrong with that at all. That is extremely valuable work, but it can also be draining as we try to squeeze more and more out of a model designed for a different time. 

I really love this article from Google X's thinkers (and passed along by Scott McLeod) on how it can actually be easier to go for 10x than 10%.

Because when you’re working to make things 10 percent better, you inevitably focus on the existing tools and assumptions, and on building on top of an existing solution that many people have already spent a lot of time thinking about. Such incremental progress is driven by extra effort, extra money, and extra resources. It’s tempting to feel improving things this way means we’re being good soldiers, with the grit and perseverance to continue where others may have failed — but most of the time we find ourselves stuck in the same old slog.

I very much agree with this notion and my experience over the last 4 years developing STEAM confirms for me that not only are 10x opportunities possible within public schools, we can deliver them.

Take for instance the number of hours spent in internships in high school within Lexington. Last semester our kids (around 200) spent over 15,000 hours collectively. Pick any other random 200 high school kids in Lexington and they would be lucky to have 1,500. In fact, our small high school achieves more internship hours while in school than the rest of the city's public high schools combined. Honestly, it was actually easier to rethink our assumptions around when and how kids can leave the building than for a traditional public school to try to squeeze another 10% internship hours. At STEAM, we are going for similar 10x gains in dual credit courses, 10x fall in discipline rates, 10x project based learning opportunities. We are not actively trying to get those 10x gains, but when you are willing to get to the level of questioning assumptions and first principles ... those kinds of gains are possible. 

The key is in the assumptions. Every model (including our new one) is based on core assumptions. It is in those assumptions that opportunity truly lies because the assumptions that worked 20 years ago or 100 years ago do not necessarily work today. Many of them may still work, but some will not. Yet, those outdated assumptions are locked into the models we operate in schools. Once you start to see the assumptions (which I call the "code") they are absolutely everywhere. We make assumptions about how teachers spend time, what makes them qualified, how they should grade, how they should teach. We make assumptions about structures from the size of a classroom to the timing of the schedule. And, of course, we make assumptions about kids. Those can be the most infuriating. If you really want to know where the achievement gap lives, it is not in the mind of the child (which is equally, beautifully intelligent) it is in the assumptions of the adults.  

Getting beyond the assumptions requires a different kind of thinking ... one that does not come as naturally to us. No company in the world more clearly exhibits this trait right now than those of Elon Musk (Tesla and Spacex, we have a 10x better electric car, a 10x better battery, 10x better solar panels, and 10x better rockets). The key to getting those world-changing technological solutions time and again is that the people working in those companies reason from first principles, not from analogy. Elon (not the best speaker, be patient with him) explains below. 

Interview by Kevin Rose The benefit of "first principles" thinking? It allows you to innovate in clear leaps, rather than building small improvements onto something that already exists. 

When you apply this same reasoning to schooling ... finding and achieving 10x solutions is actually not that hard. Of course, it takes lots of time and communication and hours and hours of modeling, testing, adjusting, remodeling, etc. ... but if you stick with it at some point you look back and realize that you've achieved something for kids in your context that has never been achieved before. Not even close. Your are not 10% better for the learners than it was before, you are approaching 10x better. It can be done and much more easily than people realize.

Now, a 10x solution is not the same things as a "magic bullet" and it is also still making incremental improvements overall ... but we will leave those connections for another day. 

More segregated today ...

Whenever I tell students or, really, anyone that our schools are more segregated today than during the Civil Rights era, they are always shocked. But, that is our reality. We need to own that and, more importantly, we need to overcome the fear that underlies this challenge.

Now, I'm exceedingly proud to say that STEAM Academy is a core part of the solution for Fayette County Public Schools and Lexington, Kentucky. Students of all races are doing pretty well at STEAM but most importantly we embrace a culture that values, instead of fearing, diversity. Kids understand that peers that are different than them (on many aspects) actually make their own lives better and richer too. That kids from all backgrounds are talented and skilled and have something to offer our CommonWealth. We are not perfect, nor are we particularly close to it. But, we are trying to honestly work for the betterment of all kids on the assumption that when everyone has chances at success we are ultimately all more successful together. Also, for those in Kentucky, you should take some pride in the fact Jefferson County Public Schools has done their best to keep the school desegregated as the video shows and this article praises.

Moving forward, we need to be more honest with ourselves as a city, a state, and a nation ... and that starts with being honest with ourselves as parents. We make lots of choices for our kiddos in what we believe to be their best interest. But, those choices are structured within our own world-views. Thus, if we view the world outside our bubble as something to be feared, then our kids' lives will driven by fear ... and that same fear will set in within them, in various forms. But, most alarmingly, we are structurally limiting our children's understanding of the world as a whole. That lack of understanding of the bigger picture is a massive roadblock to their future success in a global, connected world. Thus, at the core, all we as parents really need to do is shift our mental model from fearing things outside our bubble to exploring and embracing them. That subtle shift is the remedy. A parent doesn't need to embrace every single aspect of our society, but start with exploration instead of fear and then decide.

Second, we have to understand, embrace, and come to terms with the fact that our school systems are designed to perpetuate the status quo. Deep in the design of the technology of schooling (largely designed around 100 years ago) are assumptions and mechanisms that separate and ultimately reinforce our fears. Few in these systems have ill intentions, but we all in these systems contribute to the continuance of systemic segregation. In Kentucky, the gaps between learners at kindergarten actually widen at graduation (proud to be part of the Prichard Committee work to highlight this). In a majority poverty state like Kentucky, chances are if you start from poverty you will be stuck in poverty. School is less a solution than a reinforcer. Thus, schooling presently is generally not the great leveler that equalizes as we hope, but rather the systemic hardening of the mold cast when a child is born. The promise embedded in a child on the first day of school is frequently all but eliminated on their last. 

As educators, we must combat the notion that helping one child is holding back another. That we must "track" kids based on their compliance. That a school willing to tackle learning deficiencies is a "bad" school. That a child acting out is behaviorally disordered and must be pushed aside. And, a thousand other notions and choices that live and are perpetuated within the code of schooling. I love spending time (and getting paid) changing that code, but it is something that will take many of us working on together over years to recode. STEAM is a start, as are many other models, but to go further will take even more courage and collaboration. 

While this might feel daunting, keep in mind that two generations ago, our grandparents as a people (willing or not) took real and legitimate steps to make us a less segregated society. They reset our norms, passed new laws, and built new structures. We can do the same. That was a hard time filled with hard conversations, lots of public outrage, and, critically, bold leadership. I think we can get back being a bold people moving toward justice, but it starts with being more honest with ourselves and being more honest about our systems. We have to stop pretending that we are better than our ancestors and, like them, just get to work making this a better world.

NESA Links - #UKNextGen in Doha

This week I was excited to take our #UKNextGen work international for the first time in Doha at the NESA Conference. I presented two workshops with Laurie Henry and we had a lovely time. I think we opened some eyes and made some great connections. Below are the links to our working documents. Most stuff is in the agendas, but the slide decks are there also. 

Workshop 1: Next Generation Leaders

Detailed Agenda: 


Workshop 2: Next Generation Teaching and Learning

Detailed Agenda: 


The Mathematics of Dance

Following up on my post yesterday of the long division "bullshit" moment my son experienced, today at STEAM we were dancing to mathematics, for real. (The teacher, Mr. Tyler Waters, is the one filming). 

And, it wasn't all just the fun (and they were clearly having a lot of fun) of creating a new dance, there was real geometry at play as students documented and graphed all the geometric movements in their particular dance pattern and the different geometric patterns at play.


This is what Math can look like. It doesn't need to look like long-division worksheets and students frustrated to the point of exhaustion. It certainly doesn't look this way every day at STEAM, but damn this looked great to me after long-division this weekend.  



I've been waiting for the moment when it happened to my kid ... The "school is bullshit" moment of the opening to Most Likely to Succeed. So, it is happening in general, but this moment will go down as that moment for me with Matthew. It is a long-division worksheet. He crumpled it up, threw it across the room, screamed, cried, and ultimately came to this position of utter frustration in the picture. So, yeah ... It's personal to me. 

More Sophisticated Data for Kids & College Readiness

Looking at some of the recent data on College Readiness in Kentucky I was struck by the lack of sophistication in the data. A single standardized exam is used to determine who is and is not ready for College success. While this approach might have been in a step forward helped schools focus on raising ACT, I'm still concerned. It also seems to be against the growing tide of elite colleges moving away from ACT while P-12 might be increasingly swindled. Below is the chart that we use in Kentucky, including with the ACT cut scores (the most prevalent although our internal test KYOTE gets used a decent amount too). 

Full chart with footnotes available at: 

Full chart with footnotes available at: 

What strikes me is that this is so, so very little information about a given child. It says almost nothing meaningful about either a child's current abilities or a child's future potential. It does say something, but what we should all realize is that the "something" that it says is so far removed from the reality once you get to know the kids.

Of course, that standardized tests tell us very little is nothing new. We have known that for a while so what really concerns me is that we are still doing the same behaviors. Of course, if the definition of "college ready" had little impact on the child, that would be annoying but fine ... but it actually has a massive impact on the child even beginning in high school where students without a 20 Reading ACT, for instance, cannot take dual credit courses to get a jump start on college at low rates. So, to that child, it has both a time and financial implication. When the child graduates high school and tries to enter college, again, the student is set back by this somewhat arbitrary number by having to take remedial classes (that they have to pay for) without obtaining any credit toward graduation. Setting children back like this at the end of high school, of course, is a really good way to set children back in life generally and I think that is pretty much what is happening. If there is a big barrier to entry ... then less students will enter. 

I'm not advocating that remedial courses are unnecessary or that we do not need structures to determine college readiness, but if we are going to make these massive decisions about children then our metrics for informing that decision should be as strong as possible. I think we can make better informed decisions in at least 3 ways in the near term and 1 in the long term that we should start planning for now. 

  1. Tap into more of the data currently available on a student. Already, datasets within Infinite Campus here in Kentucky contain a lot of additional information about a kid. How often they come to school. How many, and the types, of disciplinary events. Grades, of course, with varying degrees of detail and consistency. Beyond Infinite Campus, other datasets, like the student's ILP, contain additional information some of which is actually supplied by the kid themselves. Of course, there are also other assessments like MAP and EOC (both of which also have their flaws, but like polls can work better together). All of this makes for a messy mass of data, but making sense of this data seems possible to give a richer understanding of a child's readiness (or merits for graduation, whatever). 
  2. On the grading front, another near term opportunity is helping high schools provide more standardization not in the curriculum but in the systems of assessment. Right now, few people put stock (outside of parents, perhaps) in any individual letter grade at school because it doesn't really contain any descriptive meaning of what a kid can do. A kid might have an exceptionally scientific mind, but miss a couple of assignments and get a C in a biology class. The "C" tells us little and is actually misleading about that kid, which is why I think most college metrics put little stock in high school grades. But, right now, a moment is afoot led by Tom Guskey at UK (this book is a good entry point) to make grading a more informative practice. In the near term, it would make a lot of sense for us to begin pilots with schools engaging in standards based grading to determine how predictive, and which metrics predict most accurately, from the vastly richer dataset of grading. 
  3. Again, near term, why don't we just ask teachers which kids have which skills that we deem relevant to graduation/college? Let's build a smart rubric that asks teachers about kids' skills and ask them only to answer for skills they personally seen demonstrated and for which they could provide evidence. Let's then run mass surveys to collect the data at some point (end of junior year, whatever). Then, to keep it honest, let's follow up with a few random spot checks when we ask teachers to show their evidence of their rubric scoring. Each school could assign a teacher (preferably the Advisory teacher) to complete the rubric for their small group of students. Not only would this encourage proliferation of Advisory models and portfolio systems across P-12, but it would provide a rich external assessment of each child from a skilled educational professional. I'm not sure why we don't do this already, actually. 
  4. Now, long term, we need to begin preparations for the inevitable transition of learning to digital platforms which provide big, big data (like, a LOT more). Soon (hopefully within 10 years), all high schools will be digital in their learning management (some already are). In fact, some states have already taken big steps in this direction. At STEAM here in KY, we use the LMS Canvas for every single course. It worked so well at STEAM that Fayette is now going district-wide and similar LMS solutions are emerging throughout the state. We even have our own Ed. Tech. LMS startup here in Lexington. For a child, nearly every learning activity throughout the whole of high school is digital in a single platform. While this is not perfect data, but it is exponentially more data about a child than we have now. How quickly students complete things, how many times it takes to get it right, how collaborative they are, how much time they spend on their readings, and, of course, their performance on various assessments (hopefully graded with a standards based system). This is already MASSIVE data that mostly just washes over us, but it is only going to exponentially expand over the next data. Honestly, it is hard to fathom how much data we could have. We need systems that talk to each other, we need algorithms that make sense of the data, we need informatic data displays, we need to know which variables have what predictive value ... whew.

If all of this seems like a lot of work ... well, it is. Absolutely it is a lot of work and, obviously, I get the attraction to a single test and a single metric. It is simple and clean. But, kids are not simple and clean. They are complex with messy lives spinning off messy data. They have good days and bad. They have projects they ace and projects they struggle with. Teachers that click and teachers that don't. They are kids and they are all beautiful and intelligent in entirely different ways. A "21" is not in any way an accurate representation of their beauty, intelligence, or potential. We can do better and we can start now.       

As a baseball guy, we are clearly already in an era of Moneyball for public education in terms of data, but it is like we are ignoring most of it and still making decisions about kdis based only on 1 metric in 1 game. We have more data, we are just not using it. And, we are going to have a LOT more data very, very soon. 

This needs to be a pretty high priority.