A Global-Ready Curriculum

 

p21logoThis post originally appeared on Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21), the leading national organization advocating for 21st century readiness for every student. P21 brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers who believe our education system must equip students with rigorous academic coursework and the skills to be successful employees and citizens. View Original >

 



I am amazed by the students of my school and their ability to tap into multiple cultures. Recently I shadowed a student through part of her day. She was speaking Korean, her Native language, to her friends in the hall, English in the Social Studies classroom, practicing Mandarin with her Chinese teacher, and giving a presentation in French. It reminded me of resilience of students and the unique experience of an international education.

Although I have only recently joined the community of an International School on a more permanent basis, I have worked with many international schools in the past, and I even attended a 6-12 public school as a student with a focus on international topics. I took French my entire time there, and teachers sought to include global topics, questions, and themes into the curriculum. Most recently, I visited a school in Tokyo, Japan that had currently finished a curriculum audit and was working towards setting goals and next steps for their school and to meet accreditation expectations. They are exploring questions such as “How do we provide an international experience?” and “What does global and international education look like?” This school is not only trying create an experience that is uniquely international for students, but also supports and prepares them to be ready for that global world they are already living in.

Integrating Global Competencies
P21 has published Global Competence Indicators for grades K-12. They focus on the themes of “Understanding,” “Investigating,” “Connecting,” and “Integrating.” These indicators can easily be integrated into existing curriculum, just as many schools are already adopting 21st Century competencies of collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. One strategy we worked on was having departments look at the indicators, identify which ones are already in the curriculum and which additions might be appropriate to teach alongside content standards such as the Common Core.

It is critical that if schools intend to adopt these competencies, then they must make a concerted effort to unpack the indicators, just as educators unpack standards. Unpacking allows teachers to identify the level of thinking students need to know, and the content and skills they will need as well. (To do this, I prefer using Webb’s Depth of Knowledge). As educators unpack the standards, they need to be wary of just looking at the verb, the context is important, as it might change the level of thinking. Unpacking also allows educators and schools to identify priority standards. The same is true for these global competencies. Educators and schools should not attempt to teach and assess all the global competencies, but instead select ones that are priorities and have currency in their curriculum. International Schools particularly have an opportunity to leverage this work as it is part of their identity and mission.

Use PBL as the Model
Just as project-based learning is being used to deliver content and develop skills from the Common Core, Next Generation School Standards and college and career readiness, PBL is a perfect method to teach and assess global competencies. Global competencies call for investigation and inquiry, a deep understanding of content and different perspectives, and taking action. With these competencies in mind, teachers can create highly authentic projects that require students to partner with the cultures of the world, reflect on their place in that world, and advocate appropriately.

My friend Rich Lehrer did a fantastic project where his students connected with students in Brazil, Africa and India to build efficient stoves. They not only learned engineering, energy and other science concepts but also about serious health hazards facing people around the world. They didn’t just build the stove for someone else, they students worked together across cultures and languages to build the stoves together, to learn perspective and to learn from each other. What I truly appreciated was that is wasn’t charity work – it was a partnership. Students learned from each other not only traditional content, but global competencies as well.

International schools consider global competencies as part of the “What” of their curriculum and project-based Learning as the “How.” Together they create students that will not only be global-ready, but engaged in the many cultures of which they are members.

The Tyranny of Being On Task

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >



I remember when I was first teaching and was getting ready for my first official observation and evaluation. I was very nervous. My principal had told me she would be looking for a classroom where students were on task. Heaven forbid that any students were off task. I thought that if my classroom even hinted that some students were off task, I would never be a successful teacher, and perhaps told to leave the teaching profession.

I now know that it is unreasonable to ensure complete on task behavior from every student at all times, but back then I wanted a good evaluation, and I wanted my students to be on task so that they would learn and I could support them. Before the observation, I was told by my colleagues to have students quietly work on an assignment after I gave some instruction. “Don’t have them do group work. Don’t have them present. It’s too risky!” This advice seemed to be successful. When my principal came in, the students were quiet as I moved around to check in with them. After the observation, I was praised for my success in keeping students on task.

Many years later, I taught in a school with a focus on project-based learning. Learning was messy and conflicts emerged as students worked together to solve problems, but ultimately students succeeded. The meaning of “on task” was different there. Yes, there were times when students were off task and I needed to redirect them. Yet I struggled with the expectation of consistent on task behavior.

There seem to be forces in education that push us to make sure students are on task. Why do we attempt to meet that demand when we know it’s unreasonable? Why do we demand on task behavior when it is not equivalent to student engagement? Isn’t it OK for students to be off task from time to time? In fact, don’t students need time to be off task? To take it to another level, what if off task is really on task?

What Does the Science of the Brain Tell Us?
Adults have built executive functions of the brain, and we receive a dopamine reward when we do the right thing. Our students have not yet built up those functions. In the teenage years, students receive that same dopamine reward for very different behavior, when they take risks and explore. When a student does something that is a risk in the classroom, something we might consider off task behavior, they are doing so because they receive a dopamine reward for doing so. Science tells us that students will not only be off task on occasion but might even have strong motivations to behave that way.

What Can We Do?
Instead of working against off task behavior, we should embrace it and try to reframe it as an on task moment that is necessary and useful to our students. Judy Willis calls such moments brain breaks in her book Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning. She wants us to understand that such breaks are needed and are useful to students. They prevent the brain from becoming overloaded and give time for information to be processed and retained effectively. On a related note, Eric Jensen explains that movement gives new spatial meaning to information being processed, and increases oxygenation of the brain as well (subscription required).

We should explore ways to incorporate brain breaks more into our classroom routines and norms. Some other practical strategies include:

Be mindful of students’ attention span and chunk activities and tasks appropriately.
Break up tasks with conversations and checks for understanding.
Admit personal challenges and failures related to staying on task.
Meet with students one on one to discuss off task behavior rather than shame them.
Smile and laugh more.
Balance louder and quieter activities.
Move more.

Brain breaks are essential to classroom culture and student learning. These seemingly off task moments are truly on task because they provide a space for students to learn better, and take into account the fact that students are growing and maturing. Brain breaks are responsive to students and help us become allies of their behavior rather than punitive figures. In fact, brain breaks help us as educators to rethink the binary nature of on task and off task and to realize that all the work is on task and helpful to children as they learn and grow.

What brain breaks do you use in your classroom?

Navigating a STEM School as a Non-STEM Teacher

This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >



Having worked at a school with a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math), I often notice a tension. In a STEM-focused school, there seems to be value placed on the topics in the acronym itself, but perhaps less value on subjects not explicitly mentioned. This seems to me to be a problem.

Just because a school is focused on STEM—and the ideas presented here apply also to STEAM schools, which add a focus on the arts—doesn’t mean that history doesn’t matter. The same can be said for every other subject. As an English and social studies teacher at a STEM school, I struggled with this, and had many conversations with fellow teachers, administrators, and coaches to navigate the focus on STEM while meeting other priorities I had for learning in my classroom. Meeting the demands of the STEM curriculum and of the other courses in the full curriculum can be done—here are a few ideas about how to achieve that.

Respect Balance
We all have priorities, we all have beliefs, we all have values. As an English language arts teacher, I value the study of literature, and in fact, my standards call me to focus on literary texts. I needed to have conversations with other teachers to share this priority and to find ways to support the larger STEM mission. We had to balance curricula and find the appropriate times to work on specific standards. For example, I knew I could easily support a STEM unit with a unit on informational writing, but I also had to have time for my unit on poetry. An elementary teacher may choose to focus some of their day on STEM and other parts of the day on other important topics. Teachers should have conversations and map their curricula to find appropriate fits and to strike the balance we all need in supporting the larger STEM vision.

Implement PBL Units Together
As we know, project-based learning (PBL) and STEM are a great fit. A project can focus on an authentic issue in science or maybe an arts design challenge. There are numerous possibilities, and teachers across disciplines and priorities can find ways to work together to accomplish a common goal. Not every subject must integrate, but there should be some level of integration. If you teach many subjects (as many elementary teachers do), consider developing a PBL unit side by side with another teacher who shares your grade level. When we implement a curriculum through authentic projects, we can learn from each other and find meaningful ways to support a STEM vision.

Swap Lead and Support Positions
When you integrate, the focus shouldn’t necessarily be on the quantity of time required. We as teachers may feel that we should each be getting the same amount of time on a unit or project, but I think that shouldn’t be the highest priority. For example, I spent two to three weeks on the informational writing unit mentioned above, but the science teacher I was partnering with spent approximately five weeks on the project. I was an integral part of the project, but it wasn’t about the amount of time. I was the support teacher, but in a future unit, I served as a lead and asked for support from my math colleague. As you support STEM education and STEM units or projects, decide on who will lead and who will provide support, and switch it up to ensure all teachers and subjects are valued.

Focus on Success Skills
Everyone can support students in building success skills such as collaboration and communication. Teachers should collaborate to identify these skills and how students can demonstrate them. There should be alignment about expectations regarding these skills so that students demonstrate them at a point in time and also demonstrate progress in them as they move up in grades. These success skills can help students in any STEM field and are an easy entry point to collaboration for any teacher.

STEM education is a wonderful focus for learning, but it isn’t the only focus. Even in a STEM school, there are other priorities in terms of teaching and learning. However, we can learn from aspects of STEM education to push our thinking in terms of our own teaching. For example, as we started to collaborate to develop integrated projects, I was inspired by what other disciplines were doing. The science teacher wanted to do a design challenge, and our math colleague wanted to connect statistics to relevant concepts. Those are ideas any teacher might find appealing. Non-STEM teachers can find entry points into STEM education from a practical standpoint, and they can learn from principles of STEM to reimagine learning in their own classrooms.

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