This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Sue Mellon
As a member of the initial Fluency cohort, I spent a great deal of time thinking about ICMA or “Inquiry - Case Making - Advocacy.” Instead of having students select a topic for research, it was an obtainable leap to engage students on a path of inquiry. In terms of case making, the Pennsylvania standards include opportunities for argumentative and persuasive type writing and so the start of case making is there. For me, the notion of students as thought leaders and real world advocates was a new and promising consideration.
As I participated in the ICMA work with my Fluency cohort, I ventured out to see what other educators might be doing to promote youth voice. I read about Harvard’s Project Zero with specific interest in the “Agency by Design” project. I loved the tagline “Empowering Young People to Shape Their World.”
My Fluency cohort visit to Detroit to learn about Allied Media Project’s work with “Humanizing Schooling” convinced me of the importance of students connecting learning to their life. I loved the videos that the students created on the water crisis in Detroit. The honest stories regarding the purpose of education mural with troubled teens were inspiring.
Project Based Learning or PBL was another reoccurring result of my searching for what educators were doing. I agreed with the statement on Buck’s Institute for Education site, a site devoted to PBL, that “Projects enable students to solve problems and address issues important to them, their communities, and the world.”
So when the opportunity to learn more about PBL through a grant funded training arose, I immediately applied. It was a wonderful two days with other educators who care deeply about student success. Our summer work was followed by an externship visit with a Pittsburgh company and we had another group meeting to share with each other the things that future employers want in the individuals that they hire. We were asked to try PBL and report back.
Well, if I was going to try PBL in my teaching, of course, it needed to include the fundamentals of my Fluency experience. I decided that a project using the Speck monitors would include aspects of both technology and data fluency that I desired.
PBL has a central theme or focus and I chose the following: With the hope of optimal health for the AVSD community, what information about indoor air quality (IAQ) is valuable?” Because of my position supporting gifted students, I find myself frequently reading the Pennsylvania standards for English Language Arts and mathematics. I knew that many aspects of PBL work had a place to help students develop their proficiency in English Language Arts.
I spoke with several members of the English department at my school and it seemed that 11th grade English was a good time and place for PBL work. The English teacher for juniors, Kelly McConville, was more than positive about working with me on this PBL. We quickly decided to work 100% inclusively which meant that we had learning support students and advanced students not in AP working side by side. This decision for 100% inclusion was an integral part of our planning. The idea that everyone’s ideas had value was paramount.
Since November, we have been meeting for “PBL Thursdays” and are about halfway through our project. We just completed first presentations and I am pleased with the level of student engagement. It is truly time consuming to plot and plan this PBL. I find that most of my time outside of school is devoted to thinking and creating materials for the next phase of our work. In terms of reflections, I am only just beginning.
In the grant reporting out process, I was questioned on how PBL, Speck monitors, and English class can go together. So, you can understand, please view our focus and standards document with this link.
Finally, the work going on with AVSD PBL was featured in this article regarding the grant funded training through ASSET, Inc.
As an educator, this experience has been one of highs and lows. I have felt fear at times. I know that my PBL partner, Kelly, shared her night time ruminations before the first presentations with me. For other educators, I think that honest communication about this emotional roller coaster from PBL is valuable. The true test of this adventure or edventure will be changes in the students’ skills and attitudes. My partner can evaluate the ELA skills. For my part, I have already given a pre-project survey regarding youth agency and plan to administer a post survey at the end of the year. It is my hope that these juniors view themselves as true agents for change in the world.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lindsey Lamm
As professionals in the education field, we’ve all experienced the satisfying subtle crackling sound of the brand new textbooks being opened for the first time. We’ve all marveled at the shininess of brand new teacher’s manuals with no frayed edges, dog-eared pages, or coffee rings on the cover. We’ve looked longingly at the most beautiful sets of math manipulatives, all in brand new plastic, ready for kids to use. We’ve even sat in the meetings for choosing these resources, thinking of all kinds of ways this particular resource is “better” than the one we currently use. Don’t even get me started on the absolute bliss that is brand new Chrome books, iPads, or laptops in the classroom.
Notice that, not once, did I mention analyzing these resources as to how they will best benefit our students. In education, we are on textbook cycles, and obviously, new things are the best things, right? At times, this is absolutely true. However, those new resources also come with a pacing guide and suggestions for how to teach with the new materials. In order to implement with fidelity, we are expected to use these resources. Again, there is nothing wrong with that. However, somewhere in this process of implementing new things, we forget the tried and true methods that actually work in education. We like to rename and “tweak” those practices and fundamental ideals that have guided education for the last century, while throwing out anything that seems dated. I read recently that, “Students should not be entertained by education. Students should be engaged in education.” I wish I had a better citation for this, but it was mentioned in a Twitter chat by Alice Keeler. I am unsure of the origin. If our only goal in education is to entertain children, we are going to throw out so many fundamental skills necessary for a productive adult to be successful in the world.
My goal is not to debate educational pedagogy here, but instead throw out the idea that maybe a marriage of many different resources is the best way to truly craft a curriculum that WORKS in our school systems. Things that work in my classroom will not necessarily work in my teaching partner’s classroom, let alone in another school or district. In education, we like to latch onto the newest ideas whole-heartedly, which is essential for truly trying proper implementation. However, we neglect to reflect on the successes and failures, and we do not spend nearly enough time analyzing the failures and planning ways to fix them. I think it’s hard to do that because those resources that cost a district at least six figures should fix things right? They claim to be research based and the sales people do a phenomenal job of showing exactly what the products can do. I just think we need to do a better job of marrying the old with the new.
Perfect example. I recently attended a math workshop through Carnegie Mellon led by Maisha Moses of the Young People’s Project. Though I took so many ideas from her on how to make math accessible to all of my students, the one that stuck with me was the Flag way game. My students struggle with the relationships between numbers and inverse operations. This game was another way to show them prime, square, and composite numbers while practicing in a new way. Students are engaged in the game, but still learning and practicing basic number principles. Are the kids overly entertained by the game? Some are. Others, eh, not so much. However, all the kids are engaged in the game and their team, which makes for meaningful learning and practice.
We’d be here all day if I shared all of my examples like this one. Sometimes, though, I wonder. If we took all of these “square” ideas and whittled off the parts of the idea that don’t necessarily fit in our current classrooms, could they then fit into the round holes that need filled to help better our educational system? I’d venture a guess that the answer is a resounding YES. Reflection on our particular student, school, and district needs could help us reach that goal. Let’s make a goal to spend some time truly reflecting on what is important to us in education and what avenues we can take to make it happen. We’ll all be better because of it.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Wendy Steiner
Cougar Collaboration Center at Carlynton Jr./Sr. High School.
Photo by: Wendy Steiner
Start with Shared Values
One of the many ah-ha moments I had during the FLUENCY Project occurred while participating in an activity lead by Lauren Zito which asked us to deep dive into the choices we made when setting up our classrooms. This activity was so valuable as a source of self-reflection that I was given permission by my principal, Michael Loughren, to lead a professional development session and use Lauren’s process as a guide. I reached out to Lauren to let her know that I would be modeling her activity, and also to ask for some guidance on how I might approach this with my colleagues. Lauren’s suggestion was that we first generate a list of shared values which would help guide our discussion and our focus when we began looking at design choices. The FLUENCY cohort had a list of eight values that served as our compass while we navigated understanding and practicing FLUENCY. These shared values were: Safety, Relationships, Numbers & Narratives, Power, Inquiry Based, Transparency, Choice, and Equity. I would turn to these values to guide me as I focused on the work I was doing with my students, and I knew the benefits of having the teachers generate their own values list.
I started the professional development by asking the teachers to work in small groups of 3-5 people and generate a list of three “shared values” for our building. Afterwards, we created a master list of all the values that were listed. Examples included: learning experiences, choice/ownership, safety (with technology & in the physical space), positivity, clear expectations, and extra-curricular options. Any values that were listed multiple times had a number next to them to indicate how many times the value was mentioned. Using the master list, we identified the three most repeated values as: Choice/Ownership, Positivity and Purposeful Technology.
Consider the Current Spaces in the Building
I asked teachers to think outside the box and identify any other spaces where students are encouraged to be creative and was pleased to see the inclusion of the weight room, the chem lab, the senior mural and the nature trail. The gym was identified as an area of collaboration in addition to our newly renovated Cougar Collaboration Center. It was interesting to see that no one included their own classroom on their list. Next, the teachers were asked to identify areas in and around the building that have untapped potential for student engagement. They were then asked to list ways that these areas might be transformed into space that elevates student voice and increases student engagement. Overwhelmingly the teachers selected the walls and stairwells as areas of untapped potential.
In a time when money and space are at a premium, these are easy areas to convert into a meaningful space for kids. One of our elementary principals, Marsha Burleson, took these underdeveloped spaces in her building and created comfy reading nooks, colorful collaboration spaces and quiet corners for students to gather and work with their peers. Her vision allowed the educational spaces to extend beyond the classroom walls and provided opportunities for students to collaborate and be creative in a non-traditional setting.
Faculty members were then asked to spread out and find some space where they could write and reflect individually. Our shared goals were listed on a large Post-It Note and teachers were asked to keep those goals present in their minds as they were writing. First, teachers were asked to imagine the “perfect day in their classroom” and to write a response describing what was happening in the room during that perfect day. They were to give examples of what the students were doing and also to describe what they were doing. Then, they were asked to answer the following questions:
Wrap it Up
The session ended with teachers creating a wishlist of items that would help them achieve the classroom goals they set for themselves. This could include everything from choosing a paint color to alternative seating ideas. After teachers created their wish lists, they were introduced to the grant writing boot camp. Teachers were lead through the process of filling out the grant form for our Education Foundation and were also given time to set up a Donors Choose account. A teacher who has had over 12 projects funded on Donors Choose spoke about the process and gave a few tips to teachers about submitting a grant proposal. A representative of the Education Foundation spoke about the types of grants they fund and which information teachers should include on their application.
Teachers completed a pre and post survey on the activities. These surveys will help guide future professional development planning.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lee Cristofano
Over coffee one Saturday morning, I was struck by an interesting article of data journalism from the newspaper: What is the most common name for a licensed Allegheny County dog in 2016? (Before reading further, I invite you to guess…)
I was intrigued by this innocuous question. After all, did the newspaper task some reporter (or, more likely, intern) to survey pet stores looking for dog food customers to ask for their dog’s name? How does one get insight regarding this question?
Fortunately, we are living in times where data such as this is becoming readily available to the public, the so-called Open Data revolution. Government agencies, in their efforts to become more open and transparent, are making datasets available freely for the average citizen (and data nerds like us!) And it’s now possible for nearly anyone to answer the question above. (Did you guess “Bella”?)
And so, we asked our high school class that very same question: What do you think the #1 dog name in Allegheny County was last year? We had many good suggestions – Buddy was a class favorite – but as the teacher, we were less interested in their answer and more interested in how the class might answer the question.
Thus began our journey into the process. Finding the dataset; downloading it so it might be analyzed, sorted and counted; creating a meaningful and engaging data visualization; and ultimately telling the story of what the data was trying to tell us. Along the way, our students learned how to use many software tools and data visualization programs to present their stories. Of course, the best of stories always end with more questions.
So for our example, students used an Excel spreadsheet to build a pivot table to count the number of unique dog names, sorted the list for the top ten, and visualized the results in various charts, graphs, infographics and the like. Winner: “Bella”.
But the elephant in the room: Why that name, why Bella? For how many years was it in the top ten? In what ZIP Code would we find the largest number of Bellas? How many Bellas were German Shepherds, and how many were Labradors? (It was obvious, more study was required to answer those questions, and down the rabbit hole we went…)
A fun and entertaining project by all accounts, and the students had some fun with the data and reaching their conclusions. But if our metric is to measure this project’s impact on society or a student’s life, we rate it low.
But what if the dataset instead dealt with accidental overdoses, or car crashes, or incidence of crime in our neighborhoods. What about air quality, obesity rates or census data? Are there stories to tell lurking in those datasets? Can we find the patterns and trends lurking in this data, and will we know what to do with it?
What about data that students themselves generate from, say an air or water quality monitor, or a home radon kit? Can high school students use their talents and skills to obtain, analyze and visualize this data? Can students really discover trends? Can teenagers really make informed conclusions, decisions and advocate for change based on their analysis of these datasets?
We believe so, and that is our goal as we hope to equip our students with the tools and techniques needed to explore the world of data and how it can be an agent of change for their lives and their community.
*Lee Cristofano co-teaches an elective class for Data Analtitics with Emily Smoller at Bethel Park High School.*
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Sue Mellon
As the year long cohort exploration into the concept of “fluency” was coming to an end last June, I needed to create a series of lessons. With ideas such as “student choice and voice,” “what does it mean to be an advocate,” and “tech and data fluency” spinning through my head, I stumbled upon a Common Sense Media activity that became my inspiration.
The Common Sense Media activity directed that students should collect data about their own technology use and then select an area of their tech use to view metaphorically. The activity then proposed students write a haiku based on this metaphor. For extension, the lesson page suggested creating a video with the haiku. The extension hooked me.
Over six years ago, when learning about Arts & Bots, I first heard my acquired mantra that “Students should be more than consumers of technology. Students should be creators with technology,” from Dr. Illah Nourbakhsh. The creation of a video offered my students a stimulating adventure as they turn their thoughts (student voice) into something observable.
My lessons were designed for an 8th grade Music STEAM class that I coteach with my peer, Beth Minda. Beth is our choral teacher and drama director. Because of her many talents and expertise, I knew that the opportunity for creativity could be pushed one step further by having the students compose original music for their iMovies using GarageBand loops.
The students amazed us with their finished products and we didn’t have to push. As an elective, we had the luxury of giving the students two or three days to explore and play with GarageBand before they had to compose 30 seconds of music. I wonder how teachers who teach ‘tested’ subjects would view these two or three days.
As much as I underestimated the students’ joy of creativity, I over estimated their abilities with data. I predicted their data skills based on Excel activities and statistics lessons from 6th and 7th grade. For this unit, my plan added a requirement that to make two different charts of their data using either Google Sheets or Excel. We were scrambling to keep frustration at a minimum. When we repeat this unit, we plan to front load a few lessons about collecting and manipulating data.
We viewed the videos as a class and all gave feedback. The students then went back and made changes to either their iMovie or their GarageBand music based on the feedback. Individually, students entered a reflection process and one area for reflection was to determine what their tech activity would have been like “old school.” They were asked to compare “old school” to now and see if “old school” had any advantages. At the end of this contemplation, they were to give “a piece of advice” using PosterMyWall.com to students their age.
Again, we were astounded by their thoughts. While we could have re-entered a feedback loop and reflection process with the PosterMyWall submissions, we decide to move on. Middle school students just need change sometimes.
The students do know that we took their ideas and created a survey. We are in the process of having students in other grades and other schools take the survey. At the end of the semester, we will share the results with them. We will all learn if students in other grades and schools view tech the same as they do.
You are invited to view both the videos and the posters with the following link:
I hope that you enjoy learning my students’ ideas as much as I did.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Lindsey Lamm
I did it. I had an entire timeline, ideas laid out from beginning to end, a goal toward which we wanted to work, and genuine excitement for this program implementation. School life got in the way. That’s the easiest way for me to say it. Though we still may not have a definition of fluency when asked, I do believe we have stumbled upon some amazing practices, ideas, and philosophical changes for the better in education. It hasn’t been easy, though. I thought this blog post could focus on the lessons I’ve learned from the kinks in the process, in hopes that others could feel encouraged should they choose to join us on this journey.
1.) The best-laid plans will still need to be adapted and changed. These changes could be due to the group of students with whom you are working. Some groups need more time than others to pick up routines. Changes could happen due to the nature of the school culture. Responsibilities need to be shared, changed, or eliminated, causing us to absolutely need flexibility at all times. Finally, plans could change because you hear a fabulous idea that, with a bit of work, could make all the difference in a positive way in your classroom. Remember implementation is a marathon, not a sprint. You may even feel like you are losing ground at times. Keep at it. It gets better, and the results for the kids are ALWAYS worth it.
2.) Kids will surprise you if you choose to truly listen to them. Knowing your kids and how to balance choice on their part, student voice, and the proper amount of guidance to minimize frustration is the hardest part of this process. It’s amazing how capable they are when they get over the hump of thinking differently, a skill fluency requires.
3.) Try implementing fluency practices INTO EXISTING CURRICULAR PROJECTS, not starting from scratch. Stop implementing technology for the sake of “doing technology”. You’ll drive yourself crazy as a teacher, as we don’t have the time for it, and the kids will not have the fully-encompassing experience necessary to truly grasp the concepts being taught. In the end, we want students to be competent in using a plethora of tools, applications, and software to allow them to dig deeper into the root of a problem to help find a plausible, researched solution about which they can get excited.
4.) Meet the kids where they are, not where you want them to be or where you think they are. When we start focusing on where they “should be” or where we “think they are,” projects and instruction becomes teacher-centered, not student-centered. We take away student voice when we are doing all the talking (because we think the kids should know something and they don’t) or when we are presenting situations that are at a level one depth of knowledge for our students. In order for fluency to happen, students need to grapple with an issue, not immediately take a side and be done in ten minutes. Students HAVE TO THINK when it comes to this process. Very rarely is there one solution path and one correct answer.
5.) You HAVE to be OK with allowing the students to guide the process – This process is a learning experience for everyone involved. The teacher cannot lead the process. Parameters can certainly be set. In fact, in the elementary classroom, they must be set, as students are still learning and getting away from the idea that the teacher always has the correct answer. Fluency is truly a culture and philosophy change, not a project.
Every time I meet with these people, I have ideas that can be used. We learn from each other as we try to figure out this definition of Fluency. Those are the lessons I’ve learned so far. I can only hope the projects this year allow for even more growth for our classroom.
This is the latest in a series of blogs from the teacher cohort.
By Brett Slezak
The alarmists will tell you that machine learning and artificial intelligence are a recipe for a dystopian post-apocalyptic world where Skynet-esq refrigerators and internet enabled hair-dryers will serve as our robot overlords. Talk to the blind-faith technologists and they will tell you that technology, with its perfect algorithms, crowd-sourcing techniques, and ability to democratize information, will automatically usher in a new utopia where hunger & poverty cease to exist. However super unlikely either of these scenarios are for coming true, it is important to remember that there is a huge intermediary in how technology will shape the future: Humanity.
I often hear in my network of educators and tech enthusiasts that a popular way to look at technology is to see it just as a tool. The thought is that technology is just something that makes our lives easier and more efficient. And the time found through this efficiency allows for more time to dive deeper into learning. A pencil makes writing faster. A camera records an image in time. The internet transfers global information at unimaginable speeds. There are parts of this “tool” analogy that surely resonate with me, but when you think you have a hammer in your hand, you start to see all the problems in the world as nails right?! Over the past year with the Fluency Project, I have spent some time seriously ruminating on what makes a tool, well… a tool.
Pondering “technology as a tool” in countless reflection sessions, I have come to realize just how important our individual human experiences are in assigning the functions that we give to “tools.” Let me provide a less-wordy, more direct example of what I mean by this. As a kid of about 7 or 8 years old, with little knowledge of common construction tools, I would often watch my dad use an 8” x 8” steel plate connected to a long wooden pole to flatten cans in our driveway to make them more compact for our recycle bin. For years my observed experience with that tool assigned it the function of crushing cans into aluminium pancakes. Knowing how my dad was “creative” with his tool use, I always knew there had to be another intended function for a steel plate with handle, but I just never bothered to learn it. It wasn’t until later in my life that I realized that he was using a hand tamper meant for leveling earth to “level” my pop cans. However, in that case it was my personal human experience that defined what that tool could do and the purpose it served. If we see technology as just a tool we have to remember that it is our human experiences that are going to shape the way we use it.
That is why I like to take the “just a tool” analogy a bit further and look at technology, especially in our schools, as more of an “instrument” than a tool. When I start to imagine technology as an instrument, I start to see it as something more flexible, with more nuanced ways of finessing its intended use. I think about a guitar in this scenario. As a person, I can take my emotions and life experiences, combine them with nearly infinite pairings of notes, chords and rhythms, and express something new that has never existed before in song form. However, my personal humanity and how I “know” how to use the guitar still limits me. Put the guitar into the hands of someone truly visionary, in this case let’s say Jimi Hendrix, now all of the sudden the instrument is being played in ways that the world has never known. On the flip, put a guitar in the hands of someone who has never seen it or heard music, and they might come up with other unassigned uses (like crushing pop-cans with it). When we start to think about kids using technology in school with a more open-minded mentality, we can start to give students the agency to use technology as a way to elevate their own voice and create something in a way that makes sense to them. However, in order to channel this “instrumental” way of thinking, there needs to be some type of framework to guide it.
So all of this hinges on one big important idea. Our humanity and how we decide as people to engage with it is how we will end up using technology. Understanding this, we have decided at our district to reimagine our technology philosophy to a values-first, technology-second approach. In the edtech arms race of public school, it is easy to get caught up in using technology that is new, flashy & brings great press but totally miss the mark where it could have deep and lasting impacts on learning. I’ve been known to do it myself. To help stay grounded and focused, we have come up with the following core values that are meant to be a framework, from kindergartner to superintendent, on how we aspire in our district to engage with and make decisions around technology. The values are specific to our needs as a district for sure, and should certainly look different in your organization. Our 7 core values are:
I tell our staff that these 7 core values are not policy, but ideals to strive for on a daily basis. We are using these values to help students move from consumers of technology to creators through technology. They are guiding our conversations we have about purchasing and allocating resources. The values provide common ground on how technology can be integrated into teaching and learning. It helps us reframe risk taking and failure as part of the learning process with technology, and they are certainly ideals that we will never fully actualize. Although the values do not tell us exactly where to go, they do point us all in the same direction.
Therefore as we embark on trying to reshape how to put our humanity before our technology needs, I think about the terminator toasters and the altruistic algorithms. It will be how we use technology to funnel and amplify our human experiences, not the technology itself, that will create the future we will all live in. Knowing that, I would much rather give our teachers and students a framework to help shape and create their own future, than sit idly by and live in someone else’s.
This is the fifth in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Lauren Zito
Our values are our heart. The words that we use to describe it may change, but our heart does not.
At first, there were eight: Equity, Choice, Transparency, Numbers and Narratives, Inquiry Based, Relationships, Power, and Safety. They stated who we were, letting others know what we believed in as we embarked on this new journey called “The Fluency Project”. It was a way of sharing our heart with potential partners, knowing that they needed to share these beliefs if our partnership was to be successful.
The original eight read:
Equity is being intentionally inclusive and requires eliminating the barriers that prevent the full participation of all peoples.
Choice happens when the process is flexible, and recognizes the authority of those most directly involved in a project to know what tools and methods are best.
Transparency is important because information is power, and shared information promotes collaboration.
Numbers and Narratives together create a compelling argument but NUMERICAL data is too often privileged over personal narrative, therefore we actively work to raise the perceived validity of personal narrative.7
Inquiry Based means starting with questions, and facilitating the exploration of those questions.
Relationships help create safe spaces, provide accountability, motivate, and open new learning outcomes.
Power hierarchies are present in schools, education systems, and the world, but we aim to create an environment where people are respected and heard, lifting some up and making space for all.
Safety means acknowledging potential consequences and managing risk as appropriate.
These eight words became a code of conduct – not only did they guide the direction of and choices we made within our project, but they also guided our actions with each other.
At the start of our project, we sat down and wrote action items for each value, stating as explicitly as possible how we would enact them. We dedicated each month to a value, setting time aside to review these action items and check in with each other. It was a time of reflection, a time away from the everyday to-do’s. Reflection became an importance practice for us as a team. It gave us space away from the everyday meetings. I personally enjoyed having a space to bring up anything that I wanted, feelings, concerns or otherwise while also learning more about my team members, what they care about, and how they feel in the project. It allowed us to grow closer as a team, developing a coherent vision.
Our teacher cohort similarly dedicated time during their summer residency, writing action items explicitly stating their dedication to enacting each value in their work. As the year progressed, they reflected with us each month, considering how the values impact their work with students. Our teacher cohort is our partner. Their input was immensely important in determining the direction of the values and the project overall. We asked them to share whatever they felt comfortable sharing from their reflections as a way for us to gain insight into their thinking. This thought sharing supported our collaboration and allowed us to truly know each other as people.
We questioned which values felt most important to consider as we dove deeper into the project and took time to define each word using our own vocabulary. In this way, we created deeper, personal connections to the values while developing deeper team unity.
Our reflection time guided us as we found this year’s iteration of the values: Equity, Compassion, Authenticity, and Agency.
Our shared belief in equity means that, in design, we prioritize accessibility first, being intentionally inclusive, eliminating the barriers that prevent the full participation of all peoples, and ensuring the accessibility of information and technology.
Our shared belief in compassion means that we approach our relationships with respect and acceptance, striving to understand and support each other, making space for vulnerability in service of our full humanity.
Our shared belief in authenticity means that we are transparent in our purpose and process, aiming to be genuine to who we are in our work and with each other.
Our shared belief in agency means that we copower each other, promoting each person’s voice and recognizing their impact.
Though they are fewer in number, they still ring true to what we believe. Our values remain our heart. The words may change, but the true meaning does not.
This is the fourth in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Jess Kaminsky
One of the major tenants of the Fluency work is “voice” - student voice and its relationship to adult voice. As a member of Fluency and a project lead on the Hear Me project for six years, I’ve spent a whole lot of time thinking about the relationship between youth and adult voice. More specifically, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the power relationship between adults and young people. In society, adults hold more power than young people. We make the decisions, we set the rules of a classroom, we speak first in a meeting, we tell youth how they should participate, we tell students they are the future (but not the present).
Can we imagine a different type of youth - adult relationship? Is this new type of relationship possible in a system as established as public education?
This was a question I carried into our exploration year of Fluency. As we started the school year together in September, I heard a lot of our cohort teachers wrestling with this question too. After all, student voice does not fit nicely into the test prep pushed on most teachers. Then we had the opportunity to visit places like Mikva Challenge in Chicago and see students designing and leading action plans to improve their school, alongside their adult mentors and school principal. We went to PhillyCam and Global Action project on our Philadelphia/New York City trip and saw programming that was designed in response (not in anticipation) to student needs and interests. And we went to Detroit to visit Detroit Future Schools, where recognizing one another’s humanity, regardless of markers like age or gender, is the foundation on which everything they do is built. Back in Pittsburgh we read Adam Fletcher’s “Washington Youth Voice Handbook”, a beautiful and compelling case for examining youth-adult collaboration with strategies and activities ready for implementation. These examples were all inspiring and they helped us start to see the incredible outcomes of youth and adults working in partnership. Yet all these programs are outside of school and have different limitations, such as not having to assign grades or improve district test scores. We had begun to answer our first question - yes, a different type of relationship is possible - but we were just starting on our second question - can we do this in our classrooms?
As we moved into the spring, I started to notice subtle changes in the language and attitudes of our group when we talked about students. Things were changing in classrooms too. Teachers in the group were trying out new projects in class and often prefaced these with, “I’m not sure exactly how this will turn out but we’ll figure it out together” or “some things might not go right, and we’ll problem solve together”. Teachers were encouraging students to interface directly with adults and other audiences they needed support from instead of that communication being done by the teacher (releasing a need to supervise what’s said and acknowledging that students are capable of managing these responsibilities). There were teachers asking students to dream, plan, and do something where they could make an impact, and the teachers were following this up with “what do you need from me to support you in making this happen?” There seemed to be a collective shift in attitude in our thoughts on voice and relationship, and this was opening up new ways of relating to students. It was catalyzing new learning possibilities and supporting students to see themselves as agents of change.
Reflecting back on my starting questions I realize that it is possible to imagine a new dynamic between youth and adults, where students and adults work collaboratively to learn and build community, and it’s possible to enact this reimaged relationship in public education. We start small and we commit to this new vision of youth-adult partnership, and I believe beautiful learning will happen.
This is the third in a series of guest blogs by the CREATE Lab Team.
By Bea Dias
I remember being 5 years old and entering school for the first time. I was a scared, insecure and naive child who didn’t speak the language fluently and was very unsure of herself. Still, I was curious; about the school, about whom I would meet, about who I would become, and about the world I will enhabit. I had many questions, but no license nor confidence to ask those questions. So, over time my curiosity went dormant, and pressure to adhere to norms and rules took precedence in my life.
When reflecting on “Fluency Mindset”, I return to that first moment of entering elementary school. What would it have taken for me to feel confident and empowered enough to ask questions, and then follow those lines of inquiry to find answers? Perhaps, I needed a teacher who could empathize with my experience or a peer who wanted to explore with me. This is something we are investigating through Fluency: How can we build a foundation for learning so that students feel heard, understood, and empowered to ask questions and follow those questions?
In essence, we want to encourage and foster the curiosity that children come into school with, and provide them with tools and a safe space to explore their questions. This type of atmosphere can help build habits of mind that lead to independent inquiry, critical thinking, confident communication, perseverance and creative problem solving. A Fluency Mindset is the critical ingredient we need to unlock this potential; it is a form of freedom to be our authentic selves, to value our existing knowledge without feeling inadequate about what we do not know yet, and to be confident and excited about exploring the unknown. A Fluency Mindset should make learning joyful and fulfilling, regardless of where you begin.
How we build this mindset in students cannot be prescriptive; rather, our approach must: be rooted in knowledge of ourselves and our students, build on what students already know, focus less on content and more on concepts, and give students space and license to inquire, explore and draw their own conclusions about topics that interest them.
Thinking back, I wonder how my story would have been shaped if I had felt valued and accepted as a student, instead of silenced and corrected. I will never know this, but I do know it is imperative that we take action to better prepare our children for a future that has not yet been imagined. A Fluency Mindset is a good place to start...