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Dots on a Map: Educational Standards

Have you ever had a list of places that you wanted to visit while on vacation?  Initially those places are dot on a map or items on a list.

screen-shot-2016-10-14-at-2-43-22-pm
Source: http://www.123rf.com

There is no direction as to how to get to each place, what to do, when to go, or what to use when going or there. Your list is simply that, a list.

Educational standards are no different. They are a list of items that students need to learn to the best of their ability. They are NOT supposed to be prescriptive- dictating what to use, exactly how to teach, or who is supposed to be responsible for providing instruction. They are simply a list. Often they are organized into a progression of skill sets, but that structure does not prescribe how to teach, what resources to use or who should teach it. It simply identifies the level at which students are developmentally ready and in need of learning a skill so that they can build on it as they continue to learn.

With my background in education and strong belief in local control, I try to keep an eye on what is changing and who pushing what political agenda on our kids. ( Ok, I’ll be honest. I care about the education of my own kids and want what is best for them and their friends!) Anyway, that is why when the Common Core Standards were adopted by our state a few years ago, I tuned in and tried to make sense of the commotion and complaining surrounding them. My conclusion: most had not even looked at them and were up in arms because there was some prescription as to what materials were to specifically to be used and suggestions as to how they needed to be taught identified at times. There was a government dictation and imposition into what should be the local control of curricula. In other wards, the lines between curriculum and standard was significantly blurred. It also became a great marketing tool for educational material companies.

fullsizerender-13So, when the state of North Dakota announced that they were going to be revising/drafting and ultimately going to have their own set of state standards, I quickly filled out the application to be a member of the business and community member committee. This committee would be tasks with reviewing, assessing and addressing the revisions that math and english teachers made in order to reflect North Dakota education, our students, and what we, North Dakota professionals and parents, feel is needed for students to be flexible thinkers, problem solvers, and have a well balanced group of skills in order to be successful once they leave the walls of the school.

This week was my first experience working with this group of individuals. I was deeply impressed by the work that had been done by the teachers. They had really taken time to listen and think about students, the reality of differences in our schools, and the desire for the state standards to truly be one from the people of North Dakota for those in North Dakota.

Prescription was taken out of a lot of places. Definitions re-written to provide clarity, and incremental stages of learning and demonstrating knowledge outlined. Visuals for the English Language Arts standards had also been developed which increased understanding that it is a shared responsibility of all to continually be working on english and language skills. In the math area it was made clear that specifically at the high school level that the standards were laid out according to topic areas, not classes. This directly implies and puts control of the who, when, where and what is used to teach the skills into the control of local school districts and out of the hands of the state. This excited me! Does it mean a bit of work will need to be done? Yes! Will schools need to know the skills students need to learn and not guess or assume that if they teach algebra all skills are covered? Yes! It means conversations, it means collaboration, it means innovation and some rethinking….. it means possibility and opportunity for great things!

I am excited to continue through the next phases of this standards revision/ draft process!

More info on ND State Content Standards is available at:

https://www.nd.gov/dpi/SchoolStaff/Standards/

If you are so inclined, you can also comment and share your thoughts at the link above by clicking on the survey option.

Here’s to great things in North Dakota education!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homecoming Hullaballoo

Growing up in Minneapolis, Homecoming was fun. It was a school thing. In actuality I don’t remember if we dressed up. I don’t remember if there was tailgating. I don’t remember if we had a parade. I do remember a pep rally in the gym and often deciding to skip the football game. It wasn’t a big event or one that bad an impression on me. Well, let me tell you, in small town rural America Homecoming is not like that which I remember from my upbringing. It is almost a national holiday!  Schools have dress up days for an entire week. Parade float planning is in progress for a few weeks. Discussion of whether or not “so and so” or “she and she” would or should be King and Queen is the center of discussion for more than a week. And the football game- no brainer- it’s a must!

So what happens when the excitement of Homecoming in one community gets combined with that of another through a sports coop? Let alone another community in which you compete against each other in other sports and activities? Hmmm. It can or could go two ways…1) the support and opportunity can grow or 2) people can crab and chatter as if the world is coming to an end. The real question is what do the students think. Isn’t homecoming about the students? How much focus should be placed on what was instead of what can be? Supporting our students through opportunity, collaboration, and experiences is what high school, and quite frankly what I think all of education, is all about. Homecoming is part of that and should be no different.

This year we had the privilege of combining the homecoming festivities for the two coop school communities. Students were excited! There was a bonfire midweek for everyone in all communities and schools, and then one parade, one pep rally, one tailgate on Homecoming Friday! Each school still elected their own king and queen and held noon activities Monday – Thursday. Students and teachers were able to video chat with the other schools’ students  and teachers in order to plan and design their float. They also worked to plan the pep rally and administration from the schools worked hard to create environments, collaboration, instruction on new skills, social interactions, and fun for all.

When visiting with students, most enjoyed getting to build new relationships with their peers. They liked finding out more about the other school and planning over a longer period of time in short segments. They felt it was fun to do something new and have more people together. One student even shared that it made it feel like a team instead of people standing independently on the sidelines.

Team, comradery, support, spirit, bonding and a sense of community for our students; that’s what homecoming is about. We make the choice to be excited for opportunity or complain and expect things to be as they were twenty plus years ago. We need to work today and plan for the future. Change is inevitable. Adapting, working together, compromise and vision is what the future is about!

So let’s celebrate and support what we have while respecting what was for what it is worth- past experience and something that was a certain way previously. Remember it, don’t live in it, and provide for today!

 

 

Breaking the Cycle of Back to School Shopping

It is “that” time of year again! School is a few weeks away and the stores have been serenading us for weeks with their flashy back to school ads and displays! 

picture from weekly Target ad
The  truth is …. They are catchy and there are some pretty neat items in snazzy patterns! BUT, do we really need all that they say we do! 

I have learned over the past 11 years that we often have plenty left from the previous year that can be used to start the next! Often scissors, pencil boxes, rulers, crayons, and markers have lots of life left. Backpacks, if a decent one is invested in, can last A LONG TIME! 

The hardest part is convincing kids that they don’t NEED new things until the old have run out. 

That being said, at the beginning of August I do invest in a generous supply of glue, notebooks, pencils, markers and crayons. Why? Why do so if our things are still good? Simply because it only makes sense for my pocketbook. 10 cent notebooks and glue for 25 cents and markers for 50 cents means a lot of savings later on. Plus, we tend to use them at home too. It also means that when my kids or their classmates have a need for supplies, I don’t have to find a time to drive 55 miles to purchase them.

So onto my second and last groan and moan…. Gym shoes! Whose idea was it to make soles of tennis shoes of FOAM and why? I get that foam makes them soft and light weight, but offer no support and my kids wear through them in about 2 weeks! We are taking kids- moving- active beings! The cost hasn’t gone down – $20-$30 for a layer of foam with laces😆 and I get ill thinking about paying $60 or more for a elementary kids’ shoes!  It has to be all marketing- sell more because they don’t last or force them to buy expensive ones that often get replaced because feet grow. 

Back to school is a fun time! It provides some interesting opportunities to see how kids see things, help them with consumerism- comparing products and prices, time to help guide them through needs and wants, insight into their “organizing”style, and time together. If only the stores would market in need vs want, sell quality for a fair price, and highlight the family focused non- material things that can be gained during his time of preparation and transition, they would top their sales by selling insight and experience and not carts of chaos! 

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