How Dirty is Your Data?


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

My basic rule for data is, unless there is a life and death scenario unfolding, bad or unclean data is not going to be used. I have yet to encounter a situation where releasing data, which will eventually wreak havoc throughout the school, is an essential and lifesaving endeavor. Delaying systems access due to data issues is difficult. Even the smallest of systems have vocal advocates who will passionately state the damage being done to learning for every day a system is offline.

The best way to exist in a data-driven environment is to be prepared. Being prepared means being aware. Awareness comes from a regular, I would argue monthly, check of all core databases and having policies and procedures for correcting problems.

The real question is this: how does someone not involved in direct data management, check data? And how does someone who is an end user of data set policies to protect the data they need?

Validate and Verify

Anyone dealing with an IT manager, Technology Director, School Information System Specialist, or even a Business Manager should know about validation and verification.

When you validate, you are making certain the contents and format are correct. For example, if I ask you to type your name, and you instead you type your phone number, then you will not be validated. Your data is invalid.

When you verify, you are looking at data that is already in a system to see if it is correct and  in the correct place. For example, when you check a list of student names, you may find all middle names are part of the first name. If this was not by design, you could determine that the data failed verification.

When dealing with assets we often want to verify that what we ordered is what we received. When this type of questioning occurs, verification is happening.

Most people are hit with validation constantly while using the internet. Validation is ubiquitous. Websites often ask you to enter answers to questions, passwords, and CAPTCHA to validate your actions.

These two concepts,validation and verification, are the main tools needed to help the non-data managing people to engage and work with data managers.

Data Auditing

Many people will start auditing data by requesting a spreadsheet of data. This is a mistake.
Data without context is very difficult to understand.

The first step in auditing is simpe. Using questions, learn  how the data is validated:

  1. Where does a new record come from? (Paper + Manual Entry, Online form, Over the Phone + Manual Entry, Software running on computers at the school, etc.)
  2. How are errors prevented and checked?
  3. May I see the…form, paper, call script?
  4. May I do a sample and test the process?
  5. How do I know, after I complete the process, what data was collected?

I often find people are blown away by the time they get to step 5. They are either shocked at how amazing the system is, or appalled at the short comings. Since most data in schools comes from either families or is connected to student assessment, shortcomings do not sit well.

There is nothing to fix at this point. Even if there is a strong belief the system needs to be changed, change should always be data driven, and in this case, driven by the data quality. Until the data is actually reviewed, pause any immediate desire to change things.

The next step is to verify the data, and this can be done by requesting spreadsheets. If the school has a school information system (SIS) like PowerSchool, iSams, Blackbaud, etc. the first set of data needs to come from the SIS. This data should be the primary set used to create accounts in other systems.

Before asking for data, fields must be specified. For example, full name, date of birth, mother’s email address, etc. Be as specific as possible. When people are not specific, data managers take fields and manipulate them. You should be looking at raw data, not data that is filtered and/or edited.

When scanning the data from the SIS, after knowing how the data was collected, errors should start jumping out. If anything seems weird, make a note of it for further discussion. This process usually reveals patterns, such as, everyone having the same zipcode (yes that happened to me).

The secondary systems such as Moodle, Accelerated Reader, Discovery Streaming, etc. can have their data exported to be checked as well. These system often export a .csv file. Don’t worry. Excel, Numbers, and Libre Office can open .csv files. After the file is open, save it as Excel so that it is easier to work with.

Remember, it is not about being certain, it is about being suspicious and asking questions around those suspicions.


Posted in Tony DePrato | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Searchlight Souls

So there is nothing more exciting to me in my life than the first day of a new school year. Watching the kids spill off of the buses with wide eyes and nervous energy is an experience that never gets old, and one that fills me with so many deep emotions. I literally cannot wait to see the kids, and their smiles, and to share in their joy as they wonder about the year that lies ahead. The beginning of a new school year is such an opportunity, and such a clean slate for all kids, and every single one of our students comes filled with a little anxiety but a whole lot of hope as they enter into their new classrooms for the first time. The first day of school will set the tone for the year in many ways, and the responsibility that we have as educators to inspire our kids and to give them the start that they have been dreaming about is immense. We’ve all been working so hard to prepare for that first day…setting up our teaching spaces, preparing the first units and lessons of the year, finalizing the last few facility jobs from the summer projects, and meeting in teams to go over the year’s expectations and initiatives. None of this however, comes close to the real work that needs to be done once the kids arrive on Tuesday morning…the work of building strong and lasting relationships, which is the true foundation for any significant learning experience.


I remember when I was doing my practice teaching all those years ago, my mentor teacher (Mrs. Arbuckle) told me two things that have stuck with me throughout my career. Two things that have shaped who I have become as an educator, and two things that inspire me each morning as I walk through the school gates. The first thing, which she drilled into my head over and over again, was her belief that the true measure of any educator can be found in the relationships that they develop with their most difficult students. I watched intently every day as she found ways to connect with, care for, and love every single one of her kids, especially the ones who were the most challenging. She loved her students like they were her own, and she went above and beyond to find out who they were as young people…their hopes, their dreams, their strengths and weaknesses, their passions, and how they best learn as individuals. It was amazing for me to learn that teaching isn’t really about delivering a lesson or imparting knowledge to kids, it is about getting them to see the beauty and potential that lies within themselves, and getting them to recognize that same beauty and potential in others…it is only then she said when students can be truly open and ready to deeply learn. The first day of the year is when these relationships begin, so think hard about how you’ll greet and engage your kids when you see them for the first time…spend the better part of your first days and weeks developing the relationships in your room, as there is no better foundation to set to inspire learning.


The second thing that she told me, which I take with me everyday both inside and outside of the school, is that the most important job of an educator (and as a human being for that matter) is to be a searchlight soul for others, especially kids. She described a searchlight soul as a person who finds ways each and every day to be a mentor, an advocate, a counselor, and a surrogate mother/father to every kid that they come across. A person who actively seeks out those kids who are struggling in some way, or sitting alone, or making bad decisions, or finding it difficult to engage with others, or the kids who don’t do traditional school well and are unique in their approach to life. Not only is a searchlight soul teacher a beacon for a struggling student, and someone who students can trust in even the most difficult situations, but a teacher who purposely goes out of their way to be on the look out for struggling kids…and not just their own. We  all get caught up in our days, and in our jobs, and it is very, very easy to forget to pay attention to what’s going on around us with our kids. Every second of every day kids struggle with their relationships with their peers, and with their self confidence and self esteem, and with their body image, and with how they put themselves out there for others. It is up to us as educators to be watching for this intently so our kids know that they are constantly being looked out for. I’m asking us all this year to be searchlight souls for our kids, and  mentors/advocates who never take a break from looking to change a child’s day for the better.


I love the beginning of a new school year, and I’m ridiculously excited about tomorrow’s new family orientation. It’s a chance to meet our new kids and to inspire them with the knowledge that they are now a part of an amazing school community. Then comes Tuesday morning when they all arrive, and I am so eager to pass out all of the hugs that I’ve been saving up over the past 6 weeks. It’s going to be an incredible day. Remember everyone, it’s all about relationships…with our kids, with each other, and with everyone that we come across. We are all the weather for those around us, and together we can make this the best year in the lives of our students. Have a fantastic start to the school year everyone, and remember to be searchlight souls for our kids…and good to each other!


Quote of the week…

You only learn from those you love – Goethe


Watch/Read these!


The Power of Relationships –

Posted in Daniel Kerr | Leave a comment

Three paradigms for home-school relationships

Like many schools, we are spending a lot of time with new families at the moment, especially in those cases where subject options have changes over the long break. Conversations about appropriate courses, between teachers, students and parents often foreground interesting different approaches to home-school relationships.  I came across an interesting way of thinking about this. Inspired by an interesting 1992 paper, I think it’s helpful to consider three models.

The Paternalistic model is the model whereby ‘school knows best’; it assumes that there are shared objective values to guide us in the best interests of the student and that all decisions will be made by school, and then communicated to parents. While this may have once been a possible model, it is no longer a viable approach for most international school. I remember my GCSE French teacher changing my A level choice of Physics to French ‘on my behalf’ – that is, without asking me. We have come on a long way; not least because we recognize the value of student autonomy and aspiration.

Screen Shot 2016-08-20 at 2.07.39 pm

Yes, partners, but in what sense?

A natural alternative model is the Informative model whereby the educational experts lay out all the options to the students and parents, who then have full autonomy over any choices, in full knowledge of the likely outcomes. This blue pill or red pill? approach is easy and appropriate when choices are clear, costs of mistakes are low, and when people have clear preferences. For some students, a choice between subjects they are equally good at may be such a case. But many choices are not so simple. How, for example, do we support decision making when student and parents feel differently?  Or when students and teachers have wildly different understandings of current student aptitudes for subjects?   Or when parental University aspirations seem unrealistic to school?   It’s not enough to lay out the facts, because the facts are contested.

So that leads us to a third model, the one I suggest we adopt – the Interpretative model. Our role is neither to decide, nor to abdicate from the decision-making process. Our role is to help students and families decide what they want. So if students wish to do courses for which they have so-far shown little enthusiasm we will neither forbid nor simply accept; we will start a conversation and ask why this is suddenly attractive. When students wish to take a course where we have concerns about their capacities to succeed, we ask ‘what’s your thinking in choosing this course? Why is it important to you?’. So what we are doing is trying to understand the students’ values perspectives, and then provide information in response to that. Often we find that where there are conflicting values (e.g. the desire to follow certain courses against certain career aspirations) the conversation centres around questions like ‘how much and what are you prepared to compromise for what you want?’ and ‘what strategies might help you succeed? How can we help?’

Opening a conversation, rather than following policy,  leads to lengthy conversations.  But these are important matters, and they deserve the time.  Our role here is not decision-maker, nor simply technical expert. It is more like an adviser, friend or, you will be relieved to hear, teacher.

Posted in Forrest Broman, Nicholas Alchin | Leave a comment

Our Human Tapestry

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

The most moving and important testimonials about learning and school culture also come from parents, whose voices are critical to our collective partnership in support of student development. To complement last week’s post, Our Obligation, which focused on inclusion from a student’s perspective, this post shares a poignant parent reflection on the same theme.

Alex Ellis is currently serving as the British Ambassador to Brazil. Following his son Thomás’ recent graduation from the American School of Brasilia, Ambassador Ellis published the following reflections, which focus on the culture of learning and inclusion in schools.

Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

There are parents all over the northern hemisphere who in these weeks have watched or will watch their child go through this ritual, in many different forms, in the case of our son through a flick of a tassel. Each family has its own memories and stories, both similar to those of others and peculiar to themselves.

Our story includes a moment, at an earlier time, spent in a still, grey room, with sensible Flemish doctors telling us in sensible, Flemish English that our son is on the autistic spectrum. There’s no number to confirm this, no blood test. It’s the product of observation and judgment, and that knot of anxiety which has sat inside our stomachs from when Tomas’ first kindergarten teacher wondered if he might be a bit different, the apparent difficulty in hearing (tested, unproven), his slightly awkward walk, his focus on a few toys but not his classmates.

Before he was diagnosed Tomás passed through a series of small schools, mainly with the help of kind teachers, next to whom he was often standing. The diagnosis came after, at very short notice, we had moved from warm, fun Madrid back to Brussels. He plunged into a large school which quickly declared him “ineducable”. It doesn’t sound much nicer when you hear it in French. Which I did, twice, for bureaucratic reasons which were legally impeccable, financially advantageous and inhuman.

I wondered, when Tomas was diagnosed, what would happen next. “Tomorrow” is the best answer. He hadn’t changed and we hadn’t changed. We fell, and then got up. Tomas carried on, much happier at a school that took him, rather than rejected him, for who he is. The labels — Asperger’s, on the autistic spectrum, he’s quite bright but different etc — helped in the first interaction with schools. They were ready to adjust before he walked in.

Tomas got from there to here, 11 years later, because of some things he was born with; confidence, a sense of humour and a good heart. Lots of other children have those characteristics, autistic or not. Tomas had a lot of help as well. Help in the form of classroom support, and crucially from teachers who “got” him. Who saw him as different, not special, as a person, albeit in teenage form, rather than a syndrome.

This, we learnt, starts at the top. Schools are no different from any other organisation in the importance of the leader in determining and living its values. We had luck, and a bit of choice, in the two schools where Tomas spent the best part of a decade. Both heads thought that a school would gain more than lose from a boy like Tomas in it, that this was part of the world of difference in which pupils should learn. Almost without exception the pupils shared this attitude. On a rare occasion when a classmate tried to bully him, his confidence and humour dealt pretty comfortably with it.

The head teacher at the ambitious, academic school where Tomas stayed longest told me, after chatting with him, that he would take him into the school, but there would be some who wouldn’t be so keen to have him there. So it proved. Some teachers welcomed him, some wanted him out of their class. This wasn’t determined by Tomas’ abilities, but by the teacher’s confidence. Over time some teachers excluded him from classes in which he was relatively strong, whilst others kept with him in subjects (maths) in which threats, tears and bribes could not move him — I know, having tried, and failed, with all three. As exams loomed bigger, some teachers, and in rare cases some other parents, wanted Tomas out of the class for fear that he might undermine the grades of other pupils. In such situations the real values of a school become apparent.

Tomas is not easy to teach. Like a lot of kids on the autistic spectrum, he’s pretty autodidactic (and I should thank The Simpsons, Futurama and Cartoon Network for their significant contribution to his education). And he tells it as he sees it, which can be uncomfortable. The new music teacher in one school, fresh from university, might have hoped for a different opening to his career than Tomas asking to see his qualifications.

But the good teachers, and there were a lot of them, got past this or better still embraced this as part of what Tomas brought to the classroom, to the school — and also knew that the second is a lot ore than just the first. Last week, after Tomás stepped up to get an arts prize, to his father’s bursting pride and his own mild indifference, a teacher referred to the support for him from “the school community”. She was quite right. It did, for our son, take just that community to help get him through his education.

So this one goes out, yes, to the son I love. But it also goes out to every member of those school communities, teachers, administrators, security guards, classroom helpers, who saw in Tomas not a potential spoiler of grade averages or a “special” pupil to be kept in a “special” place but rather saw him for what he was — another flavour in the very wide variety that is the human race.

Link to Original Post: Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

Versão português:

Nossa Tapeçaria Humana

Os depoimentos mais emocionantes e importantes sobre a aprendizagem e cultura escolar também vêm dos pais, cujas vozes são fundamentais para a nossa parceria em prol do desenvolvimento do aluno. Complementando a postagem da semana passada, A Nossa Obrigação, cujo foco foi a inclusão de acordo com a perspectiva de cada aluno, a publicação abaixo compartilha a reflexão comovente de um pai sobre o mesmo tema. Alex Ellis está servindo atualmente como Embaixador Britânico no Brasil. Logo após a formatura do seu filho Thomas, na Escola Americana de Brasília, o Embaixador Ellis publicou a seguinte reflexão, que incide sobre a cultura de aprendizagem e inclusão nas escolas.

Tomás terminou a escola no último Sábado

Nessas últimas semanas, pais em todo o hemisfério norte foram ou vão assistir seus filhos passarem por esse ritual, de formatura, nas mais diversas formas; como no caso do nosso filho Tomás que passou a corda do capelo do lado direito para o lado esquerdo. Cada família tem suas próprias memórias e histórias, algumas semelhantes entre si — e outras completamente particulares.

Nossa história inclui um momento vivido alguns anos atrás, em uma sala ainda cinzenta, com sensíveis médicos da região belga dos Flandres nos dizendo, também de forma sensível, que nosso filho possuía um diagnóstico de espectro autista. Não há nenhum número para confirmar isso; nenhum exame de sangue. Essa conclusão é o produto único de observação e julgamento. É resultado daquele nó de ansiedade que tomou conta de nós, eu e minha esposa, quando a primeira professora de Tomás, no jardim de infância, nos chamou na escola e nos perguntou se ele era um pouco diferente; desde sua aparente dificuldade de audição (testada e não comprovada); ao caminhar um pouco desajeitado e o foco em alguns brinquedos, mas não seus colegas.

Antes de ser diagnosticado, Tomás passou por uma série de pequenas escolas, sempre com a ajuda de professores amáveis, dos quais ele quase sempre permanecia por perto. A comprovação veio logo depois que nos mudamos da quente e divertida Madrid de volta à Bruxelas, na Bélgica. Ali, Tomás foi matriculado em uma escola maior, que rapidamente o declarou como “ineducável”. Uma frase que não soa muito mais agradável quando você a escuta em francês.

Eu me perguntava, assim que ele foi diagnosticado, o que aconteceria em seguida. E o “amanhã” é a melhor resposta. Meu filho, assim como nós, não tinha mudado. Nós caímos, mas então nos levantamos. Tomás seguiu em frente, muito mais feliz em uma escola que o acolheu ao invés de rejeitá-lo por ser quem ele é. Os rótulos — Asperger, com espectro autista, “muito brilhante, mas diferente”… — ajudaram em sua primeira interação com as novas escolas. Elas estavam prontas a se adaptarem antes da nossa chegada.

Nesses últimos 11 anos, como fruto de várias características de sua natureza, Tomás adquiriu confiança, um excelente senso de humor e um bom coração.

Várias outras crianças também são assim — autistas ou não. Tomas também recebeu muita ajuda. Ajuda em forma de suporte com as atividades em sala de aula e, crucialmente, de professores que o conquistaram. Professores que o enxergaram como diferente, e não especial; como uma pessoa, ainda que adolescente, ao invés de uma síndrome.

Nós aprendemos algo desde o começo: escolas não são diferentes de qualquer outra organização no que se refere à importância de um líder que determine e estimule determinados valores. Tivemos sorte, e um pouco de escolha, com as duas escolas onde Tomás passou a maior da última década.Ambas as partes acreditaram que a escola iria ganhar mais do que perder recebendo um garoto como ele, parte de um mundo de diferenças que todos os demais alunos deveriam aprender. Quase sem exceção, todos os demais alunos compartilharam essa atitude. E na rara ocasião em que um colega tentou intimidá-lo, a confiança e o bom humor de Tomás lidaram confortavelmente com a situação.

O diretor da escola em que Tomás ficou a maior parte de sua trajetória me disse, depois de conversar com ele, que iria matriculá-lo, mas confessou que haveria algumas pessoas ali pouco ansiosas com a sua chegada. E assim foi. Alguns professores o acolheram, alguns o queriam fora de sala. Isso não foi determinado pela capacidade de Tomás, mas pela confiança de cada um dos professores. Ao longo do tempo, alguns professores o excluíram de aulas nas quais ele era relativamente habilidoso, enquanto outros continuaram com ele em disciplinas (matemática, por exemplo) em que as ameaças, as lágrimas e os subornos não conseguiam movê-lo. A medida que os exames foram aumentando, alguns professores e, em raros casos, alguns pais, queriam Tomás fora da classe — era o medo de que ele minasse os resultados dos demais estudantes. Nesses momentos, os reais valores de uma escola se fizeram presentes.

Tomas não é fácil de ensinar. Como um monte de crianças com espectro autista, ele é muito autodidata (e eu deveria agradecer Os Simpsons, Futurama e Cartoon Network por sua contribuição significativa para a sua educação). E ele diz as coisas exatamente com as vê, o que às vezes pode ser desconfortável. O novo professor de música, recém saído da universidade, talvez esperasse um início diferente para sua carreira: com certeza ele não esperava que Tomás pedisse para ver suas qualificações. Mas os bons professores, e havia um monte deles, apenas superaram essas dificuldades ou, melhor ainda, as abraçaram como parte do que Tomás trouxe para a sala de aula e a escola. Eles entenderam que os ganhos eram maiores que todos os desafios.

Na última semana, depois de Tomás ganhar um prêmio de artes, para o orgulho do pai e para sua própria indiferença, uma professora mencionou o suporte oferecido a Tomás por toda a “comunidade escolar”. Ela estava certa. Eles fizeram muito pelo nosso filho e se engajaram no desafio de ajudá-lo no caminho pela educação.

Então, sim, este texto vai para o filho que eu amo. Mas também vai para cada membro daquelas comunidades escolares, professores, administradores, seguranças e auxiliares que viram no Tomás não somente um potencial de notas medianas ou um aluno “especial” para ser mantido em um lugar “especial”, mas sim pelo que ele era — um outro sabor na variedade muito ampla que é a raça humana.

Link para publicação original: Tomás Finished School Last Saturday

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY 2.0) flickr photo by James Cridland:

Posted in Barry Déquanne | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Inclusion – Our Obligation

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

It was one of those emails that catch your attention. Mauricio, then a fifteen-year-old student in a Brazilian school, sent an elegantly worded statement about how he taught himself English so that he could realize his dream of attending a university in the United States. Mauricio had been studying our website and, as he believed our school’s values were aligned with his, was determined to join our learning community. What I did not know at the time was that Mauricio was going to forever change our community’s perspectives on learning and our understanding of the world around us.

Mauricio’s application for admission to our high school was the first we had received from a blind student. While Mauricio did not seem to be concerned that his blindness would limit his learning, a reflection of his indomitable spirit that I quickly learned to admire and appreciate, our faculty did raise several valid questions and concerns.

The consideration of Mauricio’s application was framed and guided by a mission and set of beliefs that highlighted diversity and different learning styles as essential values. Through dialogue, learning, and understanding, the high school faculty committed to admitting Mauricio and providing him with the best educational program within our capabilities. Mauricio also supported us through this learning process and was always quick to remind us not to think of him as a blind person, but rather a person who happened to be blind.

During one of our admissions meetings, I welcomed Mauricio to my office with the greeting, “It is great to see you…” but cut myself off as I realized the insensitivity of my words. Mauricio smiled warmly and replied in a manner that conveyed wisdom beyond his years, “It is also great to seeyou.” While it was a seemingly minor moment of learning, it was also emblematic of our own collective growth. I humbly shared with Mauricio how it was likely that we were going to learn far more from him than he would learn from us. And, this was in fact the case. Four years later, Mauricio graduated from Graded, the school where I previously worked, and he realized his dream of attending and graduating from a top university in the United States. It was also during this time that we grew the most as professionals and as a community.

While Mauricio was a student at Graded, we had the honor of hosting two very special people, Bill and Ochan Powell, who conveyed a similar spirit of promise and a unique ability to instill an intrinsic commitment in others to be the best professionals and people they can be. Bill and Ochan scheduled time after their professional learning facilitation to interview Mauricio as part of their work associated with inclusive schools. I remember clearly how our faculty and I beamed with pride and a sense of purpose when Bill and Ochan highlighted and congratulated the team for their work with Mauricio and their efforts to ensure Graded was offering a highly functioning inclusive learning program.

The following two videos present clips from Bill and Ochan’s work with Mauricio.

Interview with Bill and Ochan:

Learning in a Science Classroom:

The videos highlight Bill’s talents and concern for others and, correspondingly, one of the many reasons why there has been such an extraordinary outpouring of sorrow, love, and admiration from around the world to the tragic news of Bill Powell’s sudden passing. Bill was a remarkable individual whose impressive professional capabilities were complemented with a warm heart and deeply caring nature.

A recent exchange of emails with Mauricio highlighted the difference Bill’s vision and unwavering commitment to student learning and inclusion can make in a student’s life. The following is an extract from Mauricio’s note to me this week:

Needless to say, if it were not for my inclusion at Graded and before, I would not be where I am today. I have worked at internationally recognized corporations, attended top educational institutions abroad, learned the importance of adaptation and persistence, and demonstrated to others that blindness does not define one’s capabilities.

It all began with education – an education that was inclusive, grounded, and rigorous. It all began with teachers and administrators who believed in my potential, and who required of me the same as was required of any other student. If one has education one still faces challenges, the difference being that without it we have no solution. Blind people must be able to make any choice they wish for their future, with blindness being only a circumstance and physical characteristic. As the Olympics are held in Brazil, so will the Paralympics. We apply the inspiration and values from all athletes into our lives as much as possible so that we may continue fighting for opportunity for all people.

The message of six years ago still stands: people must ask questions, so that their doubts may be resolved. On the other hand, those with disabilities must believe in themselves, strive for their best, and not for what seems comfortable, and never be let down by expectations by others. Others may not know our full potential, but I find that most people will be allies if we help them help us. And, schools cannot do it alone – families must understand that disabilities shall never define where one wishes to go.

~ Mauricio

I am deeply grateful to Mauricio and Bill and Ochan Powell for the real difference they have made in our lives. Looking ahead, we hope to honor Bill’s significant contributions to the field of education and his dedication to the lives of others by ensuring a collective commitment to furthering his vision of inclusive schools where diversity, difference, and all learning styles are valued within the context of a plurality of thought and perspectives. Next Frontier Inclusion’s mission must also be our own: “to promote and protect the interests of children who learn in different ways or at different rates.” This is our moral obligation to Mauricio and all of the students, families, and communities we have the privilege of working with at our schools.

Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by lee: like a record…

Posted in Barry Déquanne | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Struggle & Triumph

By Barry Dequanne | Follow me on Twitter @dequanne

“The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” ~ Olympic Creed

During this recent school break, I had the good fortune to spend time in Barcelona and made a point to visit the city’s track and field stadium, the site that hosted one of the most remarkable moments in Olympic history. During the 1992 summer Olympics, British athlete Derek Redmond was heavily favored to win the 400-meter event. While Redmond did not win a medal, it was his determination and courage that made his performance such an inspiration.

It was halfway through the 400 semifinal race when Redmond’s hamstring snapped and he fell to his knees in excruciating pain. After the other runners completed the race, the TV camera and the crowd return their attention to Redmond who somehow finds the strength to return to his feet and begin hopping down the track, determined to finish the race. It was at this moment that his father runs onto the track and tells Redmond that he does not need to finish the race. Redmond replies to his father, “Yes, I do.” His father replies stating that if Derrick was going to finish the race, then they were going to finish it together. The 65,000 spectators were on their feet cheering Derek and his father on with a deafening roar of support as they walked and hobbled forward and finally crossed the finish line.

Derek’s story embodies the spirit of the Olympic Creed and how the struggle in life is more important than the triumph. In this context, Yogi Berra’s words are apropos: Losing is a learning experience. It teaches you humility. It teaches to you to work harder. It’s also a powerful motivator.”  Michael Jordan has also famously spoken about how his failures have led to his success: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” It is through adversity, failure, and challenge that we grow the most and realize a deeper sense of the human spirit.  While Derek Redmond did not win the 400-meter gold medal, his performance in Barcelona is considered to be one of the greatest moments in Olympic history.

The lesson is that there is as much triumph in defeat as in victory, particularly when triumph is in the effort and effort is everything. Redmond also reminds us that no takes an odyssey alone. Whether it is a family member, coach, mentor, friend, or teacher, we have all had someone who has supported us in terms of our growth, development, and achievements. It is through these lenses that we can view the start of another school year and our work as a community of learners.

All of us at EAB, in our roles ranging from that of a teacher, student, and family member, are on an odyssey of growth and development. EAB’s mission statement – Learners inspiring learners to be inquisitive in life, principled in character, and bold in vision – highlights this belief. And, like Derek Redmond, no one is on this journey alone. It is our focus on relationships, the deep care for each other’s wellbeing, and a belief community, that contribute to making EAB such as special school and learning environment for our students.

The opening of the 27th modern summer Olympic games will be officially celebrated in Rio de Janeiro tonight and will represent an exciting focus during the coming weeks. The performance of the athletes will no doubt provide us with inspiration as we reflect on the relevance of the Olympic Creed in relation to our own context: “The most important thing is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.”



Esforço e Triunfo

“A coisa mais importante não é vencer, mas participar, assim como a coisa mais importante na vida não é o triunfo, mas o esforço. O essencial não é ter conquistado, mas ter lutado bem”. ~ Olympic Creed

Durante as últimas férias, eu tive a sorte de passar algum tempo em Barcelona e fiz questão de visitar o campo e a pista de atletismo no estádio da cidade, local que foi palco de um dos momentos mais marcantes da história olímpica. Durante os Jogos Olímpicos de Verão de 1992, o atleta britânico Derek Redmond era o favorito para ganhar a prova de 400m. Apesar de Redmond não ter ganhado a medalha, foi a sua determinação e coragem que tornaram seu desempenho uma inspiração.

Foi no meio da semifinal de 400m que o tendão de Redmond rompeu e ele caiu de joelhos com uma dor excruciante. Depois que os demais atletas completaram a prova, as câmeras de televisão e o público voltaram sua atenção para Redmond, que de algulma forma encontrou forças para ficar em pé e começou a pular, determinado a terminar corrida. Foi nesse momento que seu pai entrou na pista e disse que ele não precisaria terminar a prova. Redmond respondeu: “Sim, eu preciso.” O seu pai respondeu que já que Derrick iria terminar a prova, eles iriam terminar juntos. Os 65.000 expectadores ficaram de pé torcendo por ele e seu pai com um rugido ensurdecedor, enquanto eles caminhavam e ele mancava até eles cruzarem a linha de chegada.

A história de Derek incorpora o espírito do credo olímpico e mostra como lutar torna-se mais importante do que o triufo. Neste contexto, as palavras de Yogi Berra são oportunas: “Perder é uma experiência de aprendizagem. Ela ensina a humildade. Ensina a dar duro. E é também uma motivação muito poderosa”. Michael Jordan também ficou famoso em falar sobre como os seus fracassos levaram ao seu sucesso: “Eu perdi mais de 9000 lances em minha carreira. Eu perdi quase 300 jogos. Por 26 vezes contaram comigo para o lance final e eu perdi. Eu falhei várias vezes na minha vida. E é por isso que eu consegui.” É através da adversidade, fracasso e dos desafios que nós crescemos mais e percebemos o sentido do espírito humano. Apesar de Derek Redmond não ter ganhado a medalha de ouro nos 400 metros, o seu desempenho em Barcelona foi considerado um dos melhores momentos na história das Olimpíadas.

A lição aqui é que há triunfo tanto na derrota quanto na vitória, particularmente quando o triunfo está no esforço e o esforço é tudo. Redmond também nos lembra que ninguém atravessa uma jornada sozinho. Quer seja um membro da família, um treinador, mentor, amigo ou professor, nós sempre tivemos alguém nos apoiando em nosso crescimento, desenvolvimento e realizações. É através dessas lentes que podemos ver o início de mais um ano escolar e nosso trabalho como uma comunidade de aprendizes.

Todos nós da EAB, em nossos papéis, que vão desde professor, aluno e membro da família, passamos por uma jornada de crescimento e desenvolvimento. A missão da EAB – Aprendizes inspirando aprendizes a serem questionadores na vida, firmes em seu caráter e com uma visão audaciosa – destaca essa crença. Como Derek Redmond, ninguém está sozinho nessa jornada. É o nosso foco em relacionamentos, o cuidado profundo com o bem-estar do outro e uma comunidade com um ideal, que contribuem para tornar a EAB uma escola e ambiente de aprendizagem especial para os nossos alunos.

A abertura do 27º Jogos Olímpicos será comemorada oficialmente, hoje, no Rio de Janeiro e vai representar algo emocionante durante as próximas semanas. O desempenho dos atletas, sem dúvida, nos inspira em como refletir sobre a relevância da crença olímpica em relação ao nosso próprio contexto: “A coisa mais importante não é vencer, mas participar, assim como a coisa mais importante na vida não é o triunfo, mas a luta. O essencial não é ter vencido, mas lutado bem”.

Barry Dequanne


Featured image: cc licensed (CC BY-NC 2.0) flickr photo by Geraint Rowland: Cristo Redentor



Posted in Barry Déquanne | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The difference between teaching and learning

I once read that taxi-drivers in centrally-planned communist Russia were incentivised by rewarding them per mile driven. It stands to reason – after all, the further a taxi has driven, the better it must be serving the passengers, correct? Not correct. The taxi-drivers jacked up their cars, put a brick on the accelerator, and went for a smoke. It is hard to think of a worse outcome for the passengers, the taxpayers, the environment and even the taxi-drivers who ended up going through more cigarettes due to more time and money. This simple incentive seems to have ended up benefiting no-one other than the petrol and tobacco companies.

This admittedly extreme example shows that people respond to incentives by changing their behaviour, but not always in ways that are predictable or desirable. Of course that’s not to say that the taxi drivers were stupid; we all respond to the incentives we have in ways that makes sense to us – but when people have different agendas, what is considered a reasonable response may differ from one person to the next. And that’s probably familiar to anyone who has ever been appraised at work. If you know that your boss is looking for a certain result (miles for the taxi drivers) then you may feel compelled to do whatever it takes to get that result – even if that’s not really the best thing to do. The problem is when there is a misalignment between your overall purpose and what you are being held accountable for, and incentivised to do. That’s as true for institutions as it is for individuals; in the UK, when the Government started publishing exam results in a particular way, some schools sent students home if they thought they would score poorly. When surgeons were assessed according to the death rates of patients under their care, they started accepting only patients with easy to treat conditions. Others found it very hard to get treatment at all.  These two examples are aligned with the incentives, but radically opposed to the nobler purposes of education and medicine.

While this is clearly problematic,  there are two things which actually make a lot of sense. First; it is a good thing that we are trying to measure the things that are important. Would we really want to undergo an operation if we thought no-one was counting how many people died during similar procedures? Would we really want to send our children to schools whose academic results are secret? Second; it is a good thing that people respond to the incentives they have. If this were not true, how could we even try to change behaviour and improve anything? The problem is not measurement, not changing behaviour. The problem is misalignment, as I have described is above.

So let’s turn to education and the incentives for teachers. Firstly, we should tread with care – we teachers love what we are doing, and we came into teaching to share our passion for our subject with students; unlike some taxi drivers, we won’t be off for a quick smoke. So that’s a great start – we teachers are intrinsically motivated to teach. But still, we are only human and cannot help but respond to the structures and systems the school puts in place (nor should we). Lesson observations are one such traditional school structure. In this system the routine, familiar across the world, is that a senior teacher visits a classroom, watches the teacher, does his or her best not to interrupt the lesson by distracting or otherwise interacting with students, perhaps looks at few books, makes some judgements and then meets with the teacher afterwards to tell them how it went.

That may sound sensible, but in fact it is misguided and has some undesirable consequences (here and here for two UK examples). Like measuring the taxi driver’s performance by how many miles he or she has driven, it is not measuring the right thing; it misaligns purpose and measurement. Why? Because, teaching is not the same as learning. The desired outcome of a lesson is better student knowledge, skills or understanding; that is, learning; some change in the student’s mind. Teaching is how we support learning, but it isn’t the same thing. Watching the teacher is at best a proxy for learning, and may in fact be unrelated. So an observer may see what he or she thinks is a wonderful explanation, a terrific activity, and the best use of technology he or she has ever seen; but if the students didn’t learn anything, then really, it was a bad lesson.

And what is tragic here is that by having observations systems like this, teachers are incentivised to focus on what they are doing, and how they are performing; when the focus should always be on what the students are learning; where the students currently are in their understanding, and how to best move students on to the next stage. With more than a handful in the class, that’s extremely difficult to do, and needs laser-like discipline to achieve. And that’s what we need to set up systems to encourage.

So across the Campus we have been working to use a system of lesson observation that does exactly that; it’s a very simple idea called Looking for Learning and it replaces the system I describe with one where teachers visit each other’s lessons and do not watch the teacher. In fact they do their best to ignore the teacher, and simply spend a few minutes talking to a few students, and asking them questions like what are you learning? Do you understand the lessons? What helps you learn? What gets in the way of learning? The observer notes down the responses, and these form the basis of a conversation between observer and teacher afterwards. The teacher thinks about what he or she thinks the students would say, and then considers what they actually said; the degree of convergence or divergence then informs a conversation desniged to deepen thinking about how best to help students learn in future.

So the lovely thing about this system is that it tries to measure exactly what is important (learning) and totally aligns with the purpose of the schools (learning). It is a tool about learning, not about teachers, and so provides teachers with good reasons to focus on that. It is completely in line with good classroom practice, and what we, as teachers, should always be doing for our students.

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | 1 Comment

Problem Solving with Technology: A List of Topics and Standards


By Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

Core Concepts and Definitions

Digital Native is a term that refers to children who have been born after the advent of the modern personal computer and affordable personal laptop. There is a belief that these children have a very high aptitude with technology. This curriculum plan completely disagrees with this belief and reaffirms that all children need a solid foundation in problem solving in, and creating with, technology. The normal life of the average Digital Native is one of a consumer and user of things others have created.

Computer Science is not programming, although programming is required to practice the discipline. Computer Science is a field of study which seeks to automate processes using algorithms, and to solve problems using algorithmic based strategies. Computer Science often involves simulating outcomes using data-sets, after creating a hypothesis. A person who studies computer science may not be able to creatively express themselves through the mediums of web design, multimedia, game design, etc.

Programming (Coding) is a generic term used to categorize the actions taken to make computers, devices, websites, games, etc. function. Programming is not a single knowledge base. Programming is comprised of vast options which are explored based-on the type of outcome needed and the type of system that is being engaged. A programmer may have aptitude to perform computer science related work, or, they may not. Students can learn to program hardware that they set free to interact with the world. Machines of all types can be programmed. Limiting exposure to programming mediums limits opportunity.

Cloud-based educational technology resources refer to environments such as Google Apps for Education and Office 365 for Education.

Portfolios and Project Tracking

In an ideal world, at the end of each semester student work should be submitted to the school following this model:

  • Each student must submit three pieces of work (good, average, and below average) per year they have created, even if that work is only documentation. The work must be original and comply with all copyright laws.
  • The school will submit the work to a network/district wide repository that utilizes standard tagging and search techniques found in cloud-based environments. Think #hashtags.
  • Each school/district can then evaluate what students are doing.
  • Students participating in third-party curricula, such as the IB Program, will be required to produce work for internal and external assessments. The final marking of these assessments can be compared to previous projects to help internally moderate scores and performance indicators.
  • Students from Year 11 should have a personal repository to share their portfolio work outside of the school community. This public repository should be maintained for two years after graduation.

Problem Solving with Technology by Year Level

Year 3 (8-9 Years Old) :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems (An Example would be SCRATCH)
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives (An Example would be Makey Makey)

See Standards

Year 4 :

  • Object Based Drag-and-Drop Trial and Error Systems
  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics (An Example would be Lego, VEX, or similar)
  • Mechanical Skills Challenge Based Competitive Robotics

See Standards
Year 5 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Challenge Based Competitive Robotics
  • Mathematic Basics with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 6 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Programmable Robotics
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing with Javascript.
  • Hyperlinking Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Asynchronous Communication Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources

See Standards
Year 7 :

  • Arduino Based Manipulatives
  • Operating System Manipulation
  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without the Internet
  • Mathematics, Arrays, Functions, and External Referencing- Language Choices Flexible
  • Peer Review Concepts using Cloud-based Resources
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Story Boarding Concepts for Media and Games

See Standards
Year 8 :

  • Computer-to-Computer Communication without “The Internet” (This refers to learning simple protocols)
  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Team Base Projects Using Arduino, Robotics, or Client Side Programming, with Documentation
  • Local Server Concepts with Pre-Configured Servers Hosting WordPress (An Example would be MAMP or XAMP)

See Standards
Year 9 :

  • Game Programming with Story Boards – Language Choices Flexible
  • Tutorial and Documentation Development for Primary School Learners
  • Local Server with WordPress and Customisations
  • Local Server to Live Server Migration with WordPress
  • Math and Program Control Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python

See Standards
Year 10 :

  • Robotics or Automation without the GUI
  • Java or Python Core Programming Libraries
  • SQL Basics with Java, Javascript, PHP, or Python
  • Math Concepts: Game Theory and Probability (To be Simulated with Programming)

See Standards
Years 11 & 12 :

  • IB Computer Science
  • Public Website Design and Development
  • Mobile Game Development or Flash Game Development
  • Design Technology- CAD and 3D Printing

See Standards

Posted in Forrest Broman | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Testing, Exams, Karate, Newton

When my wife did karate at school, the instructors made a point of promoting gender equality.   With all the authority of a fourth dan, sensei confidently declared in a deep voice there’s no place for sexism in the dojo.  He glared challengingly at the boys, and said girls and boys can both go karate, and some girls are actually quite good at it.

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 11.41.54 am

Sometimes, our deepest assumptions are unknown even to ourselves

This is easy to laugh at, or perhaps easy to get angry about; but at least there is a gesture towards equality here.  And this is a well-known phenomenon – that when there is a social change, those who see the change can speak about it, and even believe in it, but somehow, they cannot quite leave behind the old values. The most extreme example of this that I know about is Isaac Newton; despite being a key driver towards the modern scientific outlook, he still pursued the occult with a passion (there’s even a Wikipedia page devoted to it!).  Perhaps he was, therefore, more the last man of the old generation, rather than the first man of the new.  The thing is here that we all have cognitive ‘deep structures’ that we do not even know about.  Under this model cognition is commonly depicted as an iceberg, whereby we are only conscious of behaviours above the waterline, and not of the assumptions, norms and beliefs below it.

We sometimes see the same thing in education.  We know that we do not want for our children what we had; authoritarian, top-down, narrow academic learning.  We want an values-based education that prioritises learning to think over narrower, multiple-choice measures.  We want a system that develops creativity, that can deal with ambiguity and that focuses on deep understanding (these are, after all, the things that are needed after school life).  But then we sometimes ask why we don’t give more ‘rigorous’ testing with clear outcomes, like percentages, so we can compare students with each other.    There is a place for tests, for sure, but less than we sometimes think.  It’s not an accident that our most complex, intellectually demanding course (Theory of Knowledge) has no exams whatsoever  – and really, when you look at the work an average class produces you can see why an exam is simply the wrong way to assess here.  Let’s be a bit more nuanced than that.

I am not against traditional exams per se.  My argument is that we need to align our school practices with our modern understanding of education –  and that means better testing, not more testing.  In fact, it may well mean less.   To want modern, progressive education and then to always reach for tests, regardless of context or purpose is like sensei and his dojo, or Newton and his alchemy.

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | Leave a comment

Brexit: People and Perspectives

Like so many other issues, Brexit was essentially a matter of identity; who do the British people want to be?

Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 6.39.42 am

What can we learn form the Brexit fiasco?

The Leave side was seen as taking the higher ground by appealing to the identity of the British as proud and independent.  The Remain side forgot it’s own story, and ended up appearing to quibble about numbers, laws and details. As we know, the narrative about identity prevailed.  It usually does, and the result was a staggering and perhaps historic result.

Writing as a staunchly Remain British citizen, I feel pretty glum about the whole affair.  Not (just!) because I was on the losing side, and not (just!) because of the total lack of respect on both sides for reason and facts; but more because I realize how little effort we have put over recent years into the ‘United’ bit of United Kingdom.   That, of course, is why there was so much surprise from markets, media and politicians who did not look outside the London bubble.  So while it was impossible for me to imagine ourselves as anything but increasingly integrated with our neighbours, that really reflects more about my own identity and perspective than it does about anything else.  Others felt exactly the opposite for similar reasons of identity.   Regardless of whether Article 50 is ever triggered or not, both sides probably still do not really understand each other’s attitudes and feelings.

Understanding is, of course, the business of education, and there are important reminders here for teachers and parents, regardless of nationality (the same issues play out in many, many countries –  most obviously the USA at the moment).  Not just that the content of what we teach our students has to be relevant, but also that to have a lasting and profound effect the learning has to be more than academic learning; it has to resonate with our students’ values and identities.   Having an explicit and consistent focus on school Missions helps; so does talking to students (in an open, not didactic way) about who they want to be and what they see as important in life and how we need to better understand people with different views to work together.  If we get it right, they will be able to engage in important issues in an informed, positive way that seeks to connect constructively with others.  The many commentaries that insult the Leave voters’ intelligence or motivation reflect a failure of imagination in some parts of the Remain camp.  We must avoid this polarisation, and schools have to play their part.

Posted in Nicholas Alchin | 2 Comments