There is No App for That



By: Tony DePrato | Follow me on Twitter @tdeprato

“Read every line item until you get it.” ~Michael Burry 

During the last four weeks I have been reading literature, academic studies, and news articles on finance. I have studied graphs, looked through numerous sets of data, watched Youtube videos, and read two full books on asset allocation.  I am doing this research in my free-time, because I want to make a new investment. I want to fully understand how to manage the investment, and the longterm risks involved. There is No App for This. This is work, and it will only get more complicated as I get more involved.

Adding to my research, I watched a few fiction and non-fiction movies about the 2008 economic crisis. Studying humanity’s failures on a grand scale is always enlightening. Through my reading, and viewing, of this event I learned that Dr. Michael Burry discovered the market problems by reading 1000s of individual mortgages. He instructed his staff to read 1000s of records as well and to interpret the data. There is No App for This. This is work, and it only gets more complicated as it develops.

The systems and tools that allow a few people to manage tens of thousands of data points, to connect the community, to inform families, and to track what is happening formatively are not trivial systems. These systems have Apps that allow for a few conveniences, but all the power and value is in the strategic and creative development of these systems by the schools that use them, not the companies that own them.

 22353 Points of Data

In one semester, at a school with less than 600 students, 22353 points of academic data was collected in the school information system. This data spanned ten subjects, and was surrounded by long form formative comments.

There are pre-built reports that show median and modal representations of the data. However, if an administrator or teacher would like to apply a trend line or percentage change to such data, they would need to clearly define and model the parameters. Designing parameters to report on this data, to compare it to the comments, to graph it, to learn from it…There is No App for That. 

6908 Words on a Map

A single grade 5 science curriculum map contained 6908 words. Many of the words linked to evidence. Each thought, link, and comment represents a point of data. Each standard matched against to an assessment represents someones belief in progress, or lack thereof.

Running a true analysis on curriculum data goes well beyond using simple menus and pre-made options. True analysis requires spending time creating questions and hypothesis, and then devising clever ways to answer and test those. There is No App for That.

Curriculum mapping software is only useful when it is driven by the intellect and creative mind. No shortcut programmed in the menu can help anyone to truly understand the trends in the curriculum. The construct and definition of a curriculum report are the path to the answers, not the links in the menu.

9263 Documents in an Archive

An organization collects all the practices, policies, procedures, and artifacts that equal the sum of its existence. Using this trove of information an outsider can understand how the organization has evolved, where the organization is going, and if the organization is going to achieve its mission.

Those responsible for absorbing and interpreting this information must ultimately articulate their ideas and findings into a report that can be easily disseminated and applied. In other words, 10,000 documents, reduced to a few dozen.

This process requires both technical and intellectual tools that are varied and chaotic. There are tools available to aid in the process. These tools must be used when needed, and set aside when they are a distraction. Some of the work is analog, and other parts are purely digital. There is No App for This.

The Myth of Simplicity

The lines are getting blurred between ordering a car with Uber, and analyzing 10,000 points of data related to student performance. Difficult jobs, requiring technology solutions, are still difficult.

School administrators, teachers, and students still need real tools and the skills to master those tools.

The software and services powering a modern educational institution are full of the information needed to make better decisions in all aspects of the organizational structure. Accessing this information and using it still requires a plan, time commitment, and a deep understanding of the systems used to collect and curate it.

In order to create a meaningful outcome, someone has to make a decision and set parameters. The question should not be, what App is easiest for this job? . The question should be, what are the best tools for this job? .

Leading change and improvement is not a simple task. Growth and improvement take a plan, time, creativity, and organizational resilience. Simply put, There is No App for That.

Air Pollution: What Should Schools Be Doing?   

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Photo credit: The New York Times

When I lived in the Middle East, we had ‘rain days’, when it poured enough to render the roads unsafe for students to venture out, and school was cancelled. In Colorado, we had snow days. In Hong Kong, we’ve got typhoon days. We also have days when the air pollution is so high that children must stay indoors.

I recently spent a solid week inside with my toddler because the air was too poor to consider leaving the house[1]. One evening, the app that shows me our current air quality (I check it way more than I look at Facebook or Twitter), said the “air” was 323% more polluted than the World Health Organization’s maximum safe limit. I cranked up the purifiers and drummed up as many indoor baby activities as I could. At one desperate point, I started shopping around for flights to someplace fresher. Developing children are too susceptible to take this risk with.

There isn’t a standard international way to measure air pollution, nor do we agree upon what to measure or how to interpret the results. Schools, if they have a policy in place around air quality, typically rely upon government-published data, the reliability of which varies. It can be easy to assume that, unless a thick fog is visible (and you don’t live in India or China), smog isn’t an issue. However, air pollution – often invisible and odourless – is present in higher levels around the world than you might think. This mesmerizing website, by the World Air Quality Index project, debunked some of my assumptions about where to go for clean air[2]. Indeed, the WHO has concluded that, in 2014, 92% of the global population was living in places where air quality guideline levels were not met[3].

Is it the responsibility of schools to protect students from exposure to air pollution? I’ve heard of some campuses with ‘bubbles’ built over their play spaces so that children have room to run without being outside, exactly. Some schools install air purification systems in classrooms. And some simply hold indoor recess for as long as it takes for the haze to pass. Unlucky is the asthmatic child whose condition has landed them on a list of students who stay inside in all but the best conditions while their peers hit the playground without them. But really, should any of them be running around in questionable air quality?

What precautions does your school take to protect students from the harmful effects of air pollution? 

[1] It’s Hong Kong: when I say ‘house’, I mean a flat that might qualify for those ‘tiny home’ TV shows in the U.S.

[2] As I write this, air pollution readings are triple those in Hong Kong at a station in British Columbia, and at another in Italy.

[3] World Health Organization. (2016). Ambient (outdoor) air quality and health. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs313/en/

Wired for Play

So ​I’m currently reading this amazing book titled, The Importance of Being Little, by Erika Christakis, and I literally cannot put it down. An outstanding educator, leader and friend of mine, Paola Pereira lent it to me after I saw her carrying it around last week, and it’s one of those books that makes you sad as you get closer to the end because you truly hope that it goes on and on forever…you’ve all read books like this I’m sure. Anyway, there is one chapter in particular that has resonated deeply with me, and has got me thinking again about something that I’ve been passionate about since I first stepped into a classroom many years ago…the paramount importance of play in the lives of our children. 

 

Christakis puts it beautifully at the end of the chapter by suggesting that as educators, “we should do our best to get out of young children’s way as much as possible to let them draw their own conclusions about how the world does and doesn’t work. A reinvigorated play habitat is just the place for this”… I love that! The idea of getting out of children’s way is something that can be difficult for us as educators I know, and giving up the reigns can often be a struggle as we do our best to “teach” our kids. That said, it’s probably the biggest gift that we can give as educators to all of our students, regardless of how old they are…unstructured play, trial and error learning, and the incorporation of the natural world often leads to the beauty of that serendipitous learning that we’ve all seen in our students at some point or another. It makes me wonder why we tend to get further and further away from this approach to learning as the students move up in grades, and as traditional educational models continue to hang on by their fangs. 

 

It’s not just kids though, as adults we are guilty, I think, of losing that love of play as we grow up and “mature”, but I’m here to tell you that this is not a good thing for us or for our kids. I wrote a blog post just over five years ago that speaks to this, and I’d like to share it again because I believe it’s worth repeating. Think about how playful you are in your own lives these days, and how much you try to inspire this in the lives of your students…I bet there are improvements that we all can make, regardless of what grade you teach, to bring the idea of play more to the forefront of your day to day experiences with kids. Here’s a piece from that older post…

 

Last week, I watched kids playing tag, cops and robbers, hopscotch and hide and seek, not to mention all the great games of soccer and basketball and football where kids were pretending to be their favorite players from their favorite teams. I saw kids jumping in puddles and playing rock, paper, scissors, and every single one of them was smiling, free, and completely engaged. I started to wonder why as adults we don’t play more together? I thought about how maybe it’s actually the kids who’ve really got it right, and how maybe it’s time for us as educators to let the kids teach us an important lesson for once. Then I thought about the times in my life when I’m the happiest and it occurred to me that it’s when I’m playing. Either playing soccer with my boy, or dolls or moms and dads with my girl, or when I’m out for a run just letting my imagination and that dreamy state of mind take over. I also thought about the best teachers that I’ve ever had in my life and it struck me that it was the ones who played with us as students. The teachers who found ways to bring “play” into the classrooms, and the ones who found time to incorporate “play” into their lessons…and the ones were out on the field at recess throwing footballs and playing horse. The teachers who hadn’t lost their inner child, and who knew the importance of having fun like a kid.

 

I’m not really sure when “play” becomes immature, irresponsible, or un-cool in the minds of most adults but I think it’s time to take “play” more seriously. I think most of us tend to get saddled with the seriousness of work, and paying the bills, and the responsibility that we have to ourselves, our students, and our own kids…and I think it’s the wrong approach. I think that finding time to play may just be one of the most important things that we can do as adults. I think it will make us better educators, better mentors, better colleagues, and better parents. Like balance, finding time to play in your life is hard, and maybe something that you haven’t put as a priority of late. I guess I’m asking you all this week to think about how much you play with your students throughout the school day, and how much time you set aside in your own lives to escape like those kids on the playground…it might just change your life for the better.

 

Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be playful with our kids and good to each other!

 

Quote of the Week –

The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression! – Stuart Brown

 

 

Great TED Talks on the Importance of Play – (watch these)

http://www.ted.com/talks/stuart_brown_says_play_is_more_than_fun_it_s_vital

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_brown_on_creativity_and_play

http://www.ted.com/talks/takaharu_tezuka_the_best_kindergarten_you_ve_ever_seen

http://www.ted.com/talks/charlie_todd_the_shared_experience_of_absurdity

http://www.ted.com/talks/gever_tulley_on_5_dangerous_things_for_kids
Interesting Articles –

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1987/03/the-importance-of-play/305129/

http://www.playengland.org.uk/about-us/why-play-is-important/

https://www.education.com/reference/article/importance-play–social-emotional/

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2013/feb/27/play-education-creative-learning-teachers-schools

http://www.naeyc.org/play

The ‘Muslim Ban’ Will Depreciate the Value of American Schools

Follow Me on Twitter @msmeadowstweets

Between 1950 and 2009, internationally-mobile students increased from 107,000 to 3.4 million annually[1]. That’s almost 3.5 million students making a decision each year to leave their home to study, and more of them choose the U.S. than any other destination. When I was a college counselor at an American school in the Middle East, only about 1/3 of our students were American, but over 90% of our graduates went on to tertiary studies in the U.S.

The so-called ‘Muslim Ban’, recently signed by U.S. President Trump, which blocks immigrants from six predominantly Muslim countries, will likely impact study abroad applications. As an American, I value the contributions of foreign students to my country. As an international school educator, I wonder about how this ban will effect the appeal of American college prep schools abroad.

Following the election of Donald Trump in 2016, hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the United States. Anti-Muslim groups have also drastically increased. It has been posited that, “The decision to study overseas is driven primarily by cultural values rather than rational choice”[2]. If this is so, perceived messages of intolerance toward Muslim people will influence students’ decisions about where to invest the time and financial resources it takes to complete a degree. I anticipate that we will see a decrease in international Muslim students on U.S. campuses in the coming years.

Image Credit: Southern Poverty Law Center

With fewer foreign students planning on the U.S. for college, I suspect that families will rethink their children’s attendance at international college prep schools. The Executive Director for the Association of International Educators recently gave an interview on National Public Radio, explaining their collaboration with colleges and universities in the U.S. to gain insight on how the immigration ban is playing out in our admissions offices. I fear the worst: numbers of foreign students to the U.S. will drop and, along with that, American college prep schools in Muslim majority countries will see declining enrollment.

We need international students in the United States, and we need American schools abroad. Promoting cross-cultural contact can reduce negative stereotypes about ‘the other’. This is not romantic aspiration; research shows that when white Americans are exposed to positive information about Arab Muslims, their implicit negative bias declines[3]. Having enjoyed four years of gracious hospitality in the Middle East, I am saddened to think that the students I knew may now be feeling unwelcome in my home country.

How has the so-called ‘Muslim Ban’ impacted student’s college plans at your school?

[1] UNESCO Institute for Statistics. (2011). Global Education Digest 2011: Comparing Education Statistics Across the World. Montreal: UNESCO Institute for Statistics.

[2] Shields, R. (2013). Globalization and international student mobility: A network analysis. Comparative Education Review, 57(4), 609-636.

[3] Park, J., Felix, K., & Lee, G. (2007). Implicit Attitudes Toward Arab-Muslims and the Moderating Effects of Social Information. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 29(1), 35-45.

High School: Where the fallen angel meets the rising ape

I was recently at an under 9s boys football tournament, supporting one of our teams. These are high energy events, as you can imagine, with hundreds of small boys charging around in semi-controlled fashion; a triumph of enthusiasm and innocence. Our long-suffering Coach never flags during the four matches that each team plays, and constantly shouts what are, to me, cryptic messages like ‘Clear your lines boys, clear your lines!” During one recent tournament, our team had lost 8-0, 6-0 and 2-0; in the fourth match it was 0-0 with 3 minutes to go, and standing beside Coach, I noted he was quite agitated, as the ball had passed, for the first time, and only momentarily, into the opponents’ half. Amidst the “square ball, square ball, lads!” calls, one boy on our team ran up to Coach on the sidelines, saying “Coach! Coach!” Coach glanced away from the scrum (rugby and football being strikingly similar for this age group) and said, urgently, “Yes, what is it?”. The boy looked up, dreamily paused to admire the elegant curve of the wing of a bird high above the pitch, and the glint of sun in its eye, and then, pointing to his stomach said, in a slow and rather faraway voice “My shirt is a bit itchy here”. I walked away rapidly, biting my fist to stop myself laughing, and so regrettably did not catch coach’s comment, but I can confirm that it was concise and guttural. I was later told that the young man in question brings the same focus and commitment to his Tae-Kwon Do.

 

Last week I also had the great pleasure of welcoming back to school some of our first ever alumni, in whom we are so proud, who are now approaching the end of their initial University experiences. These wonderful young men and women have been speaking with confidence, experience and pride about what they are doing now – from National Service to NYU to Oxford and a dozen other places – and about how they want to establish a strong alumni network around the world, so that they can offer recent and detailed support to us. They have been generous, open and warm with their perspectives and advice, and we are grateful to them.

As a HS Principal, I find it very helpful to ponder the pre- and the post-HS life. As I watch our current HS students sitting exams, learning hard lessons about privacy in the digital age, getting ready to plan an independent trip around Asia, and dealing with the news that they have been accepted or rejected at University, the context helps.   Like all schools, we have students who have some tough moments to get through – and it helps to remember where they were, just a few years ago, and also where they will likely be very shortly.

The human condition is one where, in Terry Pratchett’s memorable phrase, the fallen angel meets the rising ape. Nowhere is this truer than in the High School years, and it’s good to have it mind whenever we face difficult times.

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Where Has Groucho Marx Gone? Teaching Social Satire in a Time of Tyrants

With the miasma of crackdowns, collusions, and demonization that has become a weekly occurrence here in the United States, I wonder, where have all our Groucho Marxs’ gone.  All those wry, witty, double entendre, in-your-face comic geniuses who makeup the American landscape of satirists and comics. They who make us squirm or double over in revealing life’s absurdities and injustices.

With a lineage that traces back to Aristophanes and Ovid, social satire has long been a form of social criticism and a voice of dissent. It is a sensibility that is iconoclastic and irreligious and challenges all the sacred cows of a culture. Sometimes at great expense: Ovid and Lenny Bruce being two salient examples. When power is thin skinned and reactive it resorts to brute force to silence or exile its unrepentant critics.

Here in America we have a gilded tradition. Mark Twain, H.L. Menken, Groucho Marx, Mae West, Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor, Mort Sahl, Robert Altman, Russell Baker, George Carlin, to name but a few. Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about genocide, imperialism, capitalism and industrialism, racism, environmental destruction, are to be found here. It is a tradition, that cuts across genres that has long informed the American experience and the spirit of social critique. And yet, what school, what middle or high school humanities program, has considered this tradition as legitimate a form to study as ancient civilizations or chemistry? It would appear, that we are missing out on something that is an essential vehicle for cultural critique.

We live in a time of the narrowing of discourse and plurality of viewpoints. Is there not a better time, with democratic ideals at risk, to expose young people to this boisterous, often unrepentant tradition of satirists? The world has always needed a dangerous comic tradition and needs one now more than ever before. It needs voices that are inimical to greed, mendacity, shortsightedness, and intimidation. A nation that cannot laugh at itself, is a country that takes itself too seriously or too sanctimoniously. Both are omissions of resilience and humility. Call it an elective, an extra. Name it independent study. Where it fits into your curriculum doesn’t really matter. What does, is connecting the young to a tradition that has often been at the forefront of upholding civil liberties and the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Is there not be a more propitious time to insert a study of social satire in the curriculum? Unless we see no place for humor in the expansive lists of 21st century skills. Or in the words of Groucho Marx: “Humor is reason gone mad.” In America, it is time to get mad.

 

 

 

Students At The Helm

So we have been spending a lot of time and energy of late finding ways to inspire our students to lead their own learning. It’s been a true passion of ours as a school over the past few years honestly, to break out of the traditional model of education, and to come up with programs, units, assessments, structures and spaces that are conducive to putting our students at the helm…and it’s been very exciting. I have to be honest though, this change in mindset, curriculum, and approach takes a great deal of planning, and time, and commitment, but I’m happy to say that things are finally starting to stick around here.

I took a casual walk around the school last Friday morning just to see what I could see, and in many ways I was inspired by what I saw…here are few things that stood out for me, and a few examples of how students across our grade levels are starting to take ownership of their education, and how teachers are there as mentors and facilitators…

  • A 7th grade social studies class all becoming entrepreneurs, working on their sustainable entrepreneurial projects, trying to create small businesses that will help raise money for Earthquake victims on the coast. A transdisciplinary unit written in partnership with our 11th grade economics classes.
  • Our GIN (Global Issues Network) students putting the finishing touches on their projects that they are about to showcase in Panama next week at the regional conference (Gender Equality, Reduced Inequalities, and Climate Change). Student inspired projects that have affected local change in our community.
  • Students working through the design cycle in our Middle School Design Technology class and Maker Space, finding solutions to the question, “How can we make our school and community better?” Empathizing, ideating, and prototyping
  • A 4th grade class of kids sharing passion/inspiration project ideas that they will showcase at our next Inspiration Project morning on March 17th for our community. These projects have taken the place of traditional homework in our upper elementary grades, and have truly inspired our kids to bring their passions to life in any way, shape, or form
  • Grade 1 classes reflecting on their Friday morning PYP assembly, where they took on the role of student environmentalists, looking critically at how we can reduce our food waste at school, our use of plants around campus to protect animal life, how we can use our resources (water and electricity) more efficiently…they presented fantastic solutions that will make our campus a greener, more environmentally friendly space for all of us
  • Our Life Skills class working behind the scenes to grow their Sweet Morning Charities business, which supports a local charity focused on children with Down Syndrome…researching sustainable coffee growers, training High School and Middle School student volunteers, updating inventory, and modeling a true entrepreneurial spirit

Anyway, what I noticed more than anything was the shift that has happened with our students and teachers all across our school…less direct teacher instruction, more authentic questioning from kids, and ultimately, more engaged, curious, and thoughtful students really looking for ways to lead their learning, and to connect this learning to relevant, real life situations and problems. Like I said, we’ve done a lot of work in this area lately, bringing in Suzie Boss to help us with our PBL (Project Based Learning) journey, digging deep into the Design Thinking model, looking for ways to inspire an Entrepreneurial spirit in our students, thinking critically about how to best use technology to inspire student learning, and writing curriculum that breaks down the traditional, stand alone subject specific approach, and brings cross curricular standards together with an eye on affecting sustainable change in our local community…all good.

 

I know this isn’t really ground breaking stuff, as many fantastic schools around the world have been doing amazing things in this regard for a while now, but for us, it’s a celebration. I feel like we have just scratched the surface of what’s possible, but we have momentum and passion on our side…and that’s a great start. Keep up the outstanding work everyone and feel empowered to go even deeper. There’s nothing more important that you can do as an educator than to let our students take the helm. Have a wonderful week everyone and remember to be great for our students and good to each other.

Quote of the week…

School can be a torture or an instrument of inspiration – Higgins and Dolva

 

 

Fun and Inspiring Videos –

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1K2jdjLhbo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D7bJR3yu1G4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnzCGNnU_WM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o6QuYiY1EJg

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKBb_2wn-i0

 

 

Interesting Articles –

http://www.ed.ac.uk/staff/teaching-matters/features/let-students-lead-their-learning

http://www.teachthought.com/pedagogy/using-technology-help-students-lead-learning/
http://www.upworthy.com/students-have-designed-an-amazing-new-afterlife-for-our-leftover-coffee-grounds?c=fea

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/10/what-happens-when-students-control-their-own-education/381828/

 

 

Great Websites –

https://www.bie.org/about/what_pbl

http://www.aeseducation.com/blog/2015/05/entrepreneurship-lesson-plans

https://www.bizworld.org/

https://haas.berkeley.edu/businessacademy/middle-school/

http://www.entre-ed.org/teacher-classroom-resources/