WordThing2: feedback

A system includes feedback loops, some balancing and others reinforcing. As Donella Meadows so succinctly puts it . . . a feedback loop is formed when changes within the stock affect the flows into or out of that same stock. 

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Ubiquitous Honeywell thermostat depicting both set point and actual temperature

This is easily understood by thinking about your thermostat in your house. That devise continuously monitors the temperature in your house. You have a set point for your furnace, say, 68.  As the winter chill penetrates your house, the temperature falls from 70 (no action) to 68 (still no action) to 67 (the furnace clicks on). For a time, the house temperature continues to fall since the furnace has to switch on for few minutes before the fan engages and sends the warmed air through the duct system.

Now, the house temperature, say, 64 (furnace on) starts to climb to 66 (furnace on) and then to 68 (furnace off!). For a while heat continues to accumulate and the house warms past 68. And then it will fall again, and the furnace will light again, and the house temperature will rise, and the furnace will switch off again.

All the while, the thing changing has been the ambient heat in the house, rising and falling within a single day.  The thermostat both measures (thermometer) the ambient heat and then activates the heating system to keep the home system within a comfortable range . . . hence, thermo-stat

thermostat-sysdyn-diagram-5

The current temperature becomes the input in this closed system, turning the furnace on and then off. In this case, the feedback is called negative, since the change in the LEVEL (decrease in temperature) leads to an opposite change in the RATE (increase in heating). This feedback is sometimes called balancing, and the reasoning is pretty obvious.

In a school, one monitors the student work (what students are actually doing and saying) within classrooms, the best indicator of the vitality of the school-wide system. Team observations of student work and teacher practice (state or level of the system) lead to changes (professional development needs, eg) that will adjust the very work and practices initially observed.  The state of the system adjusts the flows to that system.

WordThing1: system

Early results from tracking trash out of Seattle

Trashy System: movement of garbage from Seattle to its multiple final resting places throughout the Unites States. Click image for video.

We live IN systems.
We CREATE systems.
We ARE systems.

So what are they?

Donella Meadows’ definition is succinct and accessible:
A system is a set of things – people, cells, molecules, or whatever – interconnected in such a way that they produce their own pattern of behavior.

Here are two representations of a system: garbage collection and a population. One generated from tracking devices; the other a STELLA model. One is human created; the other, naturally occurring.

Is there enough in this model for us to understand a carrying capacity?

Simplified system map of a population dependent on a resource

Lots of pressures exert force on a system. But, each system has a characteristic response – a set of behaviors – to those pressures. Those behaviors reveal the ultimate purpose of a system.

In a school, multiple systems overlap, many of which a teacher or administrator have little control over. However, the school, obviously, is its own system . . . And the principal’s role is to monitor that system. In so doing, the principal keeps tabs on classrooms, the daily metric for the status of the system. More importantly, therefore, the focus of a principal’s work is not evaluation or assessment, but processes that help everyone improve.

OneThing50: remembering the commons in the Easter season

Sustainable growth is an oxymoron.”

Noted ecolate

Noted dour realist Garrett Hardin

Earth Day recedes from our memory.  This past Tuesday, we looked through a kaleidoscopic four decades of Earth Days . . . and I thought of Garrett Hardin and his micro-famous essay “The Tragedy of the Commons,” in which he quotes A. N. Whitehead’s great line . . . that tragedy is not unhappiness but “resides in the remorseless working of things.”  Essentially this, the relentless pursuit of personal happiness within a growing population will result in competing interests; holding then to absolute freedom, as Hardin says, “will bring ruin to all.”

“In a competitive world of limited resources, total freedom of individual action is intolerable.”

STELLA diagram depicting two key STOCKS:  Population and Resources . . . and these are locked in a feedback loop

STELLA diagram depicting two key STOCKS: Population and Resources . . . and these are locked in a feedback loop, illustrating A.N. Whitehead’s “remorseless working of things.”

This much simplified STELLA model of a Resource impacted by a Population illustrates Hardin’s idea of the impact of population on all aspects of human society, including moral reasoning. For this lifelong Catholic, Hardin’s assertion about how one ascertains what is moral challenges my upbringing, but appeals deeply and implacably to reason. He says this: “The morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.” Ah, squishy relativism.

So, for a moment, let’s consider this as it emerges within the system illustrated at right.  Early on, a small and disparate population allows for considerable personal freedom, especially as it pertains to family size.  However, as the population increases, the increasing density pinches local resources (and, later, global resources as well);  pressures mount on livability such that, at some point when “the state of the system” pushes through carrying capacity, the death rate necessarily increases to stabilize the system.  In short, my moral freedom to control my family’s size threatens that very freedom . . . the “remorseless working of things” will endanger not only my children, my wife, and myself but my community as well.

“Exponential growth is kept under control by misery.”

When Hardin wrote this essay, the world held about 3,000,000,000 souls.  Now, it harbors over 7,000,000,000, en route to a mid-century peak of about 9,500,000,000.  In the ecolate view, one must ask, “And then what?”

OneThing49: a googleplex of distractions

Idle, I wondered about what might be percolating on the web. 

A google of Post-Its

Things I should know about! Things I should do! Right now!

“Google, Google, on the wall, who’s the fairest change method of them all?”

Timmy then types:  “school change.”  And here’s what I got:

  • 10 Big Ideas for School Change
  • 101 Ideas to Make Good Schools Great
  • 65 Ways Students Can Change Schools
  • 6 Ways Teacher Want to Change School
  • 3 Ideas That Will Not Transform Schools
  • 5 Changes Every School Should Make
  • 19 Bold Ideas for Change in Education

And I am sure they are ALL like couch covers – a pretty thing stretched over something broken.  It’s not the WHAT, but HOW.  Change lies latent in the deep structure of a school.  Fix that . . . and things happen fast.

QuickThing17: sprawl happens

São Paulo from Space,

20140406-235941.jpgCompress time, and the changes wrought by time, and you’re mind will surely be boggled. When it comes to population surges through growth and migration, a few cities truly capture this phenomenon.

Not until the last few decades has the globe moved from being largely agrarian to a majority of urban centers. And this is how it happened in Paris, São Paulo, and Los Angeles.

http://m.theatlanticcities.com/neighborhoods/2014/04/visualizing-200-years-urban-expansion-paris-sao-paulo-la/8794/

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OneThing48: the rich get richer

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Cognitive Science helps us work with students

In Daniel T. Willingham’s Why Students Don’t Like School, one chapter focuses on background knowledge as a key to learning anything. In our age of knowledge and information saturation, we still MUST KNOW SOME THINGS to learn anything new; relying on Google to remember and then teaching students only “critical thinking” does not work.

This simple model of Willingham’s idea illustrates his thinking that the more one has in “background knowledge” the more one is able to learn. And this is because the broader and deeper the background knowledge, the more readily retained is new information, because the mind wants to “chunk” the new learning. Even limited knowledge is helpful; in fact, it’s ultimately more helpful than a student’s interest in the subject.

The upshot is that there is STILL a critical need for people to know things, certain elements of our cultural context helps us learn even more. This gives some credence to E. D. Hirsch’s idea of cultural literacy, a book that ignited fiery debate.

How are teachers to be strategic in WHAT is learned? Good question . . . And Willingham has some thoughts on that.>

OneThing47: model modeling

Barry Richmond on learning

Barry Richmond - creator of STELLA and systems citizen

Barry Richmond – creator of STELLA and systems citizen

The last few postings on my School Change model have generated some discussion over on the System Dynamics K-12 list-serve that focused less on the structure and more on some philosophy of education and specific pedagogies, things I am somewhat less interested in than the deep structure of change.  While there is a philosophical bent in my model – I am asserting something, after all – my intent of publishing is to focus on the structure to the extent it effectively narrates my ideas about school change.

And this brings me to Barry Richmond, the STELLA creator, who exuded a profound passion for education and learning.  He was an inspiration to me and many in the emerging community of teachers using system dynamics.

Barry's full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

Barry Richmond’s full model integrates all aspects of the learning process

And I want to reprise his Learning Model because I have leaned on it for some of my thoughts about change.  You would likely see the parallel to Barry’s “Constructing a Mental Model” section and my “Curriculum” section (OneThing45).

A few things about Barry the Model-Builder:

  • Simplicity – tell the story of your thinking as clearly and simply as one can.
  • Elegance – the iconography has a beauty in its connectedness, and the rounded links help with the mental model of feedback
  • Grammar – Barry was fond of saying that Stocks are the nouns of the system, and the Flows are the verbs.  This syntax helps the modeler compose.
  • Co-Flows exist in the world – two things happen simultaneously all the time; e.g., the act of simulating also generates decision-making
  • Coining icon titles – language is meant to bend to need and use; Barry coined new words all the time, exemplified here in the Conveyor Ramifying
  • Flows tell the story – in this, as in others of his models, the Richmond preference is to the actions within the bounded system.  There’s the story!

In my School Change model, I am using Barry’s models as a kind of style kind, as a journalist might use the Associated Press Style Guide or a writer Elements of Style.

OneThing46: when students learn, what’s going on?

I have been thinking a lot about student learning.  Not at the single student – single teacher level, but at a high-aggregate level; that is, how do all students in a classroom learn things, forget things; how do teachers’ instructional capacity have impacts on both flows; how do students’ own sense of their learning gaps impact them.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas:  students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting.  An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven.  Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

This zoom into STUDENT KNOWLEDGE depicts three key ideas: students can forget things, teachers impact both learning and forgetting, and students own sense of their gaps impact their learning and forgetting. An obvious assumption here, since this is a school model, is that all learning is curriculum driven. Mark Twain, of course, would take issue with that.

First, there’s a lot in this . . . and I am leaving out a lot.  A LOT!  And that is intentionally so.  I want to build in a thoughtful, layered way; see what holds up to reason and scrutiny (thank you to all for feedback); and then ever so slowly ascertain a boundary in this system. Second, you have to imagine that the rest of the model (See OneThing45) is attached: Instructional Efficacy emerges from Teacher Learning, which comes from Professional Development.

The most obvious addition here is the outflow from STUDENT KNOWLEDGE (more on this in a moment).  Students flat out forget things.  At the UCLA Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab, substantive work has been going on for years focusing on retention and various methods of increasing students’ capacity to remember.  Only recently have these methods filtered into schools of education.  Ideas such as interleaving and deep practice are relatively new ideas in education, even though the evidence of their efficacy is substantial.

Now, a vexing question for me is this: what is the accumulation happening in the heads and musculature of students through schooling?  Go back a few iterations of this model, and you’ll see I’ve changed this title a few times:

  • Student Achievement
  • Student Learning
  • Student Understanding
  • Student Knowledge (today, anyway!)

Recently, Tracy Benson commented to me that Learning has always seemed an activity, in other words, a flow.  Barry Richmond, as a few commented, always leaned on Understanding as the accumulation.  However, in the education realm, the mantra now is “it’s all about student learning.”

I’m not too concerned about what the curriculum is or what the pedagogy is.  I am trying to capture a change process that occurs everyday in classrooms.

OneThing45: the Teacher, the Student, and the Work

Three things make a classroom hum with learning

School Change Model 4.0.  This version includes curriculum.

School Change Model 4.0. This version includes curriculum.

In this latest iteration of the School Change Model, I have included the final key ingredient required for an effective classroom: the curriculum. Or, as noted educational researcher Robert Marzano calls it . . . “the guaranteed and viable curriculum,” the single most important factor in student achievement.

Therefore, the three things needed for high impact instruction to occur are students, teachers, and content.  That’s the work.  When there is a change any one of those variables, the other two will necessarily be impacted. If there is a curricular change, teachers need training and the students will consequently do different work; if the students change, then teachers and curriculum may need to change, especially if there is cultural shift in the school.  If teachers change, there will be impacts to the delivery of content and student learning. A change in any one requires attention to the other two.

The Instructional Team Capacity results from teachers having both pedagogical skill (often called “high-impact”) and knowledge of teenagers (a capacity to know what makes teenagers tick).  It is this combined capacity that drives instructional efficacy, an instructional team’s rate of delivering content and engaging student learning.

In this model, then, are the foundational ideas of an adaptive school.  While there are remain some corners of detail that need flashing out, the deep structure of a Learning Team is there.

Simple Capacity Model.  One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change.  These will be two really different things.

Simple Capacity Model. One might focus on the current LEVEL of the stock, or one might focus on the RATE of change. These will be two really different things.

Of course, there is never a point when a school has it down, when it should rest when it attains a certain level.  The focus of a Learning Team is on the flow, improving a school’s capacity to deliver highly qualified citizens to its community.  You can imagine the political discussion:

  • CITIZENS: our school’s are not graduating enough college-ready students
  • SCHOOL: we are improving our instruction every year

It would help both to know that they are talking about the same system, just different parts of it!

OneThing44: Team Capacity means what?

Building Instructional Team Capacity is about Skill and Knowledge

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team's capacity to instruct young people:  acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers.  These are two quite different things.  One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, very little learning will occur.

Two key stocks build up an Instructional Team’s capacity to instruct young people: acquired pedagogical skills and a knowledge of teenagers. These are two quite different things. One can love and understand teenagers but be an ineffective teacher; conversely, one can have the all pedagogical strategies, but with little understanding or empathy for children, not much learning will occur.

As I think about my School Change Model and build its components, more elements open up to detail.  Admittedly, what is here is but an 80,000 foot view of only one component of school change: how teachers respond to gaps in student learning and improve their craft.  My thinking in these areas flows out of 25 years in classroom instruction and 12 years as an administrator (there’s a six-year overlap in there!) . . . and I am still learning!

The focus on the School Change Model this week has been on the critical stocks that constitute Team Capacity:  Pedagogical Skill and Knowledge of Teens.  

Considerable research in the last 15-20 years (Joyce, Marzano, Lemov, Danielson) and even more so in the last five years (ASCD, Gates Foundation MET) have resulted in clearly effective High-Impact Instructional Strategies that sustain ordered and respectful classrooms where teachers engage students in learning.  Researchers throughout the world  have verified the efficacy of various strategies and tools.  And teachers can (and should) learn these strategies to improve their capacity.

Likewise, what we know about teenagers has grown in the last decade in a few key areas:  cognitive science provides insight in not only brain development but also brain function –  how people learn, how and why people forget things, what happens neurally when children learn (Bjork, Coyle, Dweck).  In addition, cultural competence (West, Singleton, Gay, Payne)  is a critical set of conscious awareness and strategies that help teachers (everyone, really) build empathy for the students entrusted to their care.

Students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

A few of the resilient, beautiful, aspiring students at De La Salle North Catholic High School, Portland, Oregon

At De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, the staff is about 80% white whereas nearly 80% of students are ethnic minorities, life experiences that generate quite different world views and aspirations.  As Cornel West’s famous book asserts, race does matter.

I am trying to map a system of change:  what are the key stocks within our bounded system, and how can we leverage them to improve student learning?  Maybe you can help me think this through.