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.

OneThing41: a model for school reform

Creating a community where everyone learns

De La Salle North Catholic High School in Portland, Oregon, was the first school in the United States to replicate the Cristo Rey model (see Cristo Rey Network) where every student works five days a month in a corporate setting while simultaneously completing a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.

I have been principal at De La Salle North Catholic High School in North Portland for three years. It’s quite a school with an extraordinary staff who work tirelessly and effectively to provide a college-ready curriculum for a diverse, urban community of students, two-thirds of whom qualify for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program.  Over 95% of our graduates go on to college and graduate at rates three times those of the national average for similar SES students.

But there’s no resting on these data.  Our students arrive as timid 9th Graders with reading and math skills one and a half to two years below the norm. In short, our instruction must be so direct and yet also compassionate that our students advance six years while attending but four.  There is so much for us to learn.

Building the model

School Reform 1.1Over the next several weeks, I will construct my model for how we learn.  Just so you know, it’s not yet complete; but I have enough ideas and sufficient disregard for being right the first time that I am ready “to make my ideas explicit,” as Barry Richmond would put it.

So, what are the key stocks in the system? I believe they are STUDENT LEARNING and TEACHER CAPACITY. In this model,  all staff and all students are learners . . . the experienced learners teach the young learners. We live in a world saturated with information and distraction, and where opportunity is limited.  A school, therefore, should be a place where young people learn the requisite skills of discrete retention and professional competence.

I’m curious to see how the model evolves.  I hope you are, too.

OneThing39: a summer for Common Core, STEM & Sustainability

Stepping away to learn so that we can find our instructional stride

The Creative Learning Exchange (CLE) and the Sustainability Education Summer Institute (SESI) sponsor summer conferences and institutes that help us all do our jobs just a little bit better – reaching out to teachers to prepare them for teaching about systems and sustainability.

The CLE sponsors the national Systems Thinking & Dynamic Modeling Conference for K-12 Education in Wellesley, MA, June 30 – July 2.  This conference features teachers and systems practitioners in a three-day Chautauqua of best practices from around the United States. This year’s focus is on the Common Core and STEM Standards, two profound threads of educational reform that have swept through school districts bringing change and new conversations.  This 10th Biennial conference brings together the systems community’s preeminent voices – Peter Senge, George Richardson, and Dennis Meadows.

Over the last two decades, I have participated and presented at this conference as it has criss-crossed the United States: Arizona, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts.  It’s the kind of conference where neophytes and experts gather to learn and share.  There are many great things about this conference:  teachers share best instructional practices in systems education, and system practitioners share their expertise with teachers.  It’s akin to writing teachers attending a conference alongside the best novelists in the country.

The Learning Tree at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, WA

Across the country, near the northwest tip of the Pacific Northwest, SESI 2012 gets underway on Bainbridge Island, at a sustainability enclave called Islandwood.  This year’s event features three strands for sustainability educators:  start up teachers wanting to learn, best practices among current teachers, and a deep learning path for experienced teachers.  The first strand includes sessions in systems thinking.  And Fritjof Capra’s Center for EcoLiteracy is a one of the co-sponsors.

If you to step away from modern society and our urban landscape, then come here.  Islandwood will transport you into a sustainability dreamland where the rhetoric and hopes of environmentalism and sustainability are everyday practiced.  You can see what’s possible.  By the way, Washington state is one of the very states with requirements for sustainability education and systems thinking.  I grateful for the real honor to present and participate in SESI 2009.

Get out there!  Learn!  Teach!

OneThing35: National Systems Thinking Weeks, 10/5 – 10/20

Finding the right lever and pushing it the right way . . . really hard

Our only home . . . we need to think differently if we want to keep it.

Let’s start preparing for the first ever National Systems Thinking Week – to be celebrated annually across the United States, commemorated by government decrees in core regions, feted by civic forums where a critical mass exists, and embraced by grade and high schools throughout the United States. Mark your calendars – October 5 – 20!

English: Portrait of Fritjof Capra, physicist,...

One month before the national election, President Obama will proclaim October 5 – 20 National Systems Thinking Week, quoting Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  He will recognize that systems thinking helps us understand the obvious interdependencies that govern our lives, that the United States should embark on a national goal to elevate systems thinking to a discipline equal in rank to mathematics within two decades.

Early in the school year, when students’ are most apt to invent and create with energy, the National Systems Thinking Week will provide students unprecedented opportunities to learn about the tightly bound web of life in which they live.  Materials from the Creative Learning Exchange and the Waters Foundation give K-12 teachers materials they can use right away, helping students understand the basic vocabulary and structure of a systems view of the world.  Schools in Boston, Tucson, and Portland will feature student displays and symposiums, allowing students to explore a systems approach to solving local issues.

Fritjof Capra, Founder and Director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, will appear on Public Broadcasting’s “Nova.”  He’ll talk about the web of life, the uncommon wisdom needed to understand our interconnected world.  He’ll talk about the flowering of systems theory, the environmental movement, the rise of sustainable development, and the current Green Movement – all of it necessarily supported and understood by systems thinking.

Booksellers will feature classics in systems theory:  Limits to Growth, The Tipping Point, Thinking in Systems, When a Butterfly Sneezes, World Dynamics, Beyond the Limits, Business Dynamics, and The Web of Life.

Universities throughout the United States will hold conferences on system failures and system success:  tragedy of the commons, the demise of Easter Island, predation on the Kaibab Plateau, Learning Organizations in businesses, and the rise of new urban designs.

Coffee shops in Portland will convene large scale simulations in forest management.  Boston area libraries will hold town hall simulations in fisheries, reviving FishBanks in a newly minted version.  On the campuses of great American institutions such as the University of Arizona, the Colorado School of Mines, and Cal Berkeley, student groups will discuss land use and water rights.

Systems jokes, systems t-shirts, systems bumper stickers, systems thinking “think-in’s” at city halls, software demonstrations in classrooms, leverage discussions in  boardrooms, students asking questions of political leaders and city planners.  Imagine it!

Help propel us to such a week by registering for the 10th Biennial National Systems Thinking and Dynamics Modeling Conference at the Babson Center in Wellesley, MA, June 30 to July 2, 2012.

OneThing28: sustainably fit for our times

Sustainability – living within Earth’s natural rhythms

Holding Earth

Cascadia - the great rivers of the Northwest and their watersheds flowing to the Pacific

The variety and beauty of the Pacific Northwest

The best way for us to talk about this was to use the elements of systems thinking to focus on sustainability.

  • What are the primary STOCKS of the Pacific Northwest we want to preserve? What (rising/declining) STOCKS threaten the Pacific Northwest?
  • What are the annual/decadal/epochal FLOWS within the Pacific Northwest we need to reduce? Increase? Repair? Honor?
  • What are the relationships among these STOCKS and FLOWS?
  • What BEHAVIORS emerge over time from among these STOCKS and FLOWS?

And so we started looking at patterns of behavior of the stocks we were interested in:  dam building, logging and tree-planting, growth of roads, shifts in car purchases, population growth and shift throughout the region, sprawl, and others.  We saw logistic growth, overshoot and collapse, exponential growth still unchecked, and we noted some absolute declines.  The growth (or decline) of one stock impacted still other stocks. In some cases, the feedback was quite distant in time or space (e.g., loss of salmon runs due to small-scale but ubiquitous dam-building).

With care . . . and systems thinking, we can sustain our only planet

For God’s sake . . . how do we regain equilibrium?

That’s when we started looking carefully at interconnections among stocks and flows.  It was a lot to learn – students realized that they needed a really different, and a really disciplined way of thinking about things so that they might tell the story about sustaining it.

Camp Snowball participants will learn that “Education for Sustainability . . .is a transformative learning process.”  It’s a kind of apprenticeship for living responsibly.  Students in the “Northwest Rhythms” course had to acquire a different set of learning skills so that they might generate new questions and make sense of their complex world . . . and make sense of it in a new and compelling narrative.  The process transformed them, indeed.

When I was a child, we learned about things.  Barry Richmond called them “the nouns of a system,” just a bunch of parts of speech lying around.  In education for sustainability, students learn about the relationships among those things, the “verbs and conjunctions and prepositions” as Barry might say. With this, students can compose a new world view. Holistic rather than reductionist.

Can we not read the sign of the times . . .

What systems thinking offers sustainability education is an accessible and critical tool that imbues students with a radical story-telling ability.

Hold on, everyone . . . we

are on the slippery crest of a rising paradigm.  There is much to learn . . . let’s get our students learning . . . so they can help us!

OneThing27: the snowball effect

Systems Thinking and Sustainability . . . creating a dominant loop

In a few scant weeks, educators from around the country will gather in Tucson to harness the power of change.  And their schools will never be the same.

In the exuberant tradition of Donella Meadows (Thinking in Systems), teachers, administrators, change agents, citizen champions, and students will come together to study two very big ideas: systems thinking and sustainability.  Together at last.

So, what’s the big deal anyway?  People talk about systems thinking as some kind of elixir, some breakthrough idea that will save humanity.  Just what is it?

Consider . . . the world we walk around in, where we find love, and raise families, and create communities is always moving, always shifting: the natural world and our human built structures of farms and cities and organizations.  We can see the elements of those systems: moms and dads, families, schools, leaders; rivers and trees and fields of wheat and roads and banks and stores and churches and governments and schools.  Things you can count.

What is harder to see are the interconnections among those elements – the flow of people and jobs and transportation and finances and materiel that constitute a single system of, say, a school.  These interconnections, obviously, shift through time and shift at differing rates – job opportunities open up (or are lost) and families move in (or out), bringing more (or fewer) students to a school, that now must build (or shutter) classrooms, add (or subtract) transportation, purchase (or store) more books, hire (or lay off) more staff to handle the changes. Housing must be built for the families moving in; and the housing requires roads and water lines and electricity. The school and housing require some measure of public safety.

Since the causality – with a systems view – is circular, the various flows of material and information among the elements is continuous: people always age, students always graduate, costs always fluctuate, trees grow and then decay, lynx hunt rabbits who eat the vegetation which draw vital nutrients from the soils and water and sunshine.

Each of these flows can increase or decrease or fluctuate in a kind of steady-state. As these overlap – the system cycle of, say, sweet grass in a meadow is different from the system cycle of lynx and hares – we begin to understand the relationships that bind them together.

As there is a shift in one element of that system, the change then redounds throughout the interconnected system, causing slightly different feedback through those elements . . . and at different time intervals.  We can see, then, how a system sustains itself.

You who are headed to Tucson . . . my hat’s off to you! On this Fourth of July when we celebrate longstanding cultural memes – liberty, democracy, civic responsibility – let’s imagine still another cultural meme – sustaining our natural and social world.  We will have to drive this idea deep into our educational and social cultures for it to take hold, for teachers and administrators to pass it on generation to generation.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll write about systems thinking and sustainability, how we teachers create a reinforcing feedback loop, small at first but dominant over time, so that we create the change we hope to see.

QuickThing3>Teaching Systems Thinking in Science | Science for All

Teaching Systems Thinking in Science | Science for All.

The Enigmatic Kirk Robbins

Kirk Robbins’s blog Science for All is a smart, entertaining, well-maintained blog that daily tells the story of science instruction in middle and high school.  He’s a fun writer and keeps close tabs on ALL goings-on of science instruction across the country.  In this entry, he puts out an All-Call for help with systems materials.

Let’s help!

OneThing19: sappy Mindwalk may still help us

We will need to change our paradigm from a mechanistic one to an organic one

"Mindwalk" appeared in theaters in 1990 with Liv Ullman, John Heard, and Sam Watterson

In a movie reminiscent of My Dinner With Andre, Mindwalk came to the big screen over 20 years ago.  It is not likely that this film would play more than a weekend; even then, the venues would be independent, neighborhood theaters.  It’s just people walking around, in a spectacular place of course, but they’re just talking about ideas.  The vast monolithic paradigm is cracking at every conceivable corner and bend and fold.  You can’t see it happening, of course.  It’s all going on in your head as you listen to this.  To readers of this blog, you’re probably already there.  When this first appeared, not so much.

Fritjof Capra’s brother Bernt produced the film.  It is set in Mont Saint-Michel, France.  The set up:  a US politician goes to visits his friend in France, and they join up with Sonja, who tells them about Systems Theory.

The acting is, well, not really acting. Cheese-ball comes to mind.  They walk and talk.  It’s a lecture on a stroll, a Chautauqua on the beach.  It might also be a great way to introduce this idea.