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!


OneThing43: let’s hear it for the Instructional Team!

The School Change model includes vital feedback

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team.  In the argot of education, the gap is often called the "problem of practice."

Feedback loop depicts how a Gap in Student Learning drives Professional Development (PD) for the Instructional Team. In the argot of education, the gap is often called the “problem of practice.”

So . . . I’ve asserted a key relationship in the School Change model:  the Capacity of the Instructional Team increases  Student Learning.  But how might that actually occur?

In this model iteration, I’ve added a series of thoughts specific to that question.  Names in the parentheses are educational researchers whose work, among others, substantiates the claims.

  • The Instructional Team sets the learning target  (Robert Marzano, Mike Schmoker, et al)
  • The gap between the Target and what students actually know or can do drives the action of the team (Doug Lemov, Elizabeth City, et al)
    • Once the problem of practice is well known, the instructional team conducts research for effective practices
    • The instructional team conducts Professional Development sessions to learn those effective practices
    • The instructional team implements those new practices

This reinforcing loop establishes the key instructional feedback for any teacher:  having established what my students should know or be able to do, I research the most effective means of providing that learning and then I follow through.  There would need to be another reinforcing loop (or two) that includes teacher assessment of student progress, and administrative assessment of whole team efficacy with those new methods; but I purposely left that out for now just to underscore the primary feedback loop driving classroom instruction.

What to include and exclude in the model now starts to take on importance as my representation flowers into increasing complexity.  Even so, my core thinking about how all this works remains explicit.  What questions come to you as you consider this model for School Change?

QuickThing16: youth of today are the non-drivers of tomorrow

From Sightline – the bloggers and researchers of sustainability in the Pacific Northwest – comes this new item in their continuing series on fewer drivers.  Here, this blog speaks about three different long-term flows slowly impacting the American car craze . . . and, thereby, road construction and the car industry and gas prices and transit use . . . and who knows what else.

Young People Are Driving Less | Sightline Daily.

OneThing38: type of feedback matters

Feedback keeps coming until you learn

The policeman’s walk gives you a little time to rethink your actions – but it’s a VERY infrequent piece of feedback

When I drive, feedback keeps coming at me, especially as related to speed.

But back in the halcyon days of open teen life – I can drive my VW Bug like a sports car, not wear a seat belt, and yet live without a care! – speed had to do with how quickly I got to the make-out spot, or whether I got home before mom and dad freaked out.  These are not very good sources of feedback that determine behavior.  Safety? Public order?

Let me tell a different story of feedback for drivers.

I took this photo from the sidewalk, so this violation was not me!

On the way home from church on Sunday, we drove by a recently and temporarily installed electronic speed indicator suspended from the Speed Limit sign near our house.  It’s at the bottom of a hill, just before a park to the left of the sign.  What a thoughtful place for that sign!  In the ten minutes I stood there watching people fly by, most slowed down once their speed exceeded the posted 25 mph.  It’s highly effective, but also highly localized.  Most other signs are not like this.

You really don’t want to know how I took this picture

The most immediate source of continuous feedback relative to speed for a driver is the speedometer.  People consult it all the time.  How can you not?  In some models (my brothers Honda Civic, for example), the mph displays is two inch very bright teal numerals above the main dashboard.  Because it’s a digital display, the continuous movement of lighted segments keeps one’s eyes on the number.  Clever.

The closer to the mall, the worse the traffic. You’d think I’d get that feedback through my thick skull.

Still another feedback mode is sheer traffic volume.  Sometimes, the Speed Limit sign is flat out mockery.  Near the Clackamas Town Center, the Speed Limit is 40 mph.  I was stopped in this photo (I’m a good driver, really), but I rarely get over 20 mph on this road over the weekend.  Traffic feedback varies by city, by hour of day, by location within the driving grid, you name it.

God only knows the mystic feedback looping through this head.

There are invisible feedbacks, of course, all in my head – like the amount I pay for driver’s insurance or the cost of an accident. Of course, all the feedback works, if everything remains under current, ordinary circumstances.  Should something overrun the normal – an emergency, anger, late to work, daydreaming – the feedback loop reminding me to be safe, while still there, can not compete with such a shift in dominance.

In the end, all these feedback messages return to the same interpreter – me.  Inside my head, all these signals dip and dither.  I weigh all of it.  For a long time, my car also carried children, so the feedback about speed had still another element, causing me to act the very opposite of the childless, spouseless, witless high school Tim.  I was the epitome of a careful driver.

Continuous information flow, the threat of occasional traffic fine, the quasi-official shame of public real-time speed, the vagaries of moral and ethical judgment relative to speeding . . . all of these feedback loops in my brain keep me a pretty good driver.  Maybe I need them all.

OneThing37: Words to live by

Let the meaning choose the word

George Orwell

At a recent Republican Presidential Candidates Debate, the host asked each candidate to describe himself in a single word, and we got consistent, cheerful, to name a few.   Back in 2000, Saturday Night Live played off this very idea with fake Al Gore declaring “Lock box” and fake George Bush proclaiming “Strategery.”  To be sure, it’s a gimmicky kind of thing, but it can also be a good exercise in synthesis.

In his “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell famously called on writers and thinkers to practice the linguistic discipline of letting “the meaning choose the word.”  We do not need to think very broadly to cite examples of sloppy or exaggerated thinking where words seem to mean anything the writer or speaker wants.  I also recall Jay Forrester once proclaiming that a hallmark of system dynamics was that it made one’s thinking plain.

It’s what caused me to ask recently what are the ten most important systems words a middle or high school student should know.  So, over the last few weeks, I’ve read dozens of words people ascribe to Systems Thinking; and, while I disagree or am confounded by some of those words, I’ll leave it to others to check either the K-12 List Serve or Systems Thinking World to make their own judgments.

I thought here I’d go to renowned system dynamicist Donella Meadows (1941-2001).  In Thinking In Systems (2008, posthumous), she lists 18 words/phrases:

  • archetypes
  • balancing feedback loop
  • bounded rationality
  • dynamic equilibrium
  • dynamics
  • feedback loop
  • flow
  • hierarchy
  • limiting factor
  • linear relationship
  • nonlinear relationship
  • reinforcing feedback loop
  • resilience
  • self-organization
  • shifting dominance
  • stock
  • suboptimization
  • system

Eighteen words and phrases.  Learn them. Teach them.  And, in a few generations, we’ll all live a different world.

QuickThing13: it’s the closed systems that may ruin you

Some cities’ drains do things we’d rather not talk about

I’m happy to acknowledge this small metal sign that my city epoxied to the curb above the street drain in front of my house.  It tells me – and everyone in our neighborhood – that anything dumped here is part of a closed system.  Water, chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, lawn care products, detergents from car wash . . . all of it drains to the watershed.

And that’s not the only thing . . .

There are some cities that do not separate sewer from storm water;  it’s called a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO). Under usual conditions, runoff goes into the sewer system that flows to the treatment facilities.  This works OK when the city is small and there’s no rain, but it rains a bit in the Pacific Northwest.

Illustration of a combined sewer system

As Portland grew and when storms came calling, the runoff overwhelmed the CSO system, with the overflow running directly into the streams and the Willamette River.

Fortunately, Portland started working on this in 1991 and it’s finally done – Portland’s Big Pipe will help.  That little metal sign is all part of that grand vision from two decades ago.

I love that little sign.

OneThing34: trash talkin’

Moving effluence because of our affluence

The beautiful and beguiling garbage truck as we might romantically recall it

Come this October, we’ll all be celebrating 100 years of the garbage truck.  A century of moving trash from my yard to someone else’s far away yard.

We humans have been hauling trash for eons. And, well, that’s a good thing.  Right?

I’m starting to think that everyone ought to take a family Sunday drive to the local transfer station – where city locals bring some recycling and toss items too large for their street side can, where household remodeling waste is deposited by builders, and where commercial haulers unload their trucks.  It’s awesome.

Front Loader Magic

Huge front loaders push trash as fast as the machine can move while garbage truck after garbage truck unloads and unloads and unloads. Trash is pushed toward a compacter that creates “logs” or “slugs”- stackable, haulable blocks of compressed junk you and I have pitched into the “far away from my house” pile.  And, in fact, that’s where it goes!

So it is that we have been lying to ourselves.  So convenient. Just think of anytime you have backpacked into a wilderness for a few days – “pack it in, pack it out” goes the mantra.  From the get go, planning is about reducing waste.  It’s really hard to do.

There may be some value in our living with the mess and stench for a while so that we remember what we are doing.  Breaking that feedback loop means we just keep doing it. Sending it away only reinforces our poor behavior in this:  it goes away, so I never see it or smell it, and so I can it again and, certainly, do more of it.  It’s a vicious, sticky, gooey, smelly cycle.

Imagine if at schools across the country, we allowed all the trash to pile up in the cafeteria.  All the classrooms, all the offices, all the restrooms, all the cafeteria and courtyard trash bins – all of it tossed into the cafeteria – the school’s new transfer station.   The more in there, the less space for sitting and eating.  Just fill it up.  Let people see how much trash a school of 500 or 750 or 1000 actually can generate.  There’s a feedback loop for ya!

Oh . . . and would our hearts do long for the venerable and beneficent garbage truck.  For every day, we Americans toss out enough junk to fill 63,000 of them.  And, at some point, we have to throw the truck away, too.

OneThing33: speeding up feedback increases sustainability

Meter, meter, on my house, who’s the thriftiest of them all?

The ubiquitous commercial electric power meter that resides on the side of American homes

For years once a month, a stranger opened the gate alongside my house and walked into my side yard.  He was there about three minutes and then left. It’s been going on for years, and there’s little I could do to stop it. Finally, it stopped on its own, when local power company Portland General Electric installed digital meters that could send information without the intrusion.

As it was before, it is still the same – where the meter is and how it works is convenient for the company and not for me.  It’s billing device, similar to a cabbie’s meter.

The feedback about my energy use comes to me once a month.  I’ve used the electricity and there’s nothing I can do to fix a month’s worth of use.  If I make an adjustment, I still have to wait a month for the feedback to really know.  Of course, I could walk outside, note my daily rate use, but there’s still some math I’d have to do.  It’d be like asking a driver to calculate his speed by only giving him distance traveled.

Or imagine your car outfitted with a gas gauge in the same way: you had to get out of your car, walk around to the side, read three dials, consult a notebook to get the previous reading, and then calculate the difference. Crazy.

The Electric Detective - click me for details

What you need is something like a speedometer that instantaneously measures the rate of electricity your home draws from the grid.

We need a usage meter that’s convenient for homeowners – immediate, easy to read information detailing electricity use within a home. Suppose that each light switch and each appliance included a small LED that generated a universally understood metric about use, similar to what we all universally understand about Miles Per Gallon, say, Watts Per Day (WPD).  Turn on a light, start the dryer, open the fridge door, and you can immediately read your home’s WPD. They’re out there, but the technology is still clunky.

If the United States, and energy utilities around the country, were serious about reducing electricity use, such a device would have far more impact than vast “high efficiency” power generators, especially since 90% of US electricity comes from coal, natural gas, and nuclear generation.

A wily engineer could do rather well inventing this thing.

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QuickThing10: secret life of clothes

Your brain will generate closed loops all through this video.

When I taught Northwest Rhythms, a course about resources and systems of the Pacific Northwest, my favorite question on the final exam was this:  describe how your purchase of a loaf of bread impacts three important systems:  transportation, resources, and economics. It’s the kind of question that splits open a teenager’s understanding of the world they inhabit and influence.

This ten minute video details a similar event path – buying a pair of jeans.  When you plunk down a couple of twenties for a fresh pair of 501’s, the tendrils of that buy reach mighty far and are, at least to now, largely unsustainable.

The Secret Lives of Our Clothes – YouTube.

QuickThing9: just exactly where is “away”?

Smart guys at MIT decide to wade into the trash flows.

Looks like someone else’s away might be actually be your backyard.

Anyone familiar with system dynamics can imagine a whole new inflow to your garbage . . . stuff from across the country!  Each of those brightly colored lines stretching across the United States as the trash gets shipped out of Seattle is a flow and each end point is a stock.  Makes me wonder what the outflows of those stocks might be.


Early results from trash-tracking materials out of Seattle. CLICK THE PIC for the video to run.