AltSchool East Village — Reinventing Education

I recently started as founding Head of School at AltSchool East Village. AltSchool has eight lab schools that are focused on personalized, whole-child education — building agency and independence in children through project based learning. AltSchool is a startup that has 50 educators and 50 engineers on staff. We are building technology to superpower teachers by connecting them with great teaching practices — leveraging the network effect.

Here’s a recent story in which I appeared:

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Summer 2015 Reading

It’s summer, and that means summer reading.  I have done much of my reading this summer through audio books, as I listen while doing chores — painting rooms, doing dishes, etc.  Two themes for this summer: Race and Adolescence.

Race:

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving.  Irving does a compelling job of describing her racial awakening. Her stories of growing up in a white household that didn’t speak about race resonate with me. The questions at the end of each chapter are great opportunities to reflect alone or with friends.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Coates describes his growing up and coming of age in Baltimore, Washington, DC, and New York City in this book written to his 15 year old son. A powerful perspective that I’ll write more about.

Takeaways:  We need to be be having conversations and race in the United States. The culture of silence needs to end. As a white person, I don’t have to engage in this conversation, but if I don’t, I’ll be leaving my children and students a world that is worse off than it is now.

Adolescence:

The Teenage Brain, A Neuroscientists Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt. A thorough description of current adolescent brain research and it’s implications for parents.

Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg. Sternberg similarly describes current adolescent brain research an adds a number of chapters with concrete recommendations for parents and educators, specifically targeting recommendations for adding physical activities and mindfulness activities to improve self-discipline for adolescents.

Takeaways: Adolescents is a period of great brain growth (brain plasticity). The more we provide positive reinforcements for intellectual pursuits, physical activities and self-discipline, along with clear boundaries in places where adolescents can get into trouble, the more positive development we will see in adolescents in society.

What are you reading?  Where are you stretching yourself?

Differentiated Instruction

In Educational Leadership this month, Carol Ann Tomlinson writes about  Differentiated Instruction as a way of giving students ownership of learning. She states:

Differentiation enables teachers to go beyond the question, How can I make sure a student masters a body of information? asking instead, How can I help create a real learner?

There are four elements of DI: trust; fit;voice; and awareness.  Here’s a description of developing awareness:

“Monica Harrold, a 1st grade teacher frequently led her students to analyze a piece of work they were about to begin with a partner or small group.  After she described the task, she’d say, “Now tell me what skills are necessary to do this work really well.” Gradually , her young students became proficient at naming the skills the assignment called for.  Next, she’d ask them to think about which of the necessary skills they had and which ones they’d need to be sure someone else in the group had.  In my observations of Monica’s classroom, it was common to hear a student say, “I can draw and I can write, but I’m not very good at finding information so I’ll need to work with someone else who can do that.”  At age 6, these students were already becoming metacognitively aware.  They were learning to position themselves as successful learners by controlling their working conditions.

In order to empower our students, we must engage them in these metacognitive tasks early and frequently.  As I start to collect the tools of the school of the future, DI is a critical part of that toolbox.

Image from Wes Fryer

Balancing Act

“You can’t keep up with all of the information, so don’t try.” That was one of the things that I said multiple times during my Saturday trip to EduCon 2.0 this past weekend. It’s true. With all of the networks and resources out there, Blogs, Nings, Twitter, Podcasts, Books, Television, etc., how do you keep up? You can’t. You just have to decide that much of the information will pass by and move on.

I find that I go through cycles. I think this is healthy. I read books for a month, I listen to podcasts during a vacation, I read RSS when I open up Google Reader, I check my Twitter account for a few minutes a day. The reality though, is that I can’t keep up with any of these the way I would like to. So I have to let go. And that’s ok.

It’s important to balance all of this with real live: family time with my wife and kids; time to look at the sky or stars; time to watch some bad TV; as Vinnie discussed, time to do chores; time to read the newspaper; and time to sleep.

And so the balancing act continues.

Photo Credit: #45/365: Balancing Act