Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Curious what middle school students feel passionately about?

There are times when people find out that I've been working in middle schools for the past thirty years and I am met with reactions of sympathy and shock - envisioning that my days must resemble that of zookeeper trying to maintain a semblance of order in the midst of crazy adolescents.   There is no doubt that any collection of 250+ middle schoolers does involve alot of energy - but it also is a community rich in deep thinking.   For example today I've had the pleasure of working with our teams as we examine our fall writing assessment - a task where every student is given carte-blanche to share a strong opinion they have and the evidence supporting their claim.  
Each team joined our consultant Bill Rich today for a focused hour clarifying our learning scales around proficient writing
Some might imagine that these young minds never think beyond deep questions such as "Which is the best video game - Grand Theft Auto or Halo?" or "Which youtube video is better - those dancing kittens or that sick video of the skateboard wipeout?"    If you walk through our halls it's true you'll likely hear passionate conversations at that intellectual level - but if you pause and listen more you will quickly learn that within our hallways are incredibly deep thinkers who when given the chance will readily engage in questions of rich substance and consequence.    For example - these are a few of the papers I read today - each of which made me pause, think and want to engage:

  • Should more gun control laws be enacted?
  • Should the government allow immigrants into the US illegally?
  • Are humans the cause of climate change?
  • Is college education really worth it?
  • Why are men and women not treated equally?
  • Does the 2nd amendment apply to assault rifles?
  • Should police be able to use racial profiling?
  • Should the US allow refugees into the country?
  • Does immigration put the US at risk for terrorism?
  • Should the US have universal health care?
  • Should humans try to go to Mars?
  • Is a vegan diet healthy for humans?
  • Is animal testing of human products ethical?
  • Why doesn't school start later in the morning?
  • Should we have gym class every day?
  • Should students still learn cursive?

The day was truly a reminder of why I love middle school?   I truly believe that for many young people this age is a cross roads - a Robert Frost moment of "two roads diverging in a wood" where with guidance and support they can learn to take the not so common pathway of critical thinking, creative problem solving and self-direction that every piece of research I am seeing highlights as the fundamental skills for success in the 21st century.    The challenge - as educators we know how to teach factual recall well - to create young people who when presented with problems with clear answers can follow a predetermined pathway to a predetermined correct outcome.   Unfortunately the questions that these middle schoolers have already identified as critical - gun control, climate change, immigration, health care - do not have simple, predetermined answers.   The brightest minds on the planet are currently failing in their attempts to resolve them - and as Einstein said "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them."  

This is why we have just undertaken our transformation to proficiency based learning focused around transferable skills.   Thursday we will distribute our first ever transferable standards report cards - providing every student with feedback around their proficiency in the five transferable standards that CVU will be using as the basis for graduation in 2020.   It's an exciting first step that represents hundreds of hours of collective work by our staff to learn a pedagogical approach to reporting on student learning - and something we are very proud to have accomplished.  
Click here to see a larger .pdf of this graphic representing the CSSU Graduation / Transferable Standards

As for those folks who wonder about my sanity spending days with 250 middle school students - I hope people come away realizing that I have the greatest job in the world - I've spent thirty years working with some of the most unencumbered minds imaginable, and at SCS am blessed with a team of teachers who share a passion for developing each and every child - minds with the creative potential to solve the problems created and face by my generation  - and that has made all the difference.  

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