An open letter to President Obama on the importance of MakerSpace education

The following letter was sent to President Obama this week in support of the MakerSpace movement and the importance of kids being kids… and learning.  It was written in conjunction with AASA and the US Department of Education. For those Superintendents that have signed the Future Ready pledge, this is the second most important document to sign following the pledge.

May 30, 2015

The President

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

Washington, DC, 20500

Dear President Obama, 

All children are born makers. They look at the world with a sense of wonder. They tinker and discover. They take things apart to question how they work. They build amazing things using any materials within reach. And they solve problems – for someone in their community or halfway around the world. Inherently curious and creative, children are naturally drawn to making as a way to explore the world around them. 

As leaders in education, we are excited about the growing Maker Movement and its potential to transform the way our students learn. An open-ended process of creating, making includes a wide spectrum of activities – from building furniture to growing a community garden, from upcycling to coding, and so much more. Making involves utilizing the design process, learning to use tools and materials, as well as documenting projects and sharing them with others. These experiences challenge young people to combine critical thinking, imagination, and persistence to solve complex problems – with the ultimate goal of students seeing themselves as producers, not just consumers of the world around them.

By focusing on personalized, interdisciplinary learning experiences that are student centered, making can motivate and inspire young people to develop a deep and lifelong engagement in, and love for, learning. We believe this approach not only improves their academic performance, but also prepares students with core skills for careers in any field – particularly in science, technology, engineering, design, advanced manufacturing, and entrepreneurship. While making is not a new concept in education, with a growing community of supportive educators, leaders, and families, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to move this idea forward in classrooms and schools across the country. 

Last year, you hosted the first White House Maker Faire and challenged “every company, every college, every community, every citizen [to] join us as we lift up makers and builders and doers across the country.” We couldn’t agree more. We must ensure that all of our children have access to these opportunities. We need an “all hands on deck” effort from school leaders, teachers, parents, skilled volunteers, companies, and more – to broaden participation in making, tinkering and inventing. As school administrators – superintendents, heads of school, district leaders, principals, and others – we want to do our part to make the most of these opportunities. 

As the White House prepares to celebrate a Week of Making this year, we are committed to getting started or to continue our efforts by taking  the following steps: 

• Invest in the creation of and staffing for a dedicated makerspace for use by teachers, students, and the wider community;

• Identify a champion or lead educator at each school who supports all teachers with the integration of making into the curriculum; 

• Offer professional development opportunities and follow-up support for teachers in our schools or districts to integrate making into the current curriculum; 

• Empower students to do capstone maker projects and showcase the process of their work through activities like School Maker Faires and shared portfolios; 

• Develop and implement strategies to engage all learners in making and diversify the pool of future innovators; 

• Develop strategies to allow older students to engage in peer mentoring for younger makers; and

 • Engage our parents and community members to support these efforts and to create a vibrant maker ecosystem. 

Thank you for your leadership. We look forward to working with you and your Administration to make this initiative a huge success.

Jason M. Eitner

Superintendent

The Lower Alloways Creek School District

Pairing up with the NJPTA on PARCC

I was proud to recently collaborate with the New Jersey Parent-Teacher Organization on posting a blog about how the End-Of-Year portion of the PARCC test was MUCH easier than the first. Feel free to comment and share below:

Increased Confidence in Second Window of PARCC

May 22MR. JAY EITNER
SUPERINTENDENT

THE LOWER ALLOWAYS CREEK SCHOOL DISTRICT

My school district, Lower Alloways Creek, is located in Salem County — a rural, working class community that can sometimes feel a bit disconnected from the rest of New Jersey. While in many ways, we don’t enjoy the same opportunities to collaborate as other more centrally-located districts across the state, our community deeply values education and prides itself on our ability to keep pace with the rest of the state and maintain their local cultural heritage.

So naturally, when it came to transitioning to the new PARCC test, our approach was to tackle it head on. We began preparation about year ago and focused on integrating PARCC scenarios into the classroom that would familiarize kids with the testing style and environment. I’m not talking “teaching to the test.” Since PARCC is aligned with our state education standards, our teachers were already covering the concepts that students would be tested on. Where we did need to prepare, however, was ensuring that our students were comfortable with this different kind of assessment.

Overall, our preparation proved highly effective and, at the risk of sounding over the top, test rollout went splendidly. The flexibility with the PARCC testing schedule was the biggest improvement from previous statewide assessments and made the lives of us administrators significantly easier. The ability to set testing schedules so they are convenient for each class helps to minimize disruption. NJASK had set schedules which didn’t allow us to move things around to minimize testing time, but now, when a student finishes they have the opportunity to pursue other interests or if the whole class finishes, they can get back to teaching and learning.

The administration of the second PARCC testing window has been significantly smoother than the first for our district. We’ve had a chance to address some initial hiccups in administration, many of which we had anticipated, and we’ve seen confidence and comfortability with the new assessment swell. There appears to be far less hesitation from parents and our teachers and students are notably more at ease. From the perspective of a Superintendent, this shifting outlook is really promising because when it comes to testing, comfortable parents, teachers and students make all the difference.

Now we are eagerly looking forward to the data that the PARCC assessment will offer. The new score report should provide parents and teachers with information that is significantly easier to interpret as well as more applicable to the classroom. Beginning next year, PARCC score reports will provide nearly real-time feedback on the areas that each student needs to develop, allowing our teachers to pair this with other performance measures and support our kids where they need it most. For the first time, Lower Alloways Creek will be able to effectively compare performance across the state and country, helping us to ensure that our students, regardless of a rural New Jersey zip code, are on track to meet the demands of what lies ahead.

The original article can be found at:

http://bestfootforwardnj.org/increased-confidence-in-second-window-of-parcc/

Five Summer Books to Inspire your Teachers

Below is an email I received from my friends over at NJPSA.  While they offer a variety of services – they also pass along neat reads.  One email passed along was from a group called “THE MAIN IDEA”.

What exactly does THE MAIN IDEA provide?

THE MAIN IDEA creates an 8-page summary of a current education book each month. This summary contains the core ideas of the book, and organizes those ideas with enough accompanying details and examples, so you can have a working knowledge of its content. At the end, THE MAIN IDEA includes a full page of suggestions for ways to use the ideas in the book for professional development of your staff.

A year-long subscription to THE MAIN IDEA not only includes these monthly book summaries, but it also includes free access to over 70 book summaries and workshops in our archives.

BOOKS FOR THE BEACH, BOARDWALK, or during BREAKFAST:

Real Talk for Real Teachers by Rafe Esquith (2014). You may know Rafe Esquith from his past two books (his New York Times bestseller Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56 and There Are No Shortcuts). He has been teaching at a public elementary school for 28 years. Esquith is the kind of teacher who, like Jaime Escalante (from Stand and Deliver), really inspires his students and breathes new life into their education. He’s an enthusiastic and upbeat writer as well, so this is an easy read. It can be hard to find inspiring books for more experienced teachers, so this would be a good pick for them. Esquith divides the book into three parts and provides advice for teachers at three stages in their careers: Part One for new teachers, Part Two for those mid-career, and Part Three for veteran teachers.

Teaching Outside the Box: How to Grab Your Students by Their Brains by LouAnne Johnson (2011).  Johnson is an exceptional high school teacher who wrote the book that inspired the movie Dangerous Minds starring Michelle Pfeiffer. This book is better for newer teachers because she provides advice about the nuts and bolts of setting up a classroom for success (with information on everything from bathroom breaks to “Do-Nows”). The book has a ton of practical tips for newer teachers, but more than simply presenting rules and routines, it is clear that Johnson deeply believes that her students can and will succeed. She finds a way to present ideas that are both inspiring and practical all at once! It would be a great summer activity for teachers to read the book and watch the movie she inspired.

The Motivation Equation: Designing Lessons that Set Kids’ Minds on Fire by Kathleen Cushman (2013). This book comes more than a decade after Cushman first published Fires in the Bathroom: Advice for Teachers from High School Students, a book that provides firsthand insights into what teachers can do to improve student engagement from the voices of teenagers! Now in this book, Cushman distills advice from students into eight areas teachers can improve to better motivate students such as make it relevant, keep it active, act like a coach, give students time to reflect, and more. Plus, it’s available as a free, multi-media e-book here: nextgenpress.creatavist.com/story/524#

Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess (2012).  While pirates may seem to have nothing to do with education, in the introduction to his New York Times bestseller, Burgess writes that, “Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value.” Furthermore, ‘PIRATE’ is a convenient acronym that captures his philosophy for how to hook students and prevent teacher burnout at the same time: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask and analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm. Like in the books above, as a veteran teacher with boundless enthusiasm for teaching, Dave Burgess provides an uplifting reminder of why we teach. He also provides suggestions for boosting student curiosity and engagement and identifying what’s holding teachers back from letting go and setting sail.

Teaching That Matters: Engaging Minds, Improving Schools by Frank Thoms (2015). Like the authors above, Thoms is a seasoned educator who is excited to share what works in the classroom, particularly with today’s digitally-wired students. Thoms presents a vision of schools where teachers want to teach and classrooms where students want to learn. He paints compelling pictures of teachers who show us there is a more compelling way to teach – a way to learn alongside students, engage students in creative and thoughtful work, and bring liveliness into the classroom. Based on both experience and research, Thoms introduces a variety of strategies from taking “Internet Sabbaths” to Six Hat Thinking to improve student discussions.

Three Takeaways from the NJASA Spring Conference 

Some in education think a “Superintendents Comference” and they think this:  

  Or they think this:  

It’s neither! It’s a group of professionals, young and old, together, collaborating to ensure what’s best for our students. 

The NJASA spring conference took place last week. A time for Superintendents and central office personnel to get together, collaborate, hear some great speakers, and “get off the island” to socialize with those in the same position.  Every conference is a little different — this one is much more laid back (no BOE members, teachers, no building level admin) and offers more opportunity to have those paramount face-to-face conversations. 

My takeaways: 

1) Great keynote speakers. There are smart people and there those who are so smart you try to understand how smart they are. Our first keynote was V.A. Shiva Ayyadyarri. Born in India, lived in NJ, and has done lots of things so far in life, like invent email. Seriously.  Never did I ever think I would get to meet the person who invented email. A fascinating lecture on innovation and what we need to do as school leaders.

2) I learned how to incorporate STEAM into a garden. Yes, you read that correctly. The admin team from Mount Laurel (perhaps I’m biased because I live here) presented a great workshop on not only the steps to create a sustainable garden for students to tend to, but how to archive it with student-centered activated from start to finish. Everything from the design to what was being grown was student lead. The garden eventually brought in parents and members of the community to show how they became “stewards of the environment”. Really cool stuff.

3) Conversations with NJASA officials and fellow Superintendents. Whether it was catching up with colleagues over a cup of coffee, or the side conversations in the halls showing people the benefits of social media, nothing is better than seeing everyone together. At one point, Rich Bozza, the NJASA Director, called me over to his table to discuss some current and future programming. This continued into the evening, as pacts of Superintendents showed up by county to discuss various issues. One of the best moments of the evening was to meet with Dr. Lamont Repollet, the Superintendent of Asbury Park. We had a fantastic conversation about Twitter and how to harness its power. I’m glad we connected face to face, and now our doors are open.

As for my presentation, I felt it bombed. The internet cut out, my projector blew a bulb, and my links were not working. BUT – since we were all educators in the room, we adapt, and we go. We still left energized and ready to bring back new apps and extensions to their districts.

All in all, a great conference. Looking forward to wrapping up the school year — and preparing for the next one.

Onward!

#InnovateNJ video – Growing. Learning. Innovating.

innovateNJ is New Jersey’s initiative  to support innovation and practice by fostering sharing and collaboration, cultivating projects, and convening practitioners and partners. We hope that your active participation in innovateNJ will help facilitate next-generation instructional practices that will promote and heighten the college and career readiness levels of our students. Part of the admissions process was to submit a short video with an overview on how we innovate — thanks to WeVideo, lots of stock footage, and Jeff Bradbury (@Teachercast), we assembled a great video in a short amount of time.  Not knowing where to start, we began pitching some ideas back and forth, I wrote an audio script, and it went from there.

Once again, the power of the PLN.  Collaboration, drive, and dedication to the craft. Not ‘ripped off, not petty, not pathetic’ as one person attempted to put it; pure collaboration and innovation.  Seriously – who would sit and belittle a colleague? Some call it hyper-sensitive, most call it sad, all call it a last-ditch attempt to try to save face.  Too late for that.

Back to what’s important, back in April the Office of School Innovation inducted the members of Cohort 2 innovateNJ Community.  Seventeen Districts from the State of New Jersey became part of the ever-growing innovateNJ Community.  After a welcoming speech from Assistant Commissioner Evo Popoff and Director of School Innovation Takecia Saylor, the members were treated to amazing presentations from members of theinnovateNJ Community who are already partnering and collaborating with other districts to bring best innovative practices to all students in their districts.

The Office of School Innovation congratulates the Cohort 2 members of the innovateNJCommunity.  After a lengthy and rigorous application process, seventeen districts were selected to become part of this vibrant community leading the way in innovative practices throughout the state of New Jersey.  The members were selected based on their established innovative practices across all schools in their district.

The application process is held twice per year.  Applications were open to all districts in the state of New Jersey.  In March, selected applicants were informed of their acceptance. Cohort 2 members had the pleasure of meeting one another at the Department of Education in Trenton, New Jersey, where the first convening took place.  New members also had the opportunity to network and collaborate with other members along with establishing partnerships with other new members.

The Office of School Innovation welcomes the Cohort 2 innovateNJ Community members:

  • A Harry Moore School of New Jersey City University of Jersey City
  • Burlington County Special Services School District
  • Fair Haven Public Schools
  • Linden Public Schools
  • Manalapan Englishtown Regional Schools
  • Middletown Township School District
  • Montgomery Township  Public Schools

 

  • Morris County Vocational School
  • Mt. Holly Township Public Schools
  • Mt Laurel School District
  • River Vale Public Schools
  • Scotch Plains-Fanwood School District
  • The Lower Alloways Creek School District
  • Toms River Regional School District
  • Voorhees School District
  • Warren Township Schools

Needless to say, I’m beyond excited for this program. Finally – GOOD TEACHING and INNOVATION are UNITED – and the state of New Jersey benefits. LAC is ‘officially’ paired with Mt. Laurel and River Vale.  Truth be told – we will be collaborating with Montgomery quite a bit – -lots to share with them – and lot’s to learn!

Here’s something else I’m really excited over: a map. Not just any map, this map:
innovateNJ districts

Why so excited? Being the lone duck ain’t so bad sometimes. 🙂

I’m proud to show all that an itty-bitty school District in rural Salem County NJ is doing the same things, if not more, than big-pupil, big-budget districts.

Zipcodes don’t and won’t determine a child’s education.

Onward.

 

Hipsters, look out: I’m coming for you.

Summer is approaching, and who does not like the sweet smell of the shore?  I miss it.  I spent my childhood summers in Lavallette, NJ and lived briefly ‘down the shore’ as us from NJ call it. I feel that I want to once again have an escape for myself and my two little ladies, so I’ve been condo shopping in the Red Bank / Asbury Park area.   While I love everything that I’ve been seeing, there’s one thing I don’t like… HIPSTERS!  C’mon, you know what I’m talking about…

seasonal-hipster-summer-winter-hat-ecards-someecards
image credit: http://www.someecards.com
  • The wear winter hats in 90 degree weather
  • Their addiction to Toms Shoes and skinny jeans 
  • They have super obnoxious earphones
  • They over accessorize their outfits
  • They only wear J-Crew, Gap, Banana Republic, and other exclusive labels
  • They all think they are restaurant reviewers and have the gall to send back meals to cleanse their pallets
  • They all have some tie-in to Brooklyn

Enough.  What do hipsters and my blog have in common? I have quite a few conferences over the next couple of weeks… and with conferences come vendors and presenters.  Some vendors and presenters think they are THE best thing since sliced bread and have the snake oil / magic beans to cure ALL of your problems.  Yep, according to some vendors & presenters, everything you do is wrong, and hipster’s new trendy way is THE way to go.

Here’s the biggest issue I have: after the latest edu-jargon and trendy way of doing things settles, it still comes down to two simple words: GOOD TEACHING. This is , was, and always will be a people business.  No methodology, hipster device, or any other thing / thought will change that.  Other essentials:

STRONG CURRICULUM

+

MEANINGFUL PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT

+

A VARIETY OF RESOURCES

+

DIVERSE STAFF (academics, talents, age, sex, etc.)

+

APPROACHABLE, REAL ADMINISTRATORS

=

GOOD TEACHING

So, Hipsters in the education field, be warned — I’m coming for you if you even try to get in my way or anyone else that knows that GOOD TEACHING is the answer.  And I’m going to expose you for who you really are if you push me or any of my colleagues. We have a job to do; quit getting in the way.

Onward.

Superintendents Fail Too

image credit: www.homedepotx.com
image credit: http://www.homedepotx.com

So I have to tell you, I hate the word “epic”.  I hate that everybody and anybody just throws the word epic around with every association.  But I have to admit, this past weekend was an EPIC FAIL. Yes, I typically am very hard on myself, but this weekend, I’m still scratching my head. How can this be so bad?

Just what could be so bad?  This past weekend, I presented at a Superintendent’s Summit in the midwest. I consult form time to time (don’t worry, I won’t plug my book every 3 seconds or tell you to register for a conference every 3 tweets) and was contacted by a  buddy from college who said “the group is in need a of crash course to get them to today’s times / 2.0”.  I surveyed the group and got a myriad of results to form a light agenda. I created it, and took on a whole new approach.

I used the app TOUT to get the message out. I used google docs for the agenda; I placed everything and anything on there. The response seemed excited, and then Friday at 8:30 came.

Within 15 minutes, I knew is was in trouble.  Do you remember a lesson that you did and about ten minutes into it you realized you need to completely change course? That was this; but a different vibe all together.  Conferences and traveling workshops are suppose to be full of excitement; this was like a bingo hall with nobody winning bingo, just calling number after number with no results.

I encountered anger, frustration, and a negative tidal wave.  Amongst other comments (within the first hour) include:

  • What is a PLN?
  • What is Twitter and really, who cares about it?
  • Common Core is a waste
  • All of this will pass
  • When is lunch?  How long is lunch?
  • Do we have to do all of this?

My agenda was aggressive to say the least.  I honestly got about ten percent done after seven hours of extensive, exhaustive dialogue.  I was so wiped out that I did’t even venture out to really take in Denver or even meet up with members of my PLN (or the #NJED folks that were there at another conference).

Forget about Days 2 & 3 of the agenda; I was still trying to get maybe 30% of Day 1 completed.

I got back to my room Friday night and was completely baffled, angry, and felt like a complete failure.  My presentation bombed.  Big time.  How could I be in this spot?  Then I started thinking ….

CEApuxRUkAAaac8

I tell my students and teachers all of the time:  FAIL = First Attempt In Learning.

url

Instead of beating myself up, I started to re-assess and create a new battle plan. I dug, messaged, voxed, and dug deep to find the arsenal of resources to use with this seasoned crowd.  To be honest, I leaned a lot on being a Superintendent and that I can just relate.  Not so much.  Not even close.

I went back in Saturday morning, supercharged and super fierce.  They saw me, and I saw them – – it at first it looked like a wild west stare-down (cue tumbleweed and this music:).

I guess the old boys club thought they scared me off.  Little did they know that I’m a Jersey Boy… it takes a lot more than them to scare me off.

We went at it again. I weaved in take-aways, I demonstrated live chats, I even reached a consensus and gave them paper copies of some stuff.

The highlight of the day, that afternoon, a few quietly approached me and said thank you.  They felt the actual papers in hand was something tangible they can bring back.

In all, it was no where near what I wanted it to be, but I have to realize that we are all different learners (something that I preach) and that some of us learn the crockpot way (low-n-slow).  I guess I need to read (and follow) my own stuff more often!

Onward!